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  • In the very beginning of my life in San Cristobal, we lived in an old adobe house close to the center of San Cristobal. When I say old, I mean over two hundred years old. San Cristobalans claim to live in the oldest town in the Americas following the Spanish conquest. That status is difficult to authenticate, but for sure it is one of the oldest. It was founded in 1525.

    The adobe walls of the old houses often have a thickness of a meter or more. They have survived earthquakes and revolutionary tremors for five centuries. Adobe is a very durable building material, but at the same time it is very easy to carve holes and tunnels into it. Rats and mice take advantage of this. So did many well-off families who created secret little chambers in the walls where they hid their precious belongings. This practice continued into the early twentieth century and only stopped when banks became accepted depositories. The treasures found were often gold coins stored in clay pots. During the chaos of the 1910 Mexican revolution many of the wealthy men of San Cristobal fled or vanished before being able to tell someone where their treasures were concealed. Now, every mason renovating an old house in every Mexican colonial city shares the same dream: to uncover one of those forgotten pots. The town is full of rumors of people lucky enough to discover a treasure. Often the discoverer then had to kill somebody or was killed because of what he found, or so the stories go.

    When my oldest son Julian was a little over a year old, he suffered from asthma and so we had him sleep with us. He became accustomed to having a bottle once during the night. To warm the milk I kept a special, small electric heater on a stool beside our bed. One night as I was readying the milk, I was startled by a bluish lightning flashing on the wall in front of me. It was pitch black inside and out. I awakened my husband and he too saw the dancing light. Neither of us could come up with an explanation for the puzzling light nor get back to sleep.

    In those early days I sometimes felt very lonely in San Cristobal. Occasionally, I would invite backpackers who had eaten in our restaurant to stay with us for a while. On the night of the lightning, Juan, a Mexican friend, with his Italian girlfriend, were living with us. At breakfast the next morning when we told them what we had seen. Juan’s eyes grew very wide.

    “The lights are unquestionably a sign!” he shouted.

    “What kind of a sign?” I asked.

    “Little people, dwarfs, send signs when they know there is hidden treasure. I’m sure there is a pot of gold in your bedroom wall.”

    Juan did smoke quite a bit of marijuana, but we also had heard the stories of local people actually finding gold. Our house was old enough and the bedroom wall was one of its thickest. We would have been thrilled to uncover a huge pot of gold, especially in those days when our fledgling restaurant was just making ends meet.

    My husband went to visit his family in Mexico City; I stayed behind. Sunday came. On Sundays our muchacha (the cleaning lady) did not work. We would be alone, no witnesses! At dawn Juan, and his girlfriend and I started to work on that poor wall. We chiseled holes all over it at regular intervals. We did not eat nor drink or even talk. My son studied us and then fetched a toy which he used to hit the wall. We laughed. We worked until we could work no longer. Our fatigue, filth, hunger and thirst caught up with us. We pondered the wall; it looked like a colander. We looked at each other in disbelief. We washed our hands and faces and sat down to eat and drink. Finally, I broke the silence, “There is no pot of gold.”

    The other two agreed. Juan said he was so exhausted he urgently needed a massage. His girlfriend offered to give him one and they disappeared into their room.

    My son and I lay down on our bed for a siesta. He fell asleep in my arms. I, however, could not sleep. The holes in the wall kept staring at me. Tomorrow, I realized, I would have to arrange for a mason to repair the wall before my husband returned.

    During the following night I watched the same lightning dancing over the holes. Suddenly, out of the silence, there was a strange little noise, the light vanished and the bottle heater stopped working. Loose wiring had caused a short. I had misunderstood the message of the bluish lights on the wall! I closed my eyes, felt the weight of my son on my arm and realized that my treasure had been here with me all the time.

    Artwork by Kiki Suarez
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