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from the October 2005 issue

The Ash Vendors

Note: This piece was originally written in Purépecha.

There once was a man who had gone to a city to sell ashes; upon arriving he spread out his "merchandise" in the town square and there he remained for several hours without anyone buying anything from him. Later, a policeman went over to him and said:

"People don't buy this, so go throw it out at the outskirts of the city and don't come back here anymore."

The man was very sad, but he did as he was told and threw ashes the away. Then he went back to his village and lied to his brother-in-law, saying that it had gone very well with his sales and he added:

"Why don't you go to city and sell ashes, too?"

His brother-in-law, hoping that it would go as well as it supposedly had gone for the other man, answered:

"So I'm going tomorrow."

The next day, at dawn, he left the city to sell ashes. When he got there, just like his brother-in-law, he spread out his "merchandise" and also passed many hours with no sales. Once again, the cop went over to him and said:

"You brought this again. Didn't I tell you that no one buys this stuff here? Go throw it away and don't bring anymore, because if you do, I will give you a beating."

The man had no choice but to go and throw away the ashes, then he returned because he wanted to buy a few things for his house; he went toward a store where they sold masks and he thought, "I'm going to buy one for my son."

He chose one of the devil. Afterward he went toward his village, but on the way night overtook him and he did not get there. He felt very hungry when suddenly he saw a bonfire in the distance and he decided to go up there to ask for something to eat. When he got there he greeted the people he saw around the fire and he asked:

"Do you have any food that you could give me?"

The men, who were highway robbers, answered:

"Sure, grab out of the knapsack whatever you want."

When he finished eating he started chatting; they were getting sleep, and they did what they could to make themselves comfortable so they could sleep; the latecomer could not sleep because it was very cold, better that he got up to stir the fire to warm himself and then he decided to put the devil mask on to protect himself. One of the men who were sleeping woke up and saw a figure with the face of the devil and it frightened so that he awakened his pals and they ran helter skelter as fast as they could.

The masked man, seeing the other men running, chose to follow them, without realizing that he would frighten them even more. The men, not realizing that there was a gorge ahead, hurled themselves to the bottom. The masked man was surprised and said to himself:

"Poor little ones, and to think that I didn't want to help them!"

And he went back to the bonfire.

When he woke up he saw that there were many sacks of money. Nearby he came upon many pack animals and he quickly loaded the sacks on them and he was on his way. When he got to his house, he said to his wife:

"Tell me brother-in-law to come and see what I got."

And she went to get him and when he got there, he asked:

"They bought the ashes?"

The man answered:

"Yes, it went very well; furthermore come and see all that I bought."

Upon seeing all that he had acquired, with the supposed sale of the ashes and with the desire to have what his brother-in-law had gotten, he decided to go to the city the next morning to also sell ashes. But he planned to take more than his brother-in-law so as to have bigger profits. He went to his house and said to his wife:

"Imagine how my brother-in-law did so well selling ashes. Help me fill some sacks so that I can sell them too."

They filled many sacks. The next day he arose very early and went to the city; when he got there he spread out his "merchandise" and after many hours, which seemed like an eternity, he recalled the lie that he had told his brother-in-law and then he suspect that he to had been lying. At this point the police arrived and said to him:

"Didn't I tell you not to come back with the ashes?"

They all grabbed him and gave him a good beating before they took him to jail.

Originally published in Relatos Pure'pechas, Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes, Dirección General de Culuras Populares, Colección Lenguas de México No. 12. México 1995, pp. 31-37.

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