On chilly nights in Mexico City, when the wind wails on the street corners or whispers at the rejas of your window, the old crones tell you this story...
It was long ago, they say, before the Spanish conquerors arrived. The city -Tenochtitlán, they called it in those days-still floated on chinampas in the centre of the valley. It was a merry city, bright with flowersand alive with the cries of water birds and the melodies of clay flutes. The warriors were brave, the maidens beautiful. And the most beautiful of them all was Cihuacoatl; some call her a goddess. Always dressed in white, her glossy black hair done in two long braids tipped with brilliant feathers, she made the sun rise just by stepping out of her father's house in the morning.
She was fifteen whenshe met the most handsome of all the Aztec princes; it was love at first sight for both of them, and soon she presented him with two beautiful baby boys, twins as strong and healthy and smart as any man could desire. Twins that were his pride and delight, even though he no longer loved Cihuacoatl.
Why her prince left her, no-one knows. Some say he had a wife in another city. Some say he was anadventurer, always looking for a new challenge across the next hill. Perhaps he had been lured away by a younger, fresher goddess, or a captured maiden from a competing tribe. Or perchance there was some flaw in Cihua's character, something not evident to ordinary onlookers, dazzled by her beauty as they were.
Be that as it may, Cihua mourned his faithlessness. The laughter died; she no longersang as she dressed and bathed her babies; she forgot to put the feathers in her hair. The days were a burden and an ache. She spent long hours at the edge of the canal, watching the dark water swirling sluggishly around the roots of the chinampa.
One evening, after the boys were asleep, she looked across the water and saw her prince. He was as handsome as the day she had first known him; bronzedand sleek, wearing golden armbands and a loincloth of ocelot skins; her heart turned over in her breast. For beside him, laughing, was a woman in some strange foreign garb, embroidered all over with flowers. Laughing, and holding his arm!
A hopeless fury engulfed Cihuacoatl. She called out his name and he looked in her direction. Just a glance, indifferent, as if she were some chance acquaintance.Then he turned his back to her and steered his new woman around a corner.
"Come back! Come back!" Cihua cried, but only the wind answered. She rushed into her hut and carried out her sleeping boys, one in each arm. On the bank of the canal, she called to him again; "Don't you even want to see your babies?" But her prince was far away now; she couldn't even hear the woman's laugh. Tears blindedher.
"Then take your babies!" she shouted. She tossed the right hand one into the canal; he made a small splash, almost a plop. She threw the left hand twin after him. There was a sharp wail, cut off in a moment by a gurgle. Then silence.
Cihau's eyes cleared; the light came back. Her babies were floating down the stream, face down, too far away now for her to reach. The pole from the boat wouldhelp, she thought; she ran to get it, but when she got back, the twins were gone.
All that night Cihua searched, running along the banks, crouching to peer among the dark roots, straining in the moonlight to decipher every glimmer, every ripple. She wailed, but no-one heard her, no-one came to help her. They found her in the morning, bedraggled and dripping, whether dead from grief or fromdrowning the old ones aren't sure.
And so they tell you, the old folks, never to go out alone into the night and especially to stay well away from the canals. Cihuacoatl wanders there, wailing and sobbing; you can hear her from far away, crying into the wind. Legend has it that when she arrived at the gate of paradise, the guardian asked her for the souls of her twin boys. He won't let her enter until...