Afternoon monsoon. Photo by author.
Lázaro and Nana Coyo Praise the Monsoons
Lázaro’s eyes opened on the morning of his 52nd birthday to find the sun softened by an overcast sky. He turned onto his side and gazed out his bedroom window at the mountains that framed the western horizon. These mountains had been the view from his bedroom for 37 years. He chuckled in disbelief. In all those years, he’d never seen them this green, like jade gods rising from the desert basin. If he didn’t know better, he might imagine that he was looking out at the mountainous highlands of Chiapas or Vermont or maybe Ireland—some place whose verdancy the desert never had a dream of rivalling. But no, this was Tucson, Arizona, the wild womb of the Sonoran Desert, and it was turning out to be one of the wettest monsoon seasons in recorded history.
Early into the summer, the desert dwellers had been cautions. After 10 years of near-misses, no one expected a real monsoon. Everyone knew too well the ache left by swelling storms that never shed a drop. Misplaced confidence might spook the elements. But the rains came, and came, and came with a fervor that would make a tight-collared priest a little uneasy. Everywhere Lázaro looked, life seemed giddy, drunk on water—delighted coyotes, pregnant rattlesnakes, feasting hawks, abundant jackrabbits. Even the more conservative cacti had surrendered in flowering abandon night after night.
Lázaro, himself, was most surprised by how catching the energy of it all was. He sat up in bed and turned to take in the sight of José—sound asleep, foot dangling over the side of the bed, head still buried under the pillow he’d used to drown out the night’s storms. Lázaro felt a queasiness in his stomach, an excitement mixed with the odd sensation of falling and rising. He let out a long, slow breath, trying to ease the feeling. He’d never been one for roller coasters nor for inviting someone into his bed after one night’s dinner. He knew Nana Coyo would have plenty to say about this.
As if on cue, Lázaro heard rustling in the kitchen followed by the familiar spitting and hissing of the percolator. Nana Coyo was up. The smell of the coffee steadied him, and he slowly put on his robe and slippers, careful not to disturb José. Lázaro tiptoed down the hallway inwardly groaning at the tightness of his aging body. Nana Coyo had already begun her morning rounds through the garden, and he could see her through the kitchen window, hunched over her herbs, a pair of yellow butterflies drawing figure eights over her head like a crown.
Lázaro paused for a moment, feeling a sharp pang in his gut. If he was turning 52, that meant that Nana Coyo would be 89 this fall. He watched the movements of her frail frame as she whispered to the plants, studied their conditions, and negotiated who would make it into the day’s tea. She wore her trademark braid down her back, white hairs as soft as spun sugar popped out of place. Lázaro knew that Nana Coyo was growing smaller and lighter as time went by. He feared the day that she could become as weightless as the butterflies that danced around her. In one moment, she could be swept away by a capricious breeze. He wanted to bury his head her in bony belly and pull her down with the full force of gravity. He didn’t know how he would ever live without her.
Nana Coyo looked up from the plants and spotted Lázaro in the kitchen.
“Lázaro! Mijo! Àbreme la puerta!”
Lazaro opened the screen door for her, and Nana Coyo shuffled through carrying her dish basin filled with fragrant plants. She set them down on the kitchen table and served herself a cup of coffee, adding milk and a heaping spoon of chocolate Nestle Quick. She sat next to Lázaro at the table and leaned over, pulling down his head so she could plant a kiss at the center of his forehead.
“Felicidades, mijo. How many years has it been?” She patted him on the shoulder.
“I’m 52, Nana,” Lázaro answered.
“52? I thought it was more like 9, since that sinvergüenza Trevor left you.”
Lázaro paused for a moment and felt the heat rush up his face. Nana erupted into peals of laughter. Her voice cracked. Her whole skinny body shook, bending over the kitchen table with tears streaming down the creases of her brown face.
“Ay ay ay! Que sabroso está este momento.” She licked her lips and pinched her fingers together like she had just taken a bite from a decadent pastry.
“I was outside in the garden cracking myself up just thinking of all the things I could say to you today.” She slapped Lázaro on the leg.
Lázaro closed his eyes and shook his head. “Just get it all out now, Nana, before José wakes up.”
Nana quieted. “I’m sorry mijo.” She reached over and patted Lázaro’s hand. “It’s just that I didn’t sleep that well last night with all the truenos. I’m a little loopy.”
Nana continued, “and I was awake in my bed, thunder and lightning crashing all around, and I suddenly thought to myself, ‘I don’t know who’s having more fun, Madre Tierra or Lázaro and José, but the whole damn house is shaking!’”
Nana Coyo doubled over again, cackling and gasping with delight.
Lázaro sighed. “You’re not that funny.”
“Ay Lázaro. No te hagas! The santitos got you good! You end up in bed with a priest”
“Ex-priest,” Lázaro corrected.
“Bueno, ex-priest, who comes to my full moon temazcal, and he’s Comadre Pili’s nephew who’s been traveling through México for the last five years studying the medicina. And you’re always going for those fast-driving MBAs with their corbatas and bluetooth, quien-sabe-que cositas in their ears, but you can’t keep your hands off this one. This brown, beautiful curandero.”
Nana Coyo dramatically put her hand on her heart. “And your dry spell ended in the middle of the wettest monsoon in memory. The spirits answered so many of my prayers that I half expect to die soon!”
Lázaro rolled his eyes but couldn't contain the smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. She was right. He’d been completely overtaken, spontaneous, uncharacteristically relaxed. Now he felt all the doubts beginning to gnaw at him. Whatever the magic of place and timing had been, he feared it was already all unraveling.
Reading the change in his expression, Nana turned to take Lázaro’s face into her hands. She placed her forehead to his. Her voice dropped to a whisper.
“It’s good mijo. This can be good if you let yourself.”
Lázaro felt a catch in his throat. He took in a jagged breath, closed his eyes, and two teardrops fell onto the table. He found Nana Coyo’s gaze for a few seconds, allowing himself to fall into the warm sunlight of her eyes. For an instant, he was 14 again.
Nana Coyo pressed her forehead more firmly into his, “Tú eres mi otro yo. Siempre. You are worth all the love in the world, Lázaro. Never forget it.”
With that, Nana broke the spell. She gave him a few gentle slaps on the cheek then loudly proclaimed:
“What does a viejita have to do to get some bacon around here? I need to refuel. Last night may not have been the most passionate night of my life, but it came close!”
Lázaro walked over to the refrigerator, grateful.