After lunch I have no particular destination in mind. I simply go where my feet lead me. I end up outside the Museo Rafael Coronel, where I take a few photographs of the ancient monastery ruins, where works of the famous Mexican artist are now on display. I have pesos in my pocket, and I could go into the museum, but I’m not in the mood to be cooped up indoors, so I keep walking the streets, always looking for something interesting to shoot.
I stumble upon a narrow, winding callejon and decide to explore it. In Zacatecas, you can’t get lost. All streets lead to the cathedral—eventually.
The callejon twists and turns and ascends, finally emptying into a narrow street, whose name I do not notice. I hear the voices of children as I walk up the street. They are playing in the back of a small pickup parked at the curb. I greet them and they greet me, and suddenly all of them are talking to me at once.
I feel self-conscious, because I have sunglasses on, and the children can’t see my eyes, so I take off my glasses. The girl (later I learn her name is Karina), shrieks in amazement, “You eyes is blue!” Only it sounds like “Jew ice is blue.”
The children ask me my name, and I tell them. Then I ask theirs, and they tell me. Karina asks me where I am from, and when I tell her California, she shrieks with delight. Maybe she has relatives there or maybe she dreams of going there someday.
“¿Habla usted español?” they ask.
“Solo un poquito,” I reply.
They have many questions, but I have few answers, because my grasp of Spanish is so pathetically small.
So we start trading words. Or rather, the children point to various objects, say the name in Spanish and ask me the English equivalent, which they dutifully repeat: gris/gray, verde/green, neumático/tire, coche/car, camioneta/pickup, mariposa/butterfly.
As our time of word-trading draws to a close, I ask the children to write their names for me. They are eager to do so. One by one they scrawl their names on the piece of folded paper I have fished from my pocket: Lionel, Karol, Ronaldo, Kelvin and Karina. Only Emiliano demurs.
Karina asks me to reciprocate, so I tear off a scrap of paper and write my name. She looks at it and pronounces it perfectly. She asks for the names of my children as well, so I write: Jon, Ben, Rachel. The way she clutches the scrap of paper in her hand, you would think I have given her a 100-peso note.
Not wanting to be left out, Lionel and Kelvin ask for the same information. I tear off two more pieces tiny pieces of paper, write on them and give them to the boys.
We bump fists all around as a sign of our newly established friendship. Karina says, “Bye,” in English and I walk off, up the crooked little street whose name I do not know, my heart overflowing with joy.