LL OVER THE TOWN, there were
effigies made of straw and paper and wood, dressed in rags and scraps of
cloth. Some were propped in windows, some enthroned on piles of kindling.
There were simple stick figures, representing the dying year, and their
were elaborate tableaux, some of them (we were told) satires on the politicians
in Quito. The most complex showed a doctor and nurse giving a blood transfusion
to their patient, while above the traditional baby flew, waiting to be born.
Five of us wandered through the street with the gathering
crowd. We'd met at dinner. in the restaurant meant for our caste. Like a
thousand others, it had faded psychedelic murals and a battered sequence
of visitor's books; the menu was in a dozen languages, from English to Hindi,
with each translation autographed and decorated. We drank beer and listened
to rock music and talked of Goa and Bali and Lamu, of the Amir Kabir and
the Pudding Shop, of Pokhara and Merida and all the changes we'd seen. Pleasantly
tipsy, we headed downtown.
The main street was blocked off from traffic by a flat-bed
truck with a band in it, playing pop music in Spanish and occasionally in
English; at the far end was another, so that halfway down the street the
tunes and rhythms blended into a friendly cacophony. A fine drizzle sprayed
the crowd but no one paid it any mind. On the sidewalks, there was moonshine
served hot by the tumbler; the more stolid citizens drank in the relative
comfort of the packed bars.
People kept looking at the clock; someone poured gasoline
over the soggy kindling; the bands stopped playing. There was half a minute
of anxious quiet till the church bell began to toll and everyone cheered.
The bonfires exploded and settled in to burn. We sang all the words we could
remember of "Auld Lang Syne" and everyone was laughing and shouting
and drinking toasts to everyone else.
I walked over to the largest fire and stared into the
flames. The straw man's coat had caught; his face collapsed into a flickering
yellow void, the skin gone and no bone left behind. Yesterday disappeared,
leaving nothing but some ashes that blew in the air and crumbled if you
tried to touch them.