Castillo brought Amalfitano to see Juan Ponce Esquivel, art student and amateur numerologist, who lived in Aquiles Serdán, one of the poorest neighborhoods in Santa Teresa, west of Colonia El Milagro, near the old railroad tracks. The original idea was that Ponce would tell their fortunes, but when they got there they found him absorbed in a forecast of the nation’s future. I think we’re going to see the same heroes all over again, said Ponce as he served them tea. Carranza, for example, has already been born. He’ll die in the year 2020. Villa too: right now he’s a kid mixed up with narcos, hookers, and illegals. He’ll be shot to death in 2023. Obregón was born in 1980 and will be killed in 2028. Elías Calles was born in 1977 and will die in 2045. Huerta was born in the year that the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and he’ll die in 2016. Pascual Orozco was born in 1982 and will die in 2016. Madero was born in 1973, the year of Allende’s fall, and he’ll be killed in 2013. Everything will happen all over again. The Mexican people will watch spellbound as new rivers of blood are shed. I get a bad vibe from 2015. Zapata was born already, in 1983; he’s still a kid playing out in the street, memorizing two or three Amado Nervo poems or four poemínimos by Efraín Huerta. He’ll die in a hail of bullets in 2019. The numbers say that everything will repeat itself. Everybody will be born again, the heroes, the soldiers, the innocent victims. The most important ones and the ones who’ll die first have already been born. But some are still missing. The numbers say that Aquiles Serdán will be killed again. Shit for luck, shit for fate.
Viva Mexico, said Castillo.
Amalfitano didn’t say anything, but he had the sense that someone, a fourth person, was saying something from the next room or from a big chest that Juan Ponce Esquivel had at the back of the room: excuse me, is anyone there? excuse me, excuse me?
Between the medical school and the plain—a bare open space scarcely interrupted by yellow hills under a high and mobile sky, across which the highway ran east—was the famous Botanic Garden of the city of Santa Teresa, under the stewardship of the university.
“Come and take a good look around,” said Professor Horacio Guerra.
There, tended by four bored gardeners, stood a small forest of no more than three specimens per species. The little dirt paths bordered by alluvial stones wound and unwound like snakes through the garden; in the middle rose a wrought-iron gazebo and every so often, in random spots, the visitor came upon limestone benches where he could sit. Little labels on stakes in the ground announced the name of each tree and plant.
Guerra moved like a fish in the water, his step quick. He didn’t need to check the labels to tell Amalfitano what species a given tree was or what part of Mexico it came from. His sense of direction was unerring. He could walk the labyrinth of dark paths—which looked to Amalfitano like some crazed, baroque version of an English garden maze—with his eyes closed. That’s right, he said when Amalfitano remarked upon this with some admiration, you can blindfold me with a handkerchief and I’ll lead you straight out, never fear.
“There’s no need for that, I believe you, I believe you,” said Amalfitano, alarmed to see that Guerra was about to make good on his words and had pulled a bright green handkerchief emblazoned with the crest of the University of Charleston from his suit pocket.
“Blindfold me,” bellowed Guerra, with a smile that said I can’t help myself, don’t worry, I haven’t lost my mind.
Then he wiped the sweat from his brow with the handkerchief.
“Look at the plants and trees,” he said with a sigh, “and you’ll begin to understand this country.”
“They’re impressive,” said Amalfitano as he wondered what kind of person Guerra was.
“Here you have all kinds of agave and mesquite, our native plant,” said