I’ve been reading Tony Cohan’s On Mexican Time. He writes:
Beggars along the calles tend to be young Indian mothers, old, poor women, blind people. Anyone less afflicted is expected at least to bang a tambourine, respirate an accordion, whack a tuneless guitar to proffer the hand or the cup. God will reward you, they whisper back.
In Plaza Genaro Codina, a boy about 10 years old is respirating an accordion. He coaxes soulful music from the squeeze box while his two younger siblings, about 8 and 6, wander about the plaza with tiny, upturned sombreros in their outstretched hands, begging for donations.
Accordion Boy’s little brother approaches me, but I shake my head. I’m not going to be suckered into giving anything, not today anyway. Call me hardhearted, if you will, but I’m always suspicious of kids who are begging for money on the streets. Where are their parents? Who gets the money? Where does it go?
The little guy approaches the next person in the plaza, who also refuses to give, and Accordion Boy’s music becomes even more dolorous. He has been sitting on a bench, caressing his instrument as though it were his lover. Suddenly he stands, and begins trudging through the plaza, not missing a doleful note.
Suddenly I am overcome with remorse. Maybe it’s the music. Maybe it’s the angel perched on my shoulder, shaking her head.
I catch the little brother’s eye and motion him to come. In an instant, he’s standing in front of me expectantly. I fish in a buttoned pocket for my baggie of coins, but all I can find is my baggie of peso notes, nothing smaller than a fifty. I look in every pocket of my shirt, every pocket of my vest, every pocket of my pants: no coins.
I give the little boy a helpless shrug and a wan smile. No way am I going to give him fifty pesos. The disappointed lad scampers off.
But if I hurry back to my room, where undoubtedly I have left my baggie of coins, maybe Accordion Boy will still be playing in the plaza when I return. It takes me no more than fifteen minutes to walk from the plaza to my room and back, but Accordion Boy and his siblings have vanished.
I begin to search for them, listening always for the lugubrious music. I walk through the narrow callejon beside the Mercado that leads to Jardín de Independencia, but I cannot find them. Where can they be?
Suddenly I hear the strains of an accordion. I follow the sounds into the next street, but when the player comes in view, I am disappointed to see a man, and not Accordion Boy.
Daylight is waning. Even though many of the children of Zacatecas are on the streets late into the night, somehow I don’t think I will be able to find Accordion Boy this evening.
Reluctantly, I call off my search. Perhaps I will find him tomorrow, or the next day.
“Mexicans,” writes Tony Cohan, “are afflicted with charity, the curse of a brimming heart.”
Accordion Boy and his siblings have shown me the emptiness of my own heart.
Text and photo © 2011 by Mark M. Redfearn, all rights reserved