I was walking back from the grocery store, loaded down with bags, when a man came up the sidewalk. I looked down and away. He leaned towards me and whispered, “F**k me.”
The insistent pressure exploded. I lost it. “F**k YOU!” I shouted, and then continued, calling him a dog, a monkey, an animal, a barbarian, and any other disagreeable creature I could think of in Spanish.
I put my grocery bags down, picked up an orange that had fallen from a nearby tree, and threw it at his head. I missed. He laughed again. I walked up and spit in his face.
He punched me. A highly informative exercise in futility ensued. I called the police; they came, the man threatened to kill me, the police shrugged, scuffed their boots, looked bored, said they could do nothing, and left. An old woman in the street told me to stop causing problems, shut up, and go home.
“Callate, pendeja,” she said.
That was all I could hear for weeks afterward, everywhere: Callate, pendeja. Shut up, bitch. Shut up and go home. I saw it in the faces of people selling vegetables at the market, in the apathetic stares of passengers on the bus, in anyone I passed in the street. A whole society saying, “shut up, bitch.”
Everything around me started to seem as if it were rotting on the inside, part of some persistent disease that was devouring what I loved about Mexico.