Excerpts from the Bacanora Notebooks: The Beast – Mather Schneider
July 18, 2020
Right before lunch, out at the copper mine north of Hermosillo, Miguel took a rope and stepped into the latrine and locked the door. He stood on the toilet and tied the rope to a wooden rafter. He made a loop on the other end, slipped it around his neck and stepped off the toilet.
They found him an hour later and cut him down, laid him on the ground and put a blanket over him. Someone called his wife Camilia. Camilia was talking to her neighbor Gabriela when she got the news. Gabriela gave her a ride out to the mine.
Miguel was born in Culiacan. When he was 7 years old his parents had left him at home and disappeared. He had no other family that he knew of. He’d never been to school. After a few days he had eaten all the food in the tiny adobe house and he wandered out into the world. He climbed up the outside of the cargo train that ran through town. They called it, “la Bestia.” The Beast. He rode north on the roof with many other people from all over southern Mexico and Guatemala and other places. He planned on going to the United States but after a few hundred miles he couldn’t take it any longer and jumped off.
“What is this place?” he asked the first person he saw.
“This is Hermosillo,” the man told him.
He walked through the big town for a couple days, sleeping in abandoned buildings and stealing corn from trucks. One day he stood and watched a boy standing in the street at an intersection juggling limes. The boy was not much older than him. He juggled the limes and then some people would hand him pesos from their car windows before the light turned green.
Miguel didn’t have any limes, so he found 3 rocks and practiced juggling. He was a fast learner. One day he stepped out into the intersection to try his luck. He earned 8 pesos on his first try! But later the first boy came to juggle his limes.
“Hey, this is my place,” he told Miguel. “Get lost.” The boy pushed Miguel to the side of the street. After that Miguel found his own intersection.
He saved his pesos and bought a squeegee and a soap bottle and began washing car windshields instead of juggling. He raced out to the cars and squirted water on the windshields before the drivers could wave him off and he would clean them so well that most people would feel obliged to give him something.
One day he was at his intersection and the car he was cleaning sputtered and died. The driver got out, a big man.
“Help me push this piece of shit,” the man said.
Miguel helped the man push his car into a dirt lot on the side of the street, while the other cars honked.
“Gracias,” the man said. “You’re pretty strong. What’s your name?”
Miguel thought about that for a few seconds.
“Miguel Hermosillo,” he said.
The man laughed.
“Ok, Miguel Hermosillo. My name’s Mauricio. If you like, I can put you to work where you’ll make more money than washing windshields.”
Miguel didn’t trust him.
“I’m serious. No funny business,” Mauricio said. “I’m a foreman at the mine. We always need good young men like you.”
“You live around here?”
“Sleeping on the streets?”
Miguel nodded yes.
“I’ll tell you what, let me call my brother, he’ll come pick us up. You can sleep at my house and tomorrow I’ll take you out to the mine.”
He started at the bottom, doing the grunt work, digging and hauling. He worked hard and in a few years he became a foreman. The company operated many mines in Mexico and they sent him to all kinds of places. He would work for a few months, maybe a year, in one place, and they would send him to another. He supervised the other miners and he made sure the machinery was in good working order. He especially liked the mines that were up in the mountains. He liked sleeping outside under the stars, fishing, cooking over fire, digging in the water, digging in the cookpot, digging in his mind.
Camilia, one of Natalia’s sisters, was working at a taco stand when he met her. Whenever he was back in Hermosillo for a while and he went every day to see Camilia and to eat her cabeza tacos. She didn’t like him at first. He was too short. And he was quiet and too serious. But he was strong and boyish looking, and after a while she accepted him. By this time, Miguel had plenty of money and when they were married he bought Camilia a house. Camilia was from the North side of Hermosillo. She was the oldest of 6, with 4 sisters and one brother. All of them lived with their father who was a bricklayer. Their mother had run off with another man. Camilia wanted to get far away from them, and the south side of Hermosillo was the new hot spot, so that’s where Miguel bought her a house. The south side was only 30 minutes away, but it might as well have been Culiacan. Camilia’s father couldn’t understand why she wanted to be so far away and when she left he thought, she’s just like her mother.
Miguel and Camilia had 3 children, 2 girls and a boy. The mining company continued to send Miguel on the road and he spent most of the next 22 years away from home. Copper mines, gold mines, limestone mines. He liked to watch the holes in the earth grow, the men toiling, digging, the machines smoking and grinding. The tunnels fascinated him. He sent all his money to his family and he got home when he could. Everybody seemed happy with the situation. When he came home they would visit Camilia’s family to cook carne asada. Miguel was always in control of the grill. He knew how to pay attention to the fire and everyone agreed he grilled the beef perfectly. Everyone liked Miguel. Camilia put on airs because of the money she had but Miguel never put on airs. Her mother had come home too, out of the blue. Even her mother liked Miguel.
Miguel decided he’d had enough of road life and requested to be permanently stationed at the mine in Hermosillo. This was about the same time Natalia and I moved to Hermosillo. Miguel was home every night. Camilia and the children resented him being there. He was in the way, the house seemed cramped. They didn’t really know him. His hands and manners were hard and he seemed to Camilia like a country bumkin. Camilia and he began to fight. On the rare occasions that she would visit her sisters she complained that Miguel was always a grouch, that he was always digging around looking for something that he had lost, that he never talked, that he was dirty, that he was always serious, that he embarrassed her in front of her friends.
And then one night, Camilia was at a party with another man…
Nobody could figure out why Miguel didn’t leave her and start new. He was only 50, physically healthy, and he had some money. He could have quit that job and moved to Cabo San Lucas! Maybe it was the humiliation? Or he truly loved her that much? It’s something that hurts us all, something that no one can really understand. He was tired of fighting it.
Camilia had to fight with the mine company for Miguel’s last paycheck. That’s all she seemed to care about. Her sisters blamed her for what happened. They shunned her, they still shun her. We went to the funeral and watched them put him in the hole in the ground. Camilia doesn’t visit Miguel’s grave. His kids don’t either. The other sisters go and clean the headstone and put flowers down. Natalia has dreams of Miguel using his hands to dig out of his grave and she wakes up crying.
I lift a shot of Bacanora to you now, Miguel Hermosillo, my brother. I have taped together the scraps that I know of your life. I look at them and see that they are hardly anything, that I hardly knew you. Why have I written them?
It’s what I do when I get up in the morning.
It helps me get through another day.