Excerpts from “Image and Likeness” – Part 3

Mary TeckYear of the Pilgrim

Continued from Part 1 and Part 2

A Lost Vocation

Five months before the churches closed, on March 8, the State forced the seminary in Zamora to turn out its students and seal its doors. Among the devastated students sent back to their homes was Emmanuel Francisco. He had known that other seminaries had closed, and a part of him intellectually knew that the same could happen in Zamora, but he had never truly acknowledged that reality. In spite of everything going on throughout Mexico, in spite of schools and convents closing, priests being deported and shot, he maintained an almost supernatural certainty that Zamora would remain open and he would soon enough be ordained a priest.

But that certainty was eventually broken, strong as it was, and became dismantled slowly in agonizing stages. As Emmanuel travelled the sun-blistered roads back to San José and his family on the ranch, he passed through phases of disbelief. At first he walked with an expectant sureness that at any moment he would be caught by a fellow student running after him, telling him that the priests had resisted, that the seminary would remain open. Every few steps he would look over his shoulder, each time more disappointed when he didn’t see any figure forming on the road’s horizon. As he gradually came to see this dream as foolish, anger began to grow inside his chest. His limbs began to burn, his hands and feet to tingle, until he could not contain his fury. He started picking up rocks and throwing them at the sky above him, cursing God for His impotence.

“This was for you, God, not for me! I was to be a priest for you! How can you let this happen? How can you not have the power to stop this?” As he stared up, eyes wild and strained, tears prickling his sunburnt cheeks, he saw only the gently stirring wisps of cirrus clouds and three distant vultures soaring high above, beautifully majestic in their flight despite their scarred red skulls and the carrion still dangling from their beaks. Distance blurs and softens even the most grotesque.

Watching the vultures scavenging with such grace and peace, he finally let himself fall down in the hot red dirt on his knees, then sink lower until his haunches rested against his heels. There he cried, clean wet tracks running slowly down his smudged, ashen face, until he felt his strength return. At length he stood up and, spitting the fine film of dirt and sweat from his lips, continued his long, solitary walk home.

*

Eva Rosa received a hastily written, unsigned telegram on March 11, 1926: Seminary closed. Coming home. It preceded her son by only one day. On the twelfth, she saw him walking down the road from afar like the prodigal son returning, only this son had gone out to lose the world instead of searching to gain it, and was instead being forced back into it. He carried only a gunnysack stuffed with his few belongings and a change of clothes slung over his shoulder with a broad strip of tattered cloth.

Eva ran out to meet her son, throwing her arms around him before either of them had said a word. She knew he would be crushed by the school’s closing, but she could not disguise her mother’s joy at seeing her son back home.

“Manuel, I am so glad to see you. We received your letter only yesterday telling us the seminary closed. How long ago?”

“Two weeks. Three.”

“Did the federales come?”

“Just one.”

“What did he do? What did he say?”

“Nothing. He gave the monsignor a notice from the governor.”

“Telling him the seminary must close?”

“Yes. And that the State would be coming in one week to take the building.”

“And he obeyed? Right away?”

“Yes.”

“Did anyone protest? Did anyone try to stay or fight?”

“No. The monsignor told us to do nothing. He made us pack and leave immediately.”

“None of the others tried to stay?”

“No. We all obeyed the monsignor.”

“Good,” she nodded unconvincingly, “that is good. But come now. Come inside and eat.”

As soon as she had received the letter the day before, she had made Adán kill a young cow and began preparing a feast to welcome Emmanuel home. Inside the kitchen, she took out a warm towel full of soft corn tortillas and a large pot of black beans and rice. She busied herself preparing a plate full of food and pouring a glass of horchata. Once she had everything ready, she set it down on the table in front of her son and sat down beside him.

She watched him closely as he ate, grabbing his forearm with a squeeze now and then. She waited to see if he would speak first, but she could soon tell that he would not begin a conversation. He still had not fully accepted the situation, and conflicting, confused thoughts remained jumbled in his head. He could not yet sort them out for himself, let alone convey them to his mother.

Eva had studied her oldest child since his birth, and she could read the strain in his mind through his eyes, the movement of his hands, the flittering corners of his mouth, as she could read all of her children. In her perceptive tact, she knew not to pile on him all the questions that ran through her own mind. It could be hours, days—weeks, even—before he would be ready to talk, but she would be able to tell when the time came, and she could wait until then.

Follow along with Part 4 tomorrow.