The Silver Scarf

Catrina comes to see the Mexican celebration, Day of the Dead, as it really is.

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4. The Sugar Skulls

   “…going?” I asked, following his purposeful steps.


“The best sugar skulls are way down the other end of the street,” He said over his shoulder, his hand finding mine, “Stay close, the road down here isn’t closed off for the festival.”


“Why not?” I asked as I jogged slightly to keep in step beside him.


“It’s tourist country, and they don’t slow down for anything.” His jaw clenched and the smile faded from his lips. It had to be one of the first times I had seen him truly rattled.


But I’m a tourist aren’t I? I remember thinking to myself.


But before I could voice my thoughts he took a deep breath and the tension left his features. He continued, cheery as ever, “But they don’t know where the good stuff is.”


My skirt swayed on my hips as I sidestepped people, the mass of people thinning as we continued. Road signs marked the end of the closed road, but we were already on the footpath. José’s hand tightened on mine as cars sped past beside us, the wind of traffic sweeping tendrils of my hair free from the bun. The sound became more and more distant as we entered a courtyard. It was a more sombre part of the festivities, where the young and old of the community celebrated. It felt… safe. José’s grip on my hand relaxed as we approached one of the few sellers in the area.


She sat on an old knitted rug and had an array of vividly coloured skulls staring out blankly from their sugary skin, just as she did from her own leathery skin. That was until José stepped into view, causing a huge smile to crack her weathered features. He sat with her and they spoke in animated Spanish, her face brightening as they did so. At one point José gestured to me in their conversation, earning me a warm smile and nod of acknowledgement.


“Catrina, this is my Aunt Maria.” José said at last, so I could wave politely from where I had sat on the blanket to stare at the intricate patterns on the sugar skulls.


“Ah, Catrina, I hear much about you.” She said with a wide smile, and laughed, “Much, much.”


I could do nothing but go bright red, like José. This just made her laugh more. When she finished, and my face began to look less like a tomato, she passed over two sugar skulls, one for each of us. José tried to hand over money to pay for them, but she refused, so he placed the money in her hand, closed it in a fist and spoke to her softly in Spanish.


She responded, her Spanish breaking as she nodded. I saw the hint of tears in her eyes as she passed up a simple candle and squeezed his hand, “For your mamá, José” She smiled at me, her eyes crinkling, tears making her dark eyes sparkle in the dying light of dusk. He tucked that too into his satchel as we departed, the sugar skulls gradually disappeared as we walked.


“Do you mind if we visit the cemetery?” José asked softly as we wandered back the way we had come, sugar skull in hand. The traffic had picked up as darkness began to fall, it was now a low roar in my left eardrum.


“No,” I turned to him, but he was looking straight ahead, his face expressionless. His dark eyes could only hint at how troubled he truly was. I nearly tripped on my own feet trying to stay by his side when he stopped suddenly, brow furrowed as he looked out into the distance.


“Do you see that?” He asked and pointed up ahead, “That woman?”


I had a genuine look up the cracked pavement, but couldn’t see anything in the growing dark, “No…”


“That woman,” His voice growing excited, “The one in the silver scarf.”


“José, I don’t see anyone.” I looked back to him, but he was focussed ahead.


“Right there, coming towards us.” He pointed into the darkness, a desperate hope etched into his features.


“Maybe we should go back.” But my words fell on deaf ears. We waited a tense moment in silence.


“No!” He yelled out in the silence, to who or whatever he could see in the distance, “Come back Mamá!”


She passed away years ago, I thought fleetingly to myself before fear took reign over my thoughts again.


His voice echoed and overlapped, a demented chorus in the dark. He began to move forward slowly, one hand outstretched. His sugar skull fell to the ground and exploded in a burst of sugar.


He was off, down the dark pavement, headlights lighting his figure briefly as he ran. I set off after him. My feet pounded on the footpath and the sound echoed hollowly off of the surrounding buildings.


“José!” I called after him, but he was too far ahead. Too far to stop him.'


José darted out into the oncoming traffic. A flash of red crossed my vision as the rose slipped out from behind my ear.


“José!” I screamed, “José Posada!”

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