Meeting the East

Don Juan said that the east, on the other hand, was the morning, the light, and that we would meet the easterly women the next day at midmorning.

Before breakfast we went to the plaza and sat down on a bench. Don Juan told me that he wanted me to remain there and wait for him while he ran some errands. He left and shortly after he had gone, a woman came and sat down on the other end of the bench. I did not pay any attention to her and started reading a newspaper. A moment later another woman joined her. I wanted to move to another bench, but I remembered that don Juan had specifically said that I should sit there. I turned my back to the women and had even forgotten that they were there, since they were so quiet, when a man greeted them and stood facing me. I became aware from their conversation that the women had been waiting for him. The man apologized for being late. He obviously wanted to sit down. I slid over to make room for him. He thanked me profusely and apologized for inconveniencing me. He said that they were absolutely lost in the city because they were rural people, and that once they had been to Mexico City and had nearly died in the traffic. He asked me if I lived in Zacatecas. I said no and was going to end our conversation right there but there was something very winning about his smile. He was an old man, remarkably fit for his age. He was not an Indian. He seemed to be a gentleman farmer from a small rural town. He was wearing a suit and had a straw hat on. His features were very delicate. His skin was almost transparent. He had a high-bridged nose, a small mouth, and a perfectly groomed white beard. He looked extraordinarily healthy and yet he seemed frail. He was of medium height and well built, but at the same time gave the impression of being slender, almost effete.

He stood up and introduced himself to me, He told me that his name was Vicente Medrano, and that he had come to the city on business only for the day. He then pointed to the two women and said that they were his sisters. The women stood up and faced us. They were very slim and darker than their brother. They were also much younger. One of them could have been his daughter. I noticed that their skin was not like his; theirs was dry. The two women were very good-looking. Like the man, they had fine features, and their eyes were clear and peaceful. They were about five feet four. They were wearing beautifully tailored dresses, but with their shawls, low heeled shoes, and dark cotton stockings they looked like well-to-do farm women. The older one appeared to be in her fifties, the younger in her forties.

The man introduced them to me. The older woman was named Carmela and the younger one Hermelinda. I stood up and briefly shook hands with them. I asked them if they had any children. That question was usually a sure conversation opener for me. The women laughed and in unison ran their hands down their stomachs to show me how lean they were. The man calmly explained that his sisters were spinsters, and that he himself was an old bachelor. He confided to me, in a half-joking tone, that unfortunately his sisters were too mannish, they lacked the femininity that makes a woman desirable, and so they had been unable to find husbands.

I said that they were better off, considering the subservient role of women in our society. The women disagreed with me; they said that they would not have minded at all being servants if they had only found men who wanted to be their masters. The younger one said that the real problem was that their father had failed to teach them to behave like women. The man commented with a sigh that their father was so domineering that he had also prevented him from marrying by deliberately neglecting to teach him how to be a macho. All three of them sighed and looked gloomy. I wanted to laugh.

After a long silence we sat down again and the man said that if I stayed a while longer on that bench I would have a chance to meet their father, who was still very spirited for his advanced age. He added in a shy tone that their father was going to take them to eat breakfast, because they themselves never carried any money. Their father handled the purse strings. I was aghast. Those old people who looked so strong were in reality like weak, dependent children. I said goodbye to them and got up to leave. The man and his sisters insisted that I stay. They assured me that their father would love it if I would join them for breakfast. I did not want to meet their father and yet I was curious. I told them that I myself was waiting for someone. At that, the women began to chuckle and then broke into a roaring laughter. The man also abandoned himself to uncontained laughter. I felt stupid, I wanted to get out of there. At that moment don Juan showed up and I became aware of their maneuver. I did not think it was amusing.

All of us stood up. They were still laughing as don Juan told me that those women were the east, that Carmela was the stalker and Hermelinda the dreamer, and that Vicente was the warrior scholar and his oldest companion.

As we were leaving the plaza, another man joined us, a tall, dark Indian, perhaps in his forties. He was wearing Levi’s and a cowboy hat. He seemed terribly strong and sullen. Don Juan introduced him to me as Juan Tuma, Vicente’s courier and research assistant. We walked to a restaurant a few blocks away. The women held me between them. Carmela said that she hoped I was not offended by their joke, that they had had the choice of just introducing themselves to me or kidding me. What made them decide to kid me was my thoroughly snobbish attitude in turning my back to them and wanting to move to another bench. Hermelinda added that one has to be utterly humble and carry nothing to defend, not even one’s person; that one’s person should be protected, but not defended. In snubbing them, I was not protecting but merely defending myself.

I felt quarrelsome. I was frankly put out by their masquerade. I began to argue, but before I had made my point don Juan came to my side. He told the two women that they should overlook my belligerence, that it takes a very long time to clean out the garbage that a luminous being picks up in the world.

The owner of the restaurant where we went knew Vicente and had prepared a sumptuous breakfast for us. All of them were in great spirits, but I was unable to let go of my brooding. Then, at don Juan’s request, Juan Tuma began to talk about his journeys. He was a factual man. I became mesmerized by his dry accounts of things beyond my comprehension. To me the most fascinating was his description of some beams of light or energy that allegedly crisscross the earth. He said that these beams do not fluctuate as everything else in the universe does, but are fixed into a pattern. This pattern coincides with hundreds of points in the luminous body. Hermelinda had understood that all the points were in our physical body, but Juan Tuma explained that, since the luminous body is quite big, some of the points are as much as three feet away from the physical body. In a sense they are outside of us, and yet they are not; they are on the periphery of our luminosity and thus still belong to the total body. The most important of those points is located a foot away from the stomach, 40 degrees to the right of an imaginary line shooting straight forward. Juan Tuma told us that that was a center of assembling for the second attention, and that it is possible to manipulate it by gently stroking the air with the palms of the hands. Listening to Juan Tuma, I forgot my anger.
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From “The Eagle’s Gift” by Carlos Castaneda