Monica stood out on the curb, in front of the magenta-coloured bougainvillea branches sprawling every which way over the high wall of the villa’s facade.
Those flowers remind me of the finger-paintings my kids made when they were in Kindergarten – she mused – too bad they had to grow up. She waved goodbye to Peter, and closed the wrought iron gate, just as he opened the front passenger door of Raymundo’s shiny grey taxi. “I’ll be home about 6, Aunt Augusta,” he called out to her.
The name he’d taken to calling Monica banished the reminiscing about her uptight son and daughter – it never took much to restore her good humour – and the prospect of diving in the cenotes definitely had Peter in good spirits. So far Merida seemed to offer the magic they both needed.
Two iridescent hummingbirds sippng from a feeder hanging near the fountain reminded her that she needed to get some breakfast before joining the women who crochet hats for the children with Cancer. She figured she would surely find soft sweet buns at the bakery she saw on the corner, and eat them as she walked to the library.
Finding her way along the grid of streets presented no difficulty – in fact she arrived at 9 on the dot – and stepped right inside. A man with a head of thick grey curls looked over the top of his wire frame glasses. “Welcome! If you’ve come to crochet, just walk straight through to the back patio.”
“I am here to do just that, but I’m afraid I have no hooks or yarn with me.”
“No problem,” she heard someone behind her say. “I’m ‘Em, short for Emily, and I have lots. Come on with me.” Monica turned around to see a set of perfect white teeth smiling warmly, and she followed Emily’s quick steps to a circle of busy fingers and animated talk.
“Hey Ladies, we have a new worker-bee.” To a one, they clapped and a woman about her age, with dark dyed hair, held out the chair beside her. Monica felt she’d been led to just the right place.
Emily passed her a pattern, two balls of soft cotton yarn and two different-sized hooks. “This is the design most of us follow; it is quick to make; but feel free to add any of your own detailing. The kids love wearing unique hats.”
Monica told the others that back in Vancouver she belonged to a group similar to this one, “But we have to use heavy wool to make our caps.” They laughed and then she listened to the story of how their circle had formed – and she heard about the children – some came from far away. Other countries, actually. And of course the young patients were from poor homes. “They appreciate anything we give them and so do their families.” An obviously new mom, named Anna, gestured to a sleeping infant in the stroller beside her. “This is John, my son.” On her face, Monica could see the love and gratitude the young mother felt for her healthy little boy. “Let’s make some hats!”
After three hours, everyone started gathering their things and heading home, Monica felt pleased that she’d managed to complete two caps in the allotted time. “I cannot think of a more pleasant way to have spent my first morning in Merida,” she said. It had been easy to bond with the group of like-minded women. She felt as though some of them might even become good friends. “A few of us are going for lunch,” said Emily, “Would you like to come?” Indeed she would; she hoped to glean some information from the sprite minds of the Merida Crochet Group.
Falling into step with the other five walkers; she had no difficulty navigating the straight, sunny streets. No worries if she got lost; she had a card with her address tucked into her wallet. And besides the memories were coming back.
Seated around a curlicue metal table in the shade of an orchid tree, Monica listened to the stories swirling around her. The same ones she’d heard countless times – of family, the proclivities of men, the heat, the bugs – and the wonder of love. These were lucky women, and they seemed to be fully aware of their blessings. “And now – if you’d like to – tell us about yourself,” said Emily. Five pairs of eyes focussed on Monica.
At first she felt her habitual reticence, and she got ready to launch into the well-rehearsed spiel that always offset any probing questions. But oddly enough, she stopped before she even began. She looked around at the expectant faces. “I noticed that you have a poster of the book, SIX, hanging at the entrance of your fine library,” Monica said.
“Indeed, and our copy is a hardcover first edition,” said Bella, the woman who had urged Monica to sit beside her. “Isn’t it odd that such a fine story has never been claimed by its author,” added Arlette, a small blonde from Tennessee. Emily asked, “Why are you so interested in the book, Monica. It must be 50 years since it was written.”
“Fifty years, four months and six days ago the 365 pages were left, wrapped in a rebozo, in the sacristy of San Juan de Dios Church, right here in Merida’s Centro.” Monica swallowed and tilted back her head to look up at the splendid foliage, peppered with delicate purple blooms.
“Do you believe that actually happened,” Emily asked. The edge in her voice did not hold any challenge, just puzzlement.
Monica brought her gaze back down and looked into the eyes of each woman at the table. “Oh I absolutely do. I know the story is true because I am the one who placed the manuscript there. I wrote Six. And I am ready to reveal the secret I’ve kept for more than fifty years.”