Note: This piece was originally written in Mazateco.
Naxá, the daughter of Ts’uí and Sa, was deeply in love with a young campesino named Xungá, who lived in one of the most humble huts in the village. For the first time Naxá felt the need of a companion, to know she was loved and cherished by someone other than her parents, because she had reached puberty.
She was an only child-her parents were very busy-and she spent a lot of time alone.
She amused herself listening to the songs of the birds and the music of the river; she inhaled deeply the fragrance of the flowers she had planted around her house. Her life was monotonous and boring until she met Xungá. For a long time she had an image of him on her mind, as if it were an obsession. Naxá sometimes was distracted, but when she awakened she looked around as if for the person she had imagined in her dreams, but nothing had changed; the same sky, the same clouds, the same sun, the same river, which went on endlessly flowing, crashing against the rocks and trunks of trees. Everything remained the same except her heart. She had a new feeling and she missed what moved her.
That night she was unable to sleep, her mind wandered to different places, to the wide, green meadows of the valleys, to the hut of reeds and palms where Xungá lived; she ran through the countryside and she played with the butterflies that perched on the petals and on the stalks of the flowers. She had these thoughts as a flock of birds joyously announced the new dawn with their song; in the henhouse one could hear the fluttering of the roosters after their first crowing of the day. The campesinos prepared their whetstones and machetes while their wives prepared posole and filled their gourds with water. Naxá did not want to stay in bed any longer, and she got up, opened the windows and contemplated the sky. The moon and the stars had disappeared. Father sun rose over the edge of the mountains to light up the new day, his first rays reached the corners of the house, and when they touched the flowers, they awakened. Naxá saw everything with sadness. She was going through a battle with herself to the point where she fell gravely ill. That same afternoon, when the sun had begun to begin to disappear, Naxá’s parents took her to the tji’e1. She was so weak she could not walk, nor even stand. After the tji’e took her right hand, took her pulse, he began to work. He invoked the gods, the guardians and the spirits, he made crosses in the air with blessed water, he ground copal very finely over a paper and then burned the copal that filled the house with smoke. Then he threw a cloak on the floor and gathered up fifteen grains of corn. He prayed over these for a long time; his sentences could barely be heard; later with one movement he let the seeds fall…. They fell in different positions; two fell together, one atop the other. It was these that drew the attention of the tji’e. He pointed to them with his finger, then interpreted in a loud voice what the corn told him.
“What happened to the girl was not serious; a black butterfly, an ambassador of love, entered your house, and took her happiness, her heart, her soul, and her thoughts to join them to another root and another seed, where now, like rattan, it grows, climbing higher each time. Once planted they keep growing. It is a man’s luck. The girl already knows this; also who he is, what his name is, and where he lives.”
The tj’ie started to terminate the ceremony. Naxá and her parents stood up to go home. She avoided looking at her parents, thinking that some reproach was going to spring from their lips; but it did not happen that way, they were absorbed in their thoughts, worried about the fate of their daughter, but resigned to the rules of existence.
So time passed until one night during the new moon she decided to revisit the tj’ie and asked him in a supplicatory voice to entreat the gods for her in the place of the images2 to return her stolen heart and soul; although she was in love with Xungá, she did not want to join her life together with his because he was of humble origins. The tj’ie listened indifferently to what Naxá asked for. His gaze and his attention seemed to be on something else far from the suffering of the patient. Naxá begged him to cure her; tears flowed from her eyes and rolled slowly down her red cheeks. The tj’ie remained indifferent to her supplication; then Naxá, full of rage said:
“Sorcerer! Sorcerer! Now I have proof that you only know how to create evils, and nothing of curing. Go ahead, bewitch me, kill me, if that is the only thing you know how to do!”
The tj’ie said nothing, because no one had ever spoken to him in that way; on the contrary, they spoke with great respect, not so much for the virtues of the healer, but out of fear.
Naxá left hurriedly from the tiny shack and went to her house. She knew that her father was not there, but her mother waited for her, and she took refuge there. She cried for a long time, until sleep overcame her. Outside dogs barked, others howled, and the whistle of the wind was strange, as if to invoke the gods of the night.
As Oxkua made his appearance in the sky, Naxá awakened: she was filled with anxieties, she thought of the tj’ie and Xungá. She wanted to erase these images from her mind, but they came again and again, torturing her.
The next month, the last of the year, Naxá felt calm, she sat for many hours in the corridor weaving and embroidering scarves as the lovelorn girls of the village had always done. Later, she went to the crystal clear waters of the river, swam until she nearly drowned and spent many hours sitting on the riverbank, contemplating the birds that built their nests in the immense trees on the riverbank.
One Friday during a cold week, favorable to the evil doings of the tíjes, exactly at midday, at the hour when the chikón3 came out, Naxá went to the chapel to ask for help by praying to the images of the saints. As she went along the riverbank she saw a masculine figure with a dark complexion and a pleasant face who opened his arms and said to her: “come.” It was Xungá, who was more attractive than ever. There was not a mark on his face, not even a sign of hard work. His hands were smooth, his feet were clean, his smile and his voice were like…celestial bells. Naxá stopped for a moment, in her mind the word “come” repeated insistently like the ringing of the bells. Finally she overcame her pride and ran to embrace Xungá, she kissed him and covered him with caresses. Not one word came from the lips of either of them, perhaps words were not necessary, the murmur of the river and the leaves of the trees were sufficient to tell of the depths of their love.
Naxá wanted to react, to separate herself, because she felt ashamed, but those ardent kisses had something strange about them that stopped her. Then she thought that fate could not be changed, and she resigned herself to belonging to Xungá, and she embraced him with more intensity, with greater love. She caressed his face, and then his hair with her delicate hands. At that moment his hat fell off. As it touched the ground the figure that she had been embracing, caressing, and kissing melted and changed into an enormous serpent that wrapped itself around her feet. It was not Xungá, it was only an illusion. She was filled with panic, unable to move. Her body was at the mercy of the reptile, and she fell dead on the grass.
The next day all that all that could be seen of Naxá was her shawl and of Xungá his hat. It was the curse of the tj’ie. Since then all the lovers in the village go without a hat and the women no longer wear shawls.
2. Where the gods live, a kind of heaven
3. A guardian of the earth
Originally published as “Cuento de Naxá” in Suplemento Especial Nuestra Palabra, in El Nacional, 7 de agosto de 1990, año 1, n. 14, p. 5.
Reprinted in Breve antología de cuentos indígenas. Una aproximación a la narrativa contemporánea, México, UNAM, 2005, p 43-54.