Second mistake. The tamale certainly hit the spot. Very more-ish. But then, as I wandered the place an hour or so later, the foodstuff turned traitor. It attacked. My guts were consumed in an independence struggle, desperate to secede from my body by any means available. My legs were ceasing to exist. I hadn’t booked a hotel so had no base to return to. As infernal forces fought over my internal organs, so I just made it to the town park. And there… well, thank heavens for tall tropical vegetation. In less time than it takes to tell, there was more of me outside than in.
I struggled to a park bench and collapsed, a drained two-dimensional version of myself. A young man – younger than me – approached. He carried with him a shoe-shine box. “That should do the trick,” I thought. “Polished footwear.” He knelt before me. Could he shine my shoes? No, I said, but if he didn’t move smartish, he’d have more than shoes to clean. Thus back to the bushes. Again and again. The young bloke – Raul, it transpired – hung around. Was I perhaps unwell? “Is the Pope Catholic?” I wanted to say, but lacked the strength.
“Follow me,” he said. There being no-one else to follow, I staggered up and followed him. It took a while, with several stops in dark corners, and me holding Raul’s shoulder. I was on automatic pilot. Some time later, probably minutes, we arrived before a white-washed one storey house on an unmade street. Raul propped me against the wall, went in and came out again with a handsome middle-aged woman. His mother, Maria.
She ushered me inside, straight to the back of the house and into a tiny bedroom. She pointed to the bed. I was in no state to object, resist or, indeed, live much longer. My entire being craved a lie down. I lay down. And there I stayed for (what I was later told was) three days and nights. Being essentially empty, I didn’t bother the family’s outdoor plumbing as much as I might have done. I slept in as close to a coma as not being in a coma can be. There may have been a doctor (I couldn’t get a clear answer on that). There was certainly Maria’s persistent presence with bottled water and towels. There seemed to be no husband, or anyone else bar Raul.
As I began to emerge on day three, I took in the room – windowless, with a crucifix on the wall and drifts of family paraphernalia covering the tight space. This was Raul’s room. He’d been sleeping for the duration on the floor in the only non-bedroom next door. I wondered: if some random Mexican with exploding bowels had turned up in Oldham – or, indeed, at my house – would he have been taken in, no questions asked? I’m still wondering.