Worlds Between Cities
Using her finger, Pollo traced a curved line in the sky above us
delineating the path my plane would take back to the states. Her
dark eyes looked at me with a somewhat critical curiosity. "You will
come back, no?" I looked out and over the city below and wondered
what truth I should tell her; the one I feel or the one I believed
would come to pass. I came here two weeks ago to find calm in a
sleepy country only to find a trouble darker than the murky waters
of the bay I left behind in Boston. Now I found I had a decision to
make that felt heavier than the stone cliffs cutting through the
embankment beside my brother’s cabin up here in what the English
speaking world calls 'Mexico City,' La Cuidad de Mexico.
Eric and I sat at an old wooden picnic table in the backyard of
his cabin smoking a joint and talking.
"You’re not bringing home some damn stray woman this time,
understand? You don’t know people here. They can be dangerous."
I nodded and smiled. "A dangerous woman… sounds good to me."
He lived not quite at the top of the mountain so we could see
only a portion of the city below, but what we could see was amazing.
The buildings rose in most places only three stories and spread out
to envelop the various mountains that surrounded it. Houses climbed
to the tops like insects scaling the mounds that rise out of a
swamp, searching for higher ground. As the sky faded into darkness,
the only visible sign of life was a wavering field of lights, for
what seemed miles, appearing and disappearing behind a convection
heat rising from the streets below.
"You’ve gotta go to the Zocalo," he said as he passed the joint
back to me.
"Alright," I said, "You live here. I don’t."
Several days later, down in the city, Volkswagons dominated the
streets, mostly in the form of green and white taxis. I got off a
packed pasero and got into one of these taxis and headed for the
Zocalo, the ‘second largest city plaza in the world.’ A lane became
wherever the traffic happened to be flowing. The cars created a
river of constantly inter-weaving vehicles that had as little
concern for traffic laws and regulations as did the police who stood
in the intersections blowing their whistles indiscriminately,
miraculously waving the cars through without incident.
Vendors lined the streets selling freshly made quesadillas,
pureed juices, and magazines. At intersections people walked between
the idling cars selling newspapers, chicklets, clothes and whatever
else you could imagine. Ten year old boys sprayed windshields and
began cleaning without permission, then would finish and hold out
their hand for payment before a person had the chance to refuse
their service. The driver lunged the ‘bocho’ into the rapids forcing
his way through dark clouds of exhaust five lanes wide. When we
arrived, I got out and dropped 85 pesos in his hand. "Gracias por tu
ayudar," I said as I turned to the plaza behind me. The car bolted
forward bringing the door closed with the force of its forward
Behind me stood both the new and the old City Halls, to my right
was the Palacio Nationale, decorated throughout with the
revolutionary murals of Diego Rivera, and directly ahead, almost a
quarter of a mile away, stood the Metropolitan Cathedral. The
Spanish colonialists laid the first stones of this baroque
iconoclast in 1572 and forty-two years later it was dedicated as the
new place of worship. I thought about the irony of its structure
built directly over the footings of the giant pyramid of the Templo
Mayor, where Montezuma would regularly sacrifice human lives to the
As I began to walk through the various clusters of people in the
plaza a stocky, square-faced man, eyes darting nervously left to
right, shifted past me dragging a crying five or six year old girl
screaming, "Pollo! Pollo!"
‘Chicken?’ I thought.
She seemed to be looking for something or someone in the crowd
around her. The sound of her voice was beyond the fear of reprimand
for some wrong she may have committed, beyond the fright of the
father’s strong hands in anger. I couldn’t stop watching her.
"Mama!" her cracking voice screamed out. Her tone this time broke my
"Callate, hija! Basta!" the square-faced man shouted. He shouted
it again and again, crossing out the young girl´s screams, as if to
justify to everyone in listening range that he had a right to do
what he was doing. "Callate, hija! Basta! Basta!"
Only he wasn´t her father. I could tell he wasn´t. I was sure of
I turned toward them as the man made direct eye contact with me.
Noticing my change in direction, he glanced at a clustering of
police officers nearby, then released the girl’s tiny wrist and ran
into a maze of people, immediately disappearing.
As I approached the young girl, she collapsed onto the cold and
broken cement and began to scream louder and more hysterically,
"Pollo! Pollo! Pollo!"
People in the crowd began to turn to us with furrowed brows.
‘What’s this gringo doing with a little Mexican girl?’ they seemed
to be asking one another. A few in the crowd began to approach and
the girl’s screams increased in volume and intensity, traveling
through me and transmitting its terror. I realized that I was in
A woman suddenly burst through the crowd crying and yelling,
"Elizabeth! Eliiiizabeth!" She ran to the little girl, picked her
up and compressed her into her chest, burying her in the eternal
protection of the mother’s bosom. She looked at me in curious anger,
fright and a joy that is impossible to put into words. The rest of
those in the crowd who were approaching looked at her, back to me,
back to her, and then seemed to come to the same conclusion I had as
well. I had the confused and random collection of thoughts one has
after a car wreck.
I began to walk back towards the cathedral, my initial
destination, when the mother stopped me with words spoken in
restrained English, "Wait. Please, wait."
We sat down at a table on an outside rooftop porch overlooking
the Zocalo. The woman brushed her daughter’s hair out of her eyes
while she looked around the restaurant as if the stranger were at a
table across the room, waiting, planning. The fear of losing her
daughter had not quite subsided.
I was a little uncomfortable about having lunch with a complete
stranger while at the same time I felt strangely bonded to her by
the preceding event.
"She kept yelling for chicken," I said somewhat uncomfortably,
trying to make conversation.
"I haven’t had the chance to introduce myself yet", she said. "My
name is Melissa Rodriquez Solano. Liz calls me ‘Pollo.’ I call her
my little ‘Juevo,’" she said brushing her daughter’s hair from
across her face again. "It’s a little game we have played since she
was two. Which comes first, the chicken or the egg? Liz will say the
egg, and I will demand that it is the chicken, and so on." She
smiled looking back at Elizabeth who was sucking the last of the
mango juice from the bottom of the glass.
She then went on to tell me that she was an investigative
journalist for one of the many daily newspapers in Mexico City, La
Jornada, and had been doing an ongoing report on the Mexican Mafia
and the illegal infant organ trade. She wrote some key phrases in
English for me to learn more, and later, at Eric´s cabin, I did a
search on the net and found an article on Mexican child abduction
and the illegal infant organ trade by Hector Carreon at the Mexican
Center for Children Rights. I was shocked by it conclusions:
"There are many children in the United States waiting for organs
order to survive. As a result of this need, dozens of Mexican
nurses, doctors, lawyers, judges and even clerics sometimes
as accomplices in the theft of children from whom organs are
at clandestine clinics on the U.S.-Mexico border… "The organs are
transplanted to rich children right there!" said Victor Perera.
trade is so lucrative.....that a baby can bring as much as
$10,000 to the
corrupt government officials who are known to take part in it."
The article went on to say that:
"Among many horrors, the report lists 17 clinics in Tijuana and
on Mexico's U.S. border, that perform sophisticated transplants
and corneal tissues from kidnapped children to wealthy North
who pay top prices for the operations, no questions asked."
Pollo had quoted this article in her report and had been followed
and threatened daily since its publication. She was afraid to go
"What are you going to do?"
"I don´t know. They know where I live. They know everyone I
I thought in silence. Eric had bragged about how much better the
papers were in Mexico City, singling out La Jornada as one of the
best news sources in the city. "They publish Chomsky on the front
page!" he cheered. Eric would be angry, but this was different. He
respected the paper, he was always up for a good cause; he would
understand. There was an extra bedroom at his cabin and I offered it
to Pollo and Elizabeth for the next week and a half while I remained
in Mexico City. The rest was up to her. We left the restaurant and
hurried to the nearest taxi without pause.
"What can I do?" I asked in frustrated indignation.
Pollo looked over to Elizabeth, then back out to the city below
the mountain, then back to me. She knew the answer before I did.
Earlier that day, Eric was hysterically frightened, "El Eme?! The
Mexican fucking Mafia! I have to live here! Remember? You don’t!"
"They need a place to hide!"
"There´s good causes and then there´s stupidity!"
He screamed at me while Pollo and Elizabeth were out walking by
the small river that meandered down the side of the property he
rented. She had been here for week and I was soon to go back to
Boston and return to work. We could hear the river’s rushing water
below. The air was cool and dry and the sound of birds and barking
dogs resonated in the distance nearby. Dogs were everywhere in this
city. Street dogs, some friendly and warm, others traveling in
packs, waiting to catch someone or something on its own, vulnerable.
Now, her and I sitting together, Eric at work, the tranquility of
the mountain deceived us, calmed us, made it somehow appear that we
could just forget about it all and it would disappear. Pollo knew
better. We had become close in some strange way, tied by the tragedy
that almost unfolded in front of us, in front of everyone in the
plaza that day. I feared for her, but I would have to go back soon,
and so would she.
The distant sound of live traditional Mexican music, and the
laughter and movement that the music did not exist without, faded in
and out in the background. This was accompanied by fireworks that
had been exploding day and night since I arrived. It became an
ominous sound toward the end of my stay. Eric, Pollo and I would
jump up and search the grounds outside with desperate eyes every
time a big ‘bang’ or ‘crack’ would crash through the landscape about
us. Elizabeth, her little juevo, would look up from her drawing and
smile. "Fiesta Mama, fiesta!"
We sat together in his cabin, somewhere lost in the grand
explosion of life, the ever-morphing city, the amoeba of justice and
corruption, waiting. Thinking. In the depths of our confusions, in
the many monotonous recollections of the recent past, in the memory
of a moment so subtle I could have mistaken it for an angry father,
a distraught child; we searched for direction, hope.
Pollo and I went outside to sit and talk, Elizabeth stayed inside
"You will come back, no?" she said, dropping her hand from the
sky like a falling bird.
I sat back and thought about these new and frightening worlds
between cities. Language is a tool I use, at times well, and at
other times poorly. I didn’t speak this time for fear of lying, fear
of failing, and out of respect for all that silence could
communicate so much better than I.
Later that day I knew I would be back on a plane; my return
flight to Boston. The flight attendants will begin their ritual
before departure and images of moments spent on the mountain with
Eric, Pollo and Elizabeth will parade through my thoughts and charge
my heart with the passion for life and the ever-present fear of
death that invigorates everything here. As I leave I will face the
disjuncture of the troubles I stumbled into and the now distant life
I have lived in Boston, that other place, I will step off into with
the residue of Mexico City still resting upon my skin.
Later, when I walk away from the plane and make my way to the
train station, I will be reflecting on my last two weeks in Mexico
and wondering if I can forgive myself for leaving, for letting go of
a hand when the weight of the body became too much.
Nicholas Sorlien has received grants from the Massachusetts
Foundation for the Humanities, The Colleges of the Fenway and
Massachusetts College of Art where he received his MFA in the Studio
for Interrelated Media. While studying and teaching there he pursued
the boundaries between the various forms of creative expression and
their potential social and political impact. He has worked on
creative projects in Minnesota, Massachusetts, North Carolina,
Michigan, Oklahoma, Lousiana, and Mississippi, where he ran an
artists workspace, called the BluHous Workspace, for 4 years.
Nicholas presently resides in Asheville, North Carolina and has an
upcoming show at Dam, Stuhltrager Gallery in Brooklyn, New York.