THE INSURGENCE of CHAN SANTA CRUZ
BOOK NINE: BOOK of the JAGUAR PRIEST
CHAPTER THIRTY ONE
The aeroplane was narrow, like a hummingbird, and Silvestro's place was behind the pilot. From this vantage, he had to look over the man's shoulder to see the mechanical instrumentation essential to flight. A scientist had explained the aerodynamic principle to Colonel Solis, who had tried his best to find Mayan equivalents for the terms that he heard but had failed utterly, at last resorting to the language of mythology and magic while the Tatoob stood, nodding his grave agreement. The deception gnawed upon the Colonel's stomach like one of those parasites from the Territory; his career was a very repudiation of superstition. Mayan or Greek, Solis could not see what differed the one from the other and, in this way, felt apart from those leading lights of Mexico who, as Carranza, could turn any Classic phrase... from vulgar Petronius to the lofty principles of Aristotle... to earthly advantage. He was dispirited and, in the thin air of the plateau of aircraft, felt another Solis standing by himself.
The mustachioed pilot embraced Silvestro before they climbed in and showed him where oxygen could be found, should he feel faint. Once they were secure, Silvestro sampled the gas, finding it sweet to his lungs and bestowing a power of unity with this earth and the skies. He sampled it often but in hasty, reflexive gulps, as one might smoke a pipe while reading. The fears of the pilot and mechanics... a strong updraft, ice, malfunctions of the fuel line or propeller... such were abstractions of death’s card that would be dealt if his humility in the face of the skies was deemed insincere.
Maria was not with them. She had abruptly begged him not to go, and the wonder of the Tatoob's wedding night had turned to anger. It was not proper that any woman speak to her husband in such fashion, and she had been left behind with all that remained of Silvestro's Mexican money as his peace offering.
The flying machine began to move slowly across the hard earth, a sensation indistinguishable from that of riding in a motorcar or even the narrow railway between Chan Santa Cruz and the coast of the Territory. The aircraft wobbled briefly as it left the earth but Silvestro calmed himself with oxygen and looked down. The others... Solis, Almanzar, the mechanics... they were shrinking, now, to the size of the ppuzob, now again to insect-height. The aircraft turned upwards and they were gone. Silvestro looked towards the sun... moving, as he did, the glasses they had given him, tinted like the President's own but darker. They fell to his lap.
The sun blazed as a candle at the top of the stairs of the pyramid of Teotihuacan, below, and a solitary eagle crossed its path. "Follow that one," Silvestro directed the pilot and they turned away and coasted towards the north until the eagle passed between two peaks the aircraft could not fit between. Now they turned east and the Tatoob saw the mountains he had crossed on his way from Veracruz; the volcano of Orizaba and Lord Popocatepetl and his consort Ixtaccihuatl. Beneath, the lake of Texcoco... much diminished over the centuries but still not yet entirely consumed by progress... sparkled like a jewel. Beside it, Mexico City glowered in tans and grays, a lizard waiting for some hapless bug.
"I am that eagle," thought Silvestro, "the discoverer, the fire-bringer. I am of the ahauob, those ones who have ascended, with Juan de la Cruz, into heaven, however temporarily.
When the aircraft touched the earth again, the Colonel and Corporal were eager with their questions for, although neither wished to fly for themselves, they were as curious, as children are. But, while the pilot was agreeable to speak of his meters and the winds, the Tatoob dismissed their inquiries with an unearthly disdain. "I have been," he would only say, "a short while with the eagles." And he would speak no further of his voyage, nor answer any more questions during their journey back to Mexico.
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