ALL 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.