The Curandera

San Felipe, Baja, Mexico
The Curandera

“You’re walking like a shoelace salesman,” Donald told me. “You gotta go see this woman in town. She’s a curandera, a healer. She’ll fix you up in no time.” Donald pushed his glasses up his nose with his fingertip and managed to look like someone who's just given away a hot stock tip.

“What does she do?” I asked, not really wanting to know.

“She makes adjustments. She really takes you in hand and goes to work on you.” Donald made some unpleasant wringing and jabbing motions in the air. “I went to see her last week after I woke up and could barely move. I must have slept wrong or something. Anyway, I walked out of there a new man. She was amazing.”

My particular skeletal problems are hauntingly chronic and persistent as a sunrise. I had sampled a ceaseless stream of chiropractors, osteopaths, physiotherapists, naturopaths and acupuncturists without any enduring relief. I had been stabbed, beaten, punctured, twisted, racked and electrocuted more times than a gay Democrat at a Texas barbeque. Donald noticed my dubious look and assured me the curandera was the answer to all my worries.

“She’s got the touch,” he assured me. “For Chrissake, she’s a healer. What have you got against being healed?”

“Nothing,” I relented. “Where does she live?”

* * *

The plywood door bounced away from my knuckles each time I rapped on it. I glanced at the metal hasp that hung from the frame. An unlocked rusted lock dangled from it. She must be home, I concluded and knocked again.

The door slowly scraped open and I found myself looking down at a tiny Indian woman with black eyes and salted gray hair.

“Buenas dias,” she said. Her voice was high pitched and the flat line of her broad mouth barely moved when she spoke.

I introduced myself and explained to her in my three-legged Spanish that I would like a treatment. I pointed to my neck and lower back to uncloud her understanding. She nodded brusquely and waved me into the small house, scraping the plywood door closed after me. I saw a wide dark arc on the cement floor where the corner of the door eternally rubbed.

The old woman led me behind a curtain and had me show her my back with my arms spread out. Her small driftwood fingers quickly probed my neck and back. Then she gathered up a blanket from a cot and threw it out flat on the floor.

“A las rodillas,” she said and made me understand she wanted me on my hands and knees. I obliged as she rattled open a bureau drawer and removed a long towel. She tied the two ends together, slipped the makeshift sling under my chin and reached for a broom leaning against the wall. The old woman fed the handle of the broom through the loop just under the knot and began to turn it like a windlass. The towel slowly tightened around my head as the twists collected under the broomstick like braids of hair. I clamped my jaw against the pressure, afraid my mandibles might snap free and lop off my ears.

When the pressure made ostrich eggs of my eyes, I grunted and lifted my hand. That was her signal to give the broom an extra turn. My head felt like I was sitting at the bottom of the Pacific ocean without a bathysphere. You could have rested a curtain rod across by eye balls.

Calmate,” she intoned, digging her little heels against the concrete floor. I felt the force of her slow pull and then a nerve hit a High C of pain in my left shoulder. I tried to protest but only managed to sound like a dog begging for food.

The old woman, who now seemed to weigh more than a fully loaded water truck, suddenly changed her stance without relaxing her pull. She gripped the broomstick like a chin-up bar and began snapping it up and down, as if she were putting out a fire with a doormat. I braced my muscles against the murderous assault as my head bucked like a dashboard dog on a stretch of Baja 250. Then she flung her arms side to side. The pain was incredible and I tried to cry out. She ignored the pathetic sounds like a real professional and began tracing full moons in the air with the broom. So I resigned myself to death, or at the very least a few years on life support. I had read once that Attila the Hun killed entire populations of cities and had the heads of the dead stacked to make huge pyramids. I was pretty sure this woman rode with him.

She signaled me to lie on my stomach. I meekly complied. Then the merciless crone stepped out of her sandals and jumped onto the small of my back. It was like lightning striking a stalk of dry bamboo. The pain was so intense I was certain she had severed my spinal column. My eyes trembled on the border of whiteness as she began bouncing on my kyphotic backbone like an acrobat about to execute an especially intricate dismount, one carefully designed to coax a 9 from the Russian judge.

I don’t know how long the session lasted. Whole civilizations might have risen and fell before that psychopath was through with me. If I had been a healthy person with a well-oiled, vigorous, uncultured spine, I might have been able to spring to my feet and shrug off the aerobic discourtesies. But then if I were that person I wouldn’t have been looking for someone to relieve my discomforts. And I would not have lain there on the floor, utterly incapable of the simplest self-actuating movement.

I’m sure the woman thought I had fallen asleep. She may even have become a bit flushed with pride about it. And I admit I nearly did yield to sleep. The Big Sleep. But the truth is a paralyzed man can easily be confused with an unhurried, restful one. And at that moment I was so unhurried I fully expected to live out the rest of my days as an ottoman beside the woman’s ruinous sofa. Or maybe as a gringo pelt splayed across the chipped concrete hearth of the rusted propane heater.

Suddenly I felt my rib telegraph my brain an RSVP as the crone’s toe nudged my side.

Ya esta,” she announced like a mechanic just finishing a wheel alignment. “Subate.”

Get up indeed.

I brought my knees to my chest and rolled onto my side. I convinced my elbows to lever my shoulders off the floor and then both knees instinctively moved to keep the center of gravity below my spine. I rose to my feet like a new-born giraffe, full of wobbles and knocking limbs.

“How much?” I asked, the irony seeming monumentally extravagant.

Veinte dolares,” she replied with clinical dignity.

I took a twenty dollar bill from my wallet and handed it to her. She followed me with small steps as I lurched toward the door. But before we arrived she arrested my progress and pointed to her television set.

“You fix?” she said. Donald must have told her I repaired computers.

I turned painfully on my freshly trampled spine and glanced at the inert box. For a moment I entertained an uplifting thought and wondered if she would be willing to lend me her broomstick. I was going to show her I was a fast learner and that a few well-aimed strokes would have her soap operas numbing her life in no time. Instead, I said no and waited for her to drag the plywood door open.

I was flat on my back for three days after the curandera’s treatment. During that time I tended to dream about gurneys, wheelchairs, traction beds and hoya lifts. When I was awake I kept a broom within reach, in case Donald returned. I planned to give him twenty dollars worth of the blunt end.

Written by Randy Kerr (JWR Kerr). Read more about the author at Google+ or Amazon.


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