I thought we were about to see some magic. She laid out a colourful cloth on the train carriage floor. As our little capsule shuddered under Mexico City’s streets, she looked like a travelling salesperson unravelling a bundle deliciously mysterious wares. But the cloth was just full of broken glass.
A few businessmen looked on in boredom, giving her that glare normally reserved for interns and incompetent office grunts. When she glanced up, their gazes scattered. One checked his watch.
She eased herself onto the famished shards, bare forearm first. Rolling back and forth, the little teeth crunched as they punctured her flesh. From a distance, she almost looked like a cleaner hunched over and polishing the floor.
Her arm squirted flecks of blood as it writhed like a dying snake.
Her thin face went pale, her jaw tightened. In her entrepreneurial spirit, she looked determined to force the magic to work.
She got to her feet. One arm stretched out to the passengers, the other hung limp. And she begged.
An open hand passed beneath a row of noses, while the other one sprinkled blood on the floor. Her dirty face sagged under the blazing fluorescents; the exhaustion of a factory worker with endless hours left on that fucking immovable clock had been hammered into her collapsed cheeks and hammered into her brain and hammered into her dead, dead, utterly dead nerves.
A wave of disgust passed through the row of businessmen. This wasn’t their way of flagellating. But how could they possibly understand that she didn’t have anyone below her to rake over the coals? She had to make do with the few pounds of meat hanging from her own bones.
After she had stumbled from one end of the carriage to the other, her empty hand closed without a single peso.
The mangled woman diligently gathered up the stained glass in her colourful cloth, and moved to the next carriage. She left blood smeared all over her white canvas, her machine, her desk and her work station. Her floor.
The magic trick hadn’t worked. This time, she couldn’t coax our little gods back with the mortification of her flesh.
Flagellants inflict self-harm for religion. But our modern god is no less demanding than ancient Greece’s Dionysus, or Cybele of Phrygia. Money loves torture, and is still thirsty for blood long after Tlaloc is bloated like a tick.
We all get mutilated; it’s just a question of who feels the lash.