Looking at her reflection, Carolina wondered if everyone else saw her just like that. Like a shadow. With no features or color, she imagined she would look the same even if the water were a crystal clear mirror. The people that walked past her didn’t seem to notice how much attention she placed on the dirty water. She looked up. She didn’t think there was any reason for anyone to bother thinking about her.
She tightened the straps of her backpack and kept on walking. She always thought the park’s noise was annoying. Kids screamed no matter how much their parents pulled on their harness, like training a dog. Vendors yelled in high-pitched voices as they desperately tried to get passersby to buy from them. Tourists chattered in English and laughed at jokes Carolina could not understand.
But Carolina had travelled through the forest of Chapultepec so many times that she knew exactly how to avoid the noise. She passed between a face-painting post where a little girl was getting the nose of a mouse and a woman that blew bubbles at the passing children. She turned around to check that no one was following her. No one had even noticed she wasn’t on the dirt path anymore.
As she walked, she could hear the voices turn into a distant conversation, then in a murmur, then in whispers in the air, and then disappear. Carolina could only hear the sound of the dry leaves under her feet. She clung on to that sound as she tried to steady her nerves.
In the distance, she could hear water running through rocks. She stopped and turned around. There was no one around to follow her or watch her. She kept on walking. A stream passed through mud and ended in a tiny lake. Carolina knelt down next to it. The dark brown color didn’t allow her to look past the surface. She knew it couldn’t be very deep, but she wished it was so that the papers would sink deep.
She took off her backpack and let it fall next to her. She opened the back pocket and pulled out a plastic bag. Inside, it held fine pink papers, with the golden number “fifteen” written in calligraphy.
She opened the bag and pulled out an invitation. She passed her fingers through her golden name y then through the number. She read “Quince años” over and over again. She took the paper in between her fingers, closed her eyes, and heart it rip. She kept tearing away until the paper wouldn’t let her anymore. She let the pieces fall into the water and moved on to the next one.
Carolina closed her eyes with each rip. She didn’t notice the way in which the water absorbed the paper. With each one, it changed color. With one, it turned bright pink. With another, blood red, another, dark blue, another, emerald green. She opened her eyes and let the last piece of paper fall into the water. She watched as it fell into the colored water and how, the instant it touched the water, it turned pitch black. Carolina couldn’t believe what she had seen. It wasn’t a dirty or artificial black. It was thick, strong, and vibrant like ink or tar. She reached out and touched the water with her fingers.
At that moment, her heart stopped. Pain like needles stabbed itself into her fingers and pulled her into the water. Carolina pulled back with all her strength but she could not free her hand. Her heart raced. The water consumed her hand and extended over her arm. She looked around frantically but there was no one. She clawed on to the earth with her other hand. The lake swallowed her elbow and then her shoulder. She could not grab on anymore. With one pull, the water sank her whole.
Underwater, the pain vanished. Carolina held her breath. She opened her eyes and saw only black. She swam without a direction. She had no idea where the surface was but had no time to figure it out. She hoped she was swimming in the right direction. Her chest burned. Her muscles were giving out but she had to keep swimming.
She couldn’t hold her breath any longer. She it out and at that instant, her fingers touched the surface. She lunged herself up and broke through the water. She clung on to the land and pulled herself onto the shore. She tried to catch her breath, her body shaking. She coughed out clear water and turned her sight to the sky.
Her breathing got slower. The sky was a soft pink like the sunset, but the color covered the entire sky instead of just the horizon. She turned to the lake. The water wasn’t black any more but rather a vivid blue. There were no trees around her, just white sand. In the distance, she could see bright foliage. Red, yellow, blue, punk, green, purple, orange. She had never seen so many colors in the silhouette of a forest. She turned to her right.
Carolina jumped back and held back a scream. A coyote looked at her with red eyes. Red and yellow covered its body. Pale blue paint outlined its eyes and fell onto its back like butterfly wing or splatters of paint. Patters of stripes and dots covered his red and yellow tail. Its skin wasn’t covered by fur. Carolina thought it seemed like paper mache..
Carolina got a bit closer. The coyote blinked. She pushed herself back again. She never expected for it to be alive.. The coyote moved its ears and walked to Carolina. She could feel her heart accelerating but she did not move. It pressed its nose against her skin and sniffed her. It looked into her eyes and stood still for a moment. Carolina focused on her breathing, trying to keep it steady to not disturb the animal, although she wasn’t sure if she could call it an “animal”.
The coyote turned around and started to walk toward the forest. Carolina only watched. It stopped and turned its head. It looked directly at her. Carolina thought about its expression for a moment. She pushed herself off the floor and onto her feet. She took a step forward. The coyote kept on walking. To Carolina, it seemed clear what she had to do. The why was still unclear.
Carolina walked behind the coyote. She didn’t notice the way the colorful foliage grew around her. She focused on the colors of the tail of the coyote. He turned around once more. It stared into her eyes. It turned around and began to run. Carolina ran behind it.