Chronicles of La Ribera
“Granny!” The boys on the garbage truck shout to her, waving their hands in greeting.
Doña Maria sweeps her street every day, and not only her street, but also that of her neighbors and the whole block, or as far as her strength allows her to go. Her street is Calle Javier Mina, in the neighborhood of San Sebastián de Ajijic. She and her husband arrived here many years ago. He worked in construction, after having taken care of a farm with hot springs which was on the road in Zapotitán de Hidalgo. She does not remember when they got here, nor the date of her husband’s death. She’s forgotten many things, but not the cold that seeped through the windows of the spacious bodega where they lived at first.
Doña María. Photo: María del Refugio Reynozo Medina.
Now she lives in a house with a narrow hallway and uneven steps that she walks down every day without difficulty. She lives with her 64-year-old daughter who is bedridden with «sugar» complications. At 94 years old, Margarita Montes Moya takes care of her daughter, and although a granddaughter helps them, Doña Maria carries most of the responsibility on her shoulders. Even at night, she sometimes wakes up to assist her daughter.
This morning, in the company of Ajijic artist Antonio López Vega, I talked with Doña Maria. She is always looking up. Her body is tiny, short and lean, her strong legs marked by varicose veins. Her thin hands are covered with age spots, and visible veins run down her arms. Her face is furrowed with the lines of time. She doesn’t use a cane, she doesn’t wear glasses. She can eat anything without problems, although she likes frijoles best. She wears a flowered apron, a short-sleeved sweater and cloth tennis shoes.
“Let’s go for coffee,” we suggested. She agrees and we walk down the street, the one she sweeps every day, very close to La Cochera Cultural.
“When I sweep I earn my pennies,” she says, smiling. ““I went to school, but I didn’t learn.”
She likes to work, to clean the street, to clean her kitchen. She wakes up early because the bed makes her tired. She doesn’t like to sit down, either. She was the youngest of ten siblings and her mother, she says, taught her to wash and embroider.
She used to like to go to mass and to sit in the square to watch the day go by. She hasn’t done that for a long time.
Antonio López Vega is painting a portrait of Doña Mary.
“Do you know who this is?” we ask her, showing her the painting. She looks at it for a long time and smiles.
“Who is it?” we ask again.
“ Maria,“ she says, blushing.
She sips her coffee and eats three cookies from the plate.
Serenely, she observes the children painting in the workshop of La Cochera. She looks at the sky and searches her deepest memories to continue talking. Sometimes she repeats herself, but she keeps on talking.
“Blessed be God,” she says.
This woman knows no fatigue.
“Don’t you get tired?” we ask her. And she does: she gets tired of sitting, tired of the bed, tired of doing nothing. Doña Mary does not remember many things. But she has not forgotten to smile, to walk in the middle of the street that is hers because she has always swept it and because she has walked it so many times that the steps cannot be counted or forgotten.
Ajijic, Jalisco. October 30, 202.
Translated by Elisabeth Shields