I stopped by the church steps today and greeted Josefina, who sat in her usual place on the bottom step. She replied, “Mande?”—”Yes?” with like a school child afraid she has is being called to account for some mistake. “How are you?” I asked. “Fine,” she said.
I can see a kind of generalized confusion in her face when she addresses me. I hate the term mental illness. But I don’t think she’s all there. Then, of course, who of us is “all there”? She does what she does. I have no idea where she goes when she’s not at the steps.
There was another “beggar” that wandered up and down the side of the canyon that is Guanajuato. His name was Mateo. Most of his front teeth were missing, but his smile was always very much in tact. I usually could not understand what he was saying when I dropped 10 pesos onto his very dirty palm. I am embarrassed to say that. It’s like talking about an animal, but I also think twice before petting a dog that clearly has all kinds of problems.
Mateo suffered from some kind of mental problem, too. And I would think, from loneliness, as well. I know people were maintaining him. Once in a while he would appear washed and in warm new clothes. I think that is very typical of Mexico, and probably of most places in the world. People feed and clothe people like Josefina and Mateo.
There seems otherwise to be no solution for “saving” them. In Mexico, to the best of my knowledge, there are no agencies that sweep them up, wash them, feed them psychiatric drugs, dress them and give them a new life. I have no idea whether their families still exist or whether their families, still there, have given up on them. Recently, I have concluded that Mateo may be dead. He no longer shows up. On walks around the ring road on the side of the canyon, I look down into various vacant, overgrown pieces of land that have not been build on—looking for Mateo, or for what may be left of him. An old coat, a pair of worn shoes—still connected to Mateo.