english fiction:

"Pure" written in san sebastian del oeste, Jalisco, Mexico.

- for Matilda Clifford. Writer and friend.


"Pure" - all the photos are my own and from this mountain village in Mexico

The name of the Mexican town appealed to her, so Kathryn stayed much longer than she‘d planned. She’d originally intended to pass the rainy months of September and August in San Sebastian del Oeste, in the Jalisco province, since a part of the road back to the city had been washed away and nobody bothered to repair it; horses and donkey carts brought supplies to the three hundred inhabitants of the town, just as they used to do in the distant past.


Kathryn wrote pages full of music - primarily classically inspired pieces for the piano. She composed sad and happy endings for films yet to be made. They were all formulaic, conventional endings: where a war ended, a new love began, or a house was sold. Handwritten sheet music lay strewn over the floor. She sorted her drafts into piles, adding notes or parts as she went.


She practised these in the church for brief periods, usually during siesta on week days, when the church was sure to be empty. She was not Catholic and did not want to be disrespectful. She was conscious of herself as an intruder, an uninvited visitor slowly becoming a resident. Nobody asked how long she planned on staying or why she’d come. She just stayed.


Some of the men in town played the guitar. In the evenings, Kathryn walked to where they sang in front of an orange restaurant where soft light shone. She sat and listened to the combination of chords and voices. To her these were new rhythms, probably ancient imports from Spain, courtesy of Cortez.
At first, she sat far away in the dark of the forest surrounding the town, because the men seemed to stop playing when a stranger came near. Later, with time, while it rained and rained and rained and their jobs at the silver mine had to stop, the guitar players started to tolerate her. The women of the town eventually accepted her as well: she bothered no one and she was kind to the stray dogs of the town. The inhabitants of San Sebastian accepted her as they accepted most changes: it was easier to shrug their shoulders than to reject her presence.

Kathryn later started taking a pen and paper to the restaurant where the men played. By now she’d moved more and more into the light, so that she could see the men play the notes she heard. The players politely ignored her.





After the rain, with the road repaired, the guitar notes she’d written down kept her in town. She mixed these with the piano music she’d composed herself, writing the music in two lines, one beneath the other. Sometimes there’d be three lines - she occasionally added a line for the sound of the rain, drumming hard on her roof or babbling gently in streams down the streets after a summer storm.


The forest mist mixed the sounds together. It made her happy - so she stayed when the coffee beans turned red and ripened and had to be dried in the pale November sun. A rich coffee aroma hung over the town just, making it smell like the woods, mixing with the cinnamon Frederico added. He always did this at the end of the season with the last large beans, after roasting them with care, especially for his mother who remembered the combination from her childhood. It was a local tradition: cinnamon coffee.
Kathryn made a fourth row of notes on every paper for the distinct fragrance of coffee mixed with the beginning of December guavas. The fruits were blended and lay in the sun in rows.



Anna became ill. Kathryn went over to help take care of Anna’s four children and do the Christmas cooking. Anna lay in bed and issued instructions, which Kathryn carried out.


Next door, Anna’s neighbour Christian worked on his silver. He chopped, chipped, and melted the metal down while the fire purified the metal to form the sculptures he made for his shop, somewhere in a far off city. The sounds of his silver-works formed a fifth row in Kathryn’s symphony . The chatter of human voices from homes or the streets comprised yet another line. All of this melted together, shortly after New Year.
Kathryn spent more and more time in the church. The organ was old and simple but the acoustics in the church were like the sounds and fragrances of San Sebastian del Oeste - rich and full and deep.


Lucia could sing, but she did so only in secret - no one else knew about her talent. Kathryn heard her one morning as she walked upriver, earlier than usual, to pick avocados. Lucia was washing the only two orange tablecloths of the restaurant and she sang with a voice filled with the sweetness of the water in the stream and the ferns on the banks.
Kathryn wrote a voice in between the rows of notes, while Christian added lines of poetry in Spanish. The sound of the piano and guitars wafted through the streets of the town, suffused with the smell of coffee and the colour of guava, haunted by the rhythm of the rain and filled with silvery light.
One by one, the symphonies were completed. By Easter, one was played on the piano the town had purchased with silver-mine money for Kathryn, because she’d brought music to the mountains and the town.
Just before the first rain of the year, Christian and Kathryn said their vows and "I do’s," to one each other in the church she now belonged to.


Somewhere at the end of a film about a lonely woman who went off to search for love (and eventually found it in an unexpected place), a magnificent symphony played.
It sounded classical. It sounded true.

© audrey painter - San Sebastian del Oeste, Mexico. November 2009

1 Maskers (Literêr) 'n Verhaal uit Mexico
2 Kies (Tieners) 'n Verhaal oor keuses
3 In die Vreemde (Immigrasie) Vier vroue se dinge
4 Loekie die Leeu (Kinderverhaal) Die troetel-leeu
5 Juliet, die slak (Humor) Sy wen die slakresies

Terug na Afrikaanse Fiksie