“You want me to hang a corpse around my neck?” Jenny touched her bare throat. Her collarbones protruded from her smooth, pale skin. The neckline of her low cut blouse was gathered with a string in peasant fashion.
“Corpse is a bit of an over-statement.” Maria laughed. “It’s dried out, and tiny. It weights absolutely nothing.” She took a sip of her Chai latte. “It’s packaged in a red satin pouch, and the string is also satin, so it sits lightly against your chest and moves without any friction.”
“That’s nice. The last thing I need is more friction in my life.” Jenny forced a laugh and tucked stray hair behind her ear. Her hand cupped around her coffee registered its waning heat.
“Seriously, I wouldn’t recommend it if I didn’t believe it works. My sister caught her husband, my cousin is engaged and I have a good friend who just moved in with her man.” Maria made a gesture in the air that included a snap of her fingers. “It works like that.”
“Is that how you met Fernando?”
“Nah. I met him a work. But you can’t count on that.” Maria inspected her professionally manicured nails; blunt cut and polished in Gypsy Red. “I mean, really, what kind of guys are you going to meet working at a women’s trauma centre?” She raised one carefully drawn eyebrow. “They’re either the victim’s supportive partner, or the repentant offender. Not really a hunting ground for eligible males.”
The women fell into silence as they sipped their coffee. Jenny conducted a mental audit of her recent dating fiascos. The upstairs neighbour turned stalker, the set-up by her mother who turned out to be gay, the guy from spin class who was completely self-absorbed. She had seriously considered online dating, but had mocked her sister about it so much that shame wouldn’t let her go there. “Tell me how it works.”
“Okay.” Maria leaned in and switched to a conspiratorial tone. “It’s ancient medicine. You get them at the bontanica, the natural healing shop. There’s one on Campion Street. They cost less than $50. What have you got to lose?”
“Yes, but how does it work? I mean, it’s dead, right? How does that attract love?”
“Hummingbirds are the messengers of the gods. Since Aztec times they have been known for their strong supernatural powers.”
“Yes, don’t be so skeptical.” Maria paused to take a drink. “There are many things in the universe that humans cannot explain.”
“I know, but love charms. Come on.”
“Fine, Jenny. Be alone. It does not worry me. I have my man.” The two friends waited for the other to speak, each wondering if they could excuse themselves without causing harm to their relationship.
“It’s just… the idea of wearing a dead bird around my neck…”
“Have you ever had a rabbit’s foot on your key chain?”
“Sure, as a teenager I had one. It was dyed green in fact.”
“And you believed it would bring you luck.”
“Well, yeah, but…”
“But nothing. Why is American superstition okay, but Mexican spirituality is not?”
Jenny sighed. How had she come to this? She had a university degree in Applied Psychology and ten years experience in trauma counseling. She considered herself to be a competent analyst of human behaviour. How was it that she was considering this voodoo love charm? “So, people just walk in and ask for a dead hummingbird love charm?”
They’re called chup-a-rosas and you have to be very careful of what you say. You can’t use the word hummingbird, just call it a charm.”
“Because it’s kind of illegal.”
“Bringing dead animals across the border is against some rule. But it’s no big deal. There are thousands of hummingbirds in the Mexican jungle. Kids catch them like butterflies.” Maria perked up. “In fact, you’d be helping impoverished kids. This is the only income some of them have.”
“I don’t know Maria… if it’s illegal.”
“That’s just another example of American authorities oppressing Mexican culture. Hummingbirds have been used as love charms since the time of the Aztecs. Our sun god was conceived because his mother held hummingbird feathers to her breast”
“That seems unlikely.”
“I’m trying to help, Jenny. No one is going to force you to find love.”
“It just seems so ridiculous. Putting a poor little dehydrated bird in a pouch and wearing it. Does it give off a scent or something? How does the sad little creature find the man of my dreams?”
“Well you need to tell it who you’re after, of course. You need a photo of the guy or his name written on paper. The bird is drenched in honey and then wrapped in the paper before it’s put into the pouch.”
“Wait a minute… if I knew who the guy was, I’d just go and introduce myself. I thought this charm was going to find the guy for me.”
“Geez Jenny, find the guy? It’s not magic.”
A special thanks to Los Angeles watercolour artist, Suren Nersisyan for allowing me to use his beautiful hummingbird image to illustrated this story. Check out his work. There are lots of affordable prints available at a variety of websites.