Mario Perez has been driving taxis since he was fourteen. The chauffeur assigned responsibility for the safety of Bill’s consulting team, Mario works eighteen- and twenty-hour days. As he cannot afford a car of his own, he must take some other form of transport to and from work, which means his day starts at and ends after . He never complains. Such hours are just a fact of life.
I met Mario in May 2000 on a whirlwind trip to
Mario’s broad face beamed next to Bill’s from the other side of the custom’s checkpoint when I arrived at Wednesday night. Although I’d never seen Mario before, there was no missing the delight that emanated from that wide smile. Bill had described it often enough. I was to bask in the warmth of that smile during the next two days.
By Friday, I felt confident enough of the understanding couched in that smile to babble away in my dreadful Spanish, certain that Mario understood everything I was saying. As he explained the details of the trips he had planned for us that weekend, however, I struggled to grasp its outline—the grandchildren, eight-year old Giovanni and nine-year old Stefania, who would join us on Saturday as we toured the city; his wife, Margarita, who would accompany us to Taxco on Sunday.
On Saturday, Mario arrived early with his two grandchildren and set off with us for the pyramids of
We were well into our adventure when, while climbing the pyramids at
As Stefania and I worked at the dirt on her shorts, Bill disappeared into the heart of the museum with Giovanni. Worried about losing them, I gave Stefania my handkerchief and suggested she use that. Still busily rubbing as we entered the room where a huge model of Teotichuacan stretched below us, Stefania somehow lost hold of the handkerchief. It fluttered through a space in the glass floor over which we walked. It landed neatly on top of a temple roof and covered its steps. No amount of stretching could retrieve it.
Other tourists who had purchased ornate spears from the vendors at the pyramids, attempted to lift the handkerchief for us without success. It doesn't matter, I said, taking Stefania by the hand. Let's go find Bill and Giovanni. But Stefania wasn't to be deterred. She insisted we stay until the hankie had been rescued. Finally a guard, who sat beside an open tomb where the skeletons of five ritually slain maidens lay exposed, took a hooked stick and sauntered toward the spot where the hankie languished-- its retrieval apparently just another fairly routine event in the life of that museum guard.