Author’s note: Originally published on http://www.tabloid.net on Oct. 9, 1998
The streets are wide in the colonía Alamo Industrial, the last stand of suburbs ringing Guadalajara. It’s a decent set of modest little concrete houses standing one right against the next one, painted bright blue, white, lemon, or strawberry pink.
Mine was the only house where the stone fronting retained its native mud tone. “Oh how nice to have someone living there now,” the neighbor ladies said. “What color are you going to paint it? Have you thought of turquoise?”
The señoras rule Alamo Industrial. Husbands leave the colonía before dawn, cramming onto buses for the one- or two-hour ride to their work
in the city. After cleaning up breakfast, the señoras are out sweeping the front porch, then the driveway, then the sidewalk, and then to the center of the street, where one meets the next one to pass secrets.
The fact my work started at 7 a.m. was no good excuse for letting leaves sit on my sidewalk. So it was quite a scandal that I didn’t sweep up until my lunch break.
“That’s a gringa living in la Doña Chela’s house,” they’d say.
It was true. I’d fooled them at first because I looked just like any other one. As long as I didn’t speak, I blended right in.
And I tried not to upset the señoras. I stopped wearing cut-off shorts for the day’s sweep. I tied my hair back. I wore a bra. I greeted the señoras when they passed by my sidewalk and they’d comment on my plants or my cat.
It was a bit late by the time I got out to sweep one morning, and I was way behind everyone else. I got as far as the sidewalk when two señoras appeared from the other side of my tree. “Buenos días, señoras,” I said.
“Ah, buenos días,” they said.
They were not like the others. The tall one looked me hard in the eyes. “Oh, you’re not Mexicana?” she said, and where was I from? Where was my husband? Why was I here?
I stumbled through my answers, wobbling across politeness. Then I noticed the oddness. Her bold posture and look of veiled energy. Her eyes of lion skin. Her insistence. “Perhaps we could come in?”
From the side, I saw my neighbor señora on her sidewalk, sweeping her already clean walkway and looking up at me. I took the signal.
“Oh, I’m very sorry, but I must get back to work,” I told them. Then more questions about my job before I finally got away.
My neighbor called me, “Ssst, Señora. You mustn’t talk to those women. They are gitanas.”
I looked back. Of course they were. The long skirt, jewelry, the unstyled hair. It was the first time I’d ever met a true gypsy.
“Don’t tell them anything about you. They’ll take your money. They’ll take your soul.”
I know now the last person I’d want to have angry at me is a gitana. I’d never want to bump into one in a dark alley. If you’ve ever seen them dance, you know what I mean.
It’s not the moves in flamenco that are so difficult. Hand claps and foot stomps. Simple turns and arms up. But the true gitana exists only inside. That’s where the voice comes from when they shout. That’s where the power comes from when they whip their heads around. That’s what sparks the flare in their eyes.
My friend made the mistake of brushing too close to a flamenco dancer one night going into a bathroom. The gitana, a solid middle-aged woman, glared at her — freezing the room that, for that moment, she owned.
My friend, a dancer herself, threw her arms out to her side like a matador, and smoothly replied, “Olé.” The gypsy passed.
What is it that makes a gypsy able to strike that look? I asked my friend. “Well, what is it that you see?” she asked me. I tried to conjure the look and feel it.
“It’s passion,” I said. “But more than that, it’s anger.”
Anger. That’s not an easy emotion for me. Some say that’s a bad sign. But it’s just, well, I find it too tiring. And that’s why I know I would get my ass kicked if I ever got into a fight with a gypsy.
Fortunately, the streets are wide in the colonía Alamo Industrial, so there’s no reason I’d have to face down a gypsy while walking through a tight passage.
It was still dark one morning when I was walking up the broad road, past the lumber yard to the bus stop. The guard dogs were barking as I approached.
Then from nowhere, a sting of fear raced through my body when I felt a hard hand grab onto my ass. I lashed around shouting “Asshole!” Then I saw him, a smiling jerk circling around me on a bicycle. “Fucking asshole.”
But being cursed at in a foreign language means nothing. I looked around for a stick to stab through his spokes, but found nothing. The asshole stared at me, laughing. I did the only thing I could, I struck a gypsy stance and wailed. “Pendejo! Chinga tu madre, pinche pendejo!”
The laugh stopped and a shimmer of surprise crossed his face. He rode away. I tasted my anger and smiled.
Walking up the street, I thought I heard the señoras whisper “Olé.”