Natalia wanted a Moringa tree. Moringa trees were the hot new thing. You could make tea from the leaves and they would cure what ails you. It was a miracle plant, like a beanstalk to connect Heaven and Earth.

The last time we visited Hermosillo in Mexico, we visited Natalia’s uncle Raul. People rarely visited Raul; he lived in his dead mother’s house all by himself and he tended a little garden and was a bit of a mystery. He was friendly and smiled and showed us around the house, but not all the rooms. The house was small, like almost all the houses in Hermosillo, and it had rough wood roof beams and a wood stove. The only furniture was a table in the kitchen. NoTV, no chairs, no bed, no computer. Raul didn’t need any of that stuff. When it came time for us to leave, he didn’t want us to leave, and he shook my hand and held it for a long time. He gave Natalia a little jar of Moringa seeds that he had gathered from the Moringa trees in his yard.

That jar sat in our cupboard for months until the other day, when suddenly Moringa trees were the hot new thing. Natalia took out the jar and shook it. It’s like a jar of miracles, she said. She prepared a spot in the dirt by our patio, buried a few seeds, and watered them. She was happy and beautiful in the sunshine.

The next day happened to be the fourth of July, which doesn’t mean a hell of a lot to Natalia, and even though I’m a white American, it really doesn’t mean much to me either. How I got here to Tucson so far away from where I grew up in Illinois and Arkansas, and how Natalia got here so far away from her family, well that’s one of those things, long stories for another time. We watched some fireworks that our neighbors set off, but it wasn’t very inspiring. It all felt kind of silly looking up into the sky and waiting for the bright lights that were never quite what you hoped they would be.

The next morning, there was a dog on our patio. We don’t have a dog, but there was a dog lying right in that spot of dirt where Natalia had planted her Moringa seeds. It was a male Pitbull, tan, big, old, and sad looking. Dogs hate the fourth of July, and apparently this one had been frightened by the fireworks and had run away from its home and ended up there on our patio. He didn’t look well at all; he looked hopeless and lost, lying in the newly-turned dirt, which must have been cool in the July desert heat. We approached him, carefully, but didn’t dare to touch him. He didn’t seem aggressive, but he didn’t wag his tail either. I put a dish of water out for him, and Natalia made him some scrambled eggs. His ribs poked out and there were scars on his body. He didn’t want the eggs, but drank about a half-gallon of water and then went to sleep.

He slept all day there, and later the eggs disappeared. He didn’t seem interested in leaving; he didn’t budge. Natalia was irritated about her Moringa seeds, but she also felt sorry for the dog. She has a huge heart and is not ashamed of it. The pain and confusion in a dog’s eyes sometimes, you know? He looked like the kind of dog that had not had much love in his life, didn’t have a lot to live for, probably never had. I wondered what his name was; no collar, no clue. I imagined he had lived in the same small yard all of his life, until this one noisy night of gunshots and firecrackers when he escaped his fence and ran the streets in mortal fear. What was chasing him he’d never know.

The next day, he was still there in that same spot of dirt. I went around the neighborhood and asked some people. Nobody knew anything. I didn’t want to call the pound; I knew they would kill him. Nobody would want this ugly guy. The thought of having a dog around wasn’t so bad, really. But, still, I knew he would leave shit in our yard and eat a lot of food and be a responsibility for us. Maybe he would bite us one day. I try to be realistic, I try to be practical. But I could tell Natalia was already in love with him. She went to the store and bought a bag of dog food and we put it in a bowl and he ate it up. But he still didn’t warm to us; he just looked at us like he was asking us a question. He looked at us like he was sure we understood the question and simply refused to answer, which made him sadder than ever.

I wanted him, but I didn’t want him, which is the way I am with life. I knew how I was supposed to feel, but there was a part of me that just wanted that dog to disappear and leave me alone.

It rained that afternoon, one of those hellfire monsoon rains we get here in the summer, and how that dog would ever sniff his way home after that I had no idea. I thought of Tom Waits’ song “Raindog” and how we loved that song in high school. As young people, we had thought of ourselves as raindogs, all those friends of mine back in Illinois I had not seen in 25 years.

Natalia and I had to go to work the following day, and when we got home from work, the dog was gone. Natalia cried. I was sad, too, but I was also relieved. Feelings are confusing. It’s okay, I told her, he probably found his way home. But she didn’t believe me. She’s not THAT gullible. I’ll make you a nice dinner, I told her, and we’ll watch the novela. We always watched the Mexican novela which came on at six while we ate dinner. It was nice watching the drama of the characters’ lives, which became terrible and then wonderful so quickly. How the women cried and were so beautiful, the men handsome, and how they rose to their many sudden and unpredictable challenges.

I was putting the final touches on the enchiladas when Natalia got the phone call from her sister Sofia in Hermosillo. I looked at her face while she listened and thought, Oh, shit, what? The novela was about to start. Natalia’s beautiful Yaqui face went pale. How I loved those high cheekbones and that long black hair and those huge dark eyes. She hung up the phone and walked to the bedroom. I followed her, put my arm around her where she was sitting on the bed.

“Mi tio Raul se murio,” she said.

Uncle Raul was dead.

Murdered. Someone had broken into his house and beat him on the head until he was dead. He had lain on his floor for three days in the Hermosillo heat naked until he was bloating and stinking. Natalia’s mother had found him.

I am a cold bastard, a cold white bastard, and I am not proud of it. But I was hungry, you know, and I got up and ate some enchiladas. Natalia didn’t eat anything. I watched the novela for 15 minutes, but I couldn’t escape it, so I turned it off and went to bed.

We had to go to Hermosillo. God, how Natalia missed her family. She missed Mexico so much: the family, the drama, the closeness, the shared life.

We drove south, through the border at Nogales, past the ramshackle hovels on the hillsides, through the windblown pueblos, Imuris with its smoking carts of carne asada, Magdalena, that “magical town,” and Santa Ana with its copper wares and big stone statues and fountains. It was the quietest trip we had ever taken. “Everything is so green,” Natalia said. Her history, her beloved Mexico, ripe from the rains.

Everyone was at the tiny funeral parlor in Hermosillo. Parking was a challenge as usual. Inside was the family, dozens of them, most of whom had not seen Raul in years. Nobody knew exactly what had happened, why it had happened, how somebody could beat an old man until he was dead and leave him like that, or what he could have done to deserve it. The lid was closed. They said he was so bloated and rank that they had to put him into a plastic bag and it took three men to shove him into the casket. Natalia joined her mother and I sat alone, the white ghost among them, listening to the Spanish which I only half-understood. Most of them looked at me and wondered what I was doing there, where I had come from, what my story was. I was wondering the same thing.

After a couple of hours, we all pulled out and headed to the church. The church was suffocating. The women fanned themselves and the men mopped their faces with colorful handkerchiefs. The priest said his thing. Then we followed the hearse to the cemetery.

Cemeteries in Hermosillo are not like those in the United States. There is no grass and hardly a tree and the graves are crammed together and the headstones are crumbling and many of the graves sunken in. I couldn’t believe how many holes were pre-dug, ready and waiting for bodies. There were so many holes we didn’t know which one was ours, or rather, which one was Raul’s. You had to be careful not to fall into one, especially after the beers started going around.

Right before they put the casket in the red ground, Natalia’s mother leaned over the casket and started crying, very loud and theatrical. Someone asked me if it was true that gringos buried their dead standing up, feet down. I said, no, we bury our dead the same way you do, in a lying position. One day you’re here, the next you’re gone, was the prevailing sentiment.

Two Mexican kids with bandanas over their faces lowered the casket into the ground and started to shovel the dirt. You know that sound of dirt clods hitting a coffin? With their bandanas over their faces, they looked like bandits. One of them had a sweat-stained Superman T-shirt on.

Natalia stood very close to the burial and I stood back. It was late afternoon and the sun burned the side of my face. It was then that I had the strangest thought. I thought of the dog that showed up on our patio, its sad lost eyes, and I thought that maybe somehow there was a connection between that dog and poor dead uncle Raul. I imagined the fear he must have felt when they broke into his house and came for him, the horror of being beaten on the head and left to die, knowing no one would come to help him, knowing there was no escape. Why had he been isolated from his family? Why had we not visited him or thought of him in all those months while his Moringa seeds sat in the jar in our cupboard? I imagined him lying on his floor, feeling his life slipping away, his soul traveling up and away and through the dark night all the way to us there in Tucson to appear to us in the form of that dog, with his eyes that looked so human, asking for help. Or maybe he just wanted to say goodbye? We were afraid to touch him, and we fed him scrambled eggs, and I wished he would just go away. And then he did.

At the cemetery, a man sold snow cones from a cart, an old brown wrinkled man with a big smile. He scooped the ice into cups and poured the sweet syrup over it, strawberry, tamarind, vanilla. I watched him working under his little umbrella and thought, every day he was there, selling sweet ice among the dead and grieving.

The mourners slowly separated and started to leave and the old ladies urged everyone to get together again, and not just when someone died.

Rush hour traffic was insane in Hermosillo, and I cussed when I hit the potholes. Usually before we leave Mexico we will buy some seafood and tortillas, but this time I asked Natalia if she wanted to, and she said “No.”

When we got home to Tucson, the Moringa plants were not sprouting. There was nothing but the dark red dirt, patted down where the dog had been. I don’t know how long it takes Moringa plants to sprout, so we’re still hopeful. Whether they can do all those things they’re supposed to be able to do, well, I’d like to believe it, you know. I really would.