It was a warm, sunny, day. The wind chased the clouds playfully across the sky Mejandro rocked contentedly in his chair, but he knew something was not right. However, he was content to sit on his porch and wait for the trouble to find him. It always did in the end.
The sun was just sinking below the horizon when a panicked-looking Henry raced up the worn rabbit trail to Alejandro's house. It was a nice enough house, made of adobe, but Henry was in no state of mind to notice. "Curandero1 Alejandro! Please, I need your help," Henry cried in a hollow voice as he stumbled onto the porch.
"What is it?" Alejandro asked in his most soothing voice.
"It's my daughter, Esperanza," he sobbed. "Last night she was taken by the flu. Now the doctor says she is in the last hour of her life! You must help us, I beg of you." Henry ended in another sob. The wind too seemed to be struck with grief for it picked up and began to howl with the man.
"I will help," proclaimed Alejandro, "but you must understand that I may not succeed."
Henry's house was stifling with heat. "We have been trying to sweat out the fever." Esperanza, who could usually be found on the riverbank, bursting with life, now lay prostrate on the bed. She looked so pallid that Alejandro wondered if death had already visited her. Esperanza was covered in a mountain of blankets, her black hair matted with sweat. "I must ask you to leave the room," Alejandro said with an air of authority that made it clear that he wasn't really asking. He then pulled back his wrinkled black sleeves and set to work.
He began by brewing willow-bark tea to try and blunt the fever. Herbs flowed from his blue sack in a small river as attempt after attempt failed. The girl's breath was coming in shallower gasps now. He was going to lose Esperanza, he thought. But La Muerta would not receive her without a fight. Alejandro knew what he must do.
He walked quickly to the window and flung it open. In a voice that never should have been able to erupt from such a small old man Alejandro summoned, "Zephyr, to me!" A large owl with feathers that looked like a network of stars on a quilt of night glided in through the window to land on Alejandro's outstretched arm.
Alejandro walked solemnly to the sick girl's bed. Carefully he placed the owl next to her head. The owl stared hard into the old man's eyes as if looking for something. He seemed to have found it for he emitted a soft hoot. Zephyr returned his attention to Esperanza. Puffing out his feathers, the owl blew a silvery mist that engulfed the girl's entire body. For a moment the blanket of mist shone with a piercing light, then it disappeared. With it, went Zephyr. Esperanza's eyes opened, life seemed to flood into her cheeks. "Mama?" she called. Her voice sounded as if it was coming from somewhere a thousand miles away.
Alejandro took two long strides to the door and admitted her parents. The couple took one look at their daughter and burst into tears of gratitude. They clamored to thank the man who had saved their daughter's life and rushed to her bedside. His work done Alejandro quietly exited the door without so much as a word. Just a smile.
1 A curandero is a folk healer.