Carla J. Dow | ‘The Mountain That Eats Men’ Illustration by Mike S. Young
Llama blood sprays over the doorway in a wet slop. The sacrifice. I bring my hands up to my chest and make the sign of the cross, my palms covered in the scarlet brazen blood. I move closer to the pit entrance, the mouth of the mine. I move closer to the Tio, the devil.
“Vamos!” The cry flies up into the sky from the mountaintop. We are 5,000m above sea level, as close to the Gods as I will get.
A trolley of demon black rock rattles on the noisy rails, the shrunken stooped shadows of the miners giving all they have to move the cart that enslaves them, that pays them, that feeds them and keeps their hungry children in school. That is killing them. The demon black from the deepest depths seeps into the fibres of their lungs, choking the breath from their throats and giving life to the cancer that suffocates the beating of their hearts.
The mine cart rattles past to be swallowed up by the mouth of the mountain, into the clutches of the Tio, the belly of the devil. It clatters loudly on rails worn by 450 years of mining but that will always outlast the miners, who are just a blink in the eye of the mountain that eats men.
A wheel slides from its place on the line and the miner shouts out, cursing. The cry echoes through the warren of tunnels, the veins of the earth slowly drained of all they have, the purity sucked out to leave only a dark demon black behind.
The miners bend in supplication, one to take the weight of the de-railed cart on his small but strong square shoulders, the other to shift the wheel back into line.
I turn from them and look over my shoulder down at the city of Potosi. Viewed from the Cerro Rico the city is brown, dull, but I know the streets shine with the bright colours of the tapestry of life. It is the mountain that is dark; the mountain that eats men.
I take a deep breath sucking in my last lungful of clear air before I am swallowed up by the demon black. I leave the women to pay the sacrifice above the earth; they are forbidden to enter the mine. It is a bad omen.
Inside past the llama blood I am in his world, the Tio, the devil. Faint shafts of light struggle through the dust clouds and shattered pillaged earth but soon snuffed out entirely. Only if the devil is generous will I get to drink from the rich blood of mother earth, the Pachamama, and find a vein of silver to mine. Only if he pities me will I return to the surface, only if I worship him in this underworld do I have the chance of returning to my city and my church above me. But the devil is God down here.
Chisels chip and tap at the rock, the high pitched rapping rattles through my teeth. I pass by the other miners down to pay my respect to the Tio. Deep in the warren of tunnels I approach the stone statue built by our colonial masters in a time come and gone, it is roughly crafted but created to last because they were even more afraid of the Tio than I am, more afraid of the mountain that eats men. I lay my offerings at its feet and stare into the blood red beady eyes shining in the demon black dark.
Now I can join the men chipping away at the earth, raping nature of its wealth. The Tio will keep us safe from the Pachamama’s revenge, if he wants to. Dust fills my lungs, coats my brown skin grey. The hours tick by as my chisel taps on and on. A crackle of a fuse pops and snaps, the flash of light from a flame sparks. Dynamite.
“Explosión!” A voice calls out from within the belly of the mountain.
I race to reach higher ground as the detonation darts through the tunnels. I must get out, go back. The dust is coming and it will cloud me, choke me, my lungs will fill with poison; the cancerous death. I see the square of bright white ahead of me, the daylight at the mouth of the mountain. My day of work is over.
Now I must go to school, I must learn my lessons so that when I am grown I do not have to work in the mine, so that I do not lose my life to the Tio as my father did in the mountain that eats men.
Illustration by: Mike S. Young