During our lunch break, we could go outside when we are done. That’s what we usually did. I mean, who wants to sit in a smelly cafeteria after all?
There’s a woman called la Llorona who takes children and drowns them.
Mirna rolled her eyes, “I know. She’s loca.”
And scary. Like who would drown kids?
“She’s scary, but not as scary as el cucuy.” chimed in Cristina.
“El cucuy? Cristy, please no seas una boba. That’s what we tell my three-year-old brother Brayan when he refuses to go to sleep.”
Nos empezamos a burlar, because Cristy es tan inocente. She probably still believes in El Ratón Pérez. I could tell Cristy was getting offended, so I switched the conversation back to las leyendas.
Miren, el silbón es el más malo. Mi primo Casimiro actually saw him, and we had to take him to a curandera because he stopped eating. He also stopped drinking, which is good because he was always drunk as a skunk. His paycheck always went to that and only that. He’s lucky that el Silbón didn’t take him and just made him change his ways.
Cristy sighed like an enamorada would sigh thinking of their crush.
“Tu primo Casimiro? He’s cute. Too bad he won’t add me back on snapchat. Is he okay now?”
You wouldn’t want to date him. Trust me. He’s a momma’s boy. Mi tía would make your life una gran miseria. Now that he went to a curandera he is all right, but he gets hella upset if you start whistling, especially if you whistle a certain way.
By now, we were all sitting closer because hearing about el silbón is always intriguing. Mirna whispered to us.
“¿Cómo chifla? Are they slow or fast chiflidos?”
I can’t. No se chiflar.
“I can.” Cristina whistled and she whistled that slow chiflido that makes Casimiro act like he just saw death and almost faints.”
I’m getting a hella of chills right now.
“¡Pos de perdis no fue el sombrerón!” Lupita startled me. She’s normally very quiet. She never yells or anything. She’s the one that listens while we all yakety yak away. She was frightened by the thought of El sombrerón.
What’s wrong Lupita?
“He’s terrible, I saw him when I was little. He was wearing a dark long coat and a big hat.”
We had to lean in to hear her porque habla bien quedito. Mirna just looks at her as if she is making it all up. “¿Qué no hay una canción del viejo del sombrerón? It’s by La Sonora Dinamita. It’s not even about a scary person.”
“Mirna ya. Leave her alone. It’s not the same person, el sombrerón is very scary.”
Lupita gives Mirna a dirty look and starts explaining more to us about this legend. “El sombrerón es un viejo chaparro. You can’t even see his face because he’s got this huge sombrero that covers his whole face. He has these pointy botines and big belt. He loves young girls and horses. He is so creepy and hypnotizes you just so he can braid your hair. He also braids horse’s hairs, he did that to los caballos de mi papá”.
Cristy starts coughing so loud because she is choking on the fruit snacks que se retaco en el la boca. Once she composes herself, she asks Lupita a question. “Isn’t that el hombre del costal? My mom always talks about him to my brother.”
They’re the same dude.
Lupita spoke up and said “No. They’re not the same one. El hombre del costal sounds more like el cucuy.” Mirna looks at Lupita and once again starts rolling her eyes, because like always Mirna thinks she knows best.
I heard el cucuy has a black dog that grows every time it barks.
“You’re right. I sometimes hear the bark when I take the trash out.”
Mirna, first time you agree with me. You’re always acting like we don’t know anything. Mirna ignores me and proceeds to tell us that if we see the dog we are going to die. Tambien nos dice que, the dog grows based on your negativity.
“Can we change the subject? I’m scared now.” Cristina looked terrified. “No seas chillona. We are just talking and it’s not like we are going to really see anything.” At that moment Mirna was mocking Cristina and making crying faces. I began to get annoyed with her and decided to look down at my watch. We only had 10 more minutes of lunch time left, I didn’t get to hear more about el sombrerón. I was very curious about that dude. I wasn’t going to go to boring Calculus after this and not know anything else about El sombrerón. Just as I was about to ask Lupita to tell us more, she starts telling us the story.
Lupita used to share rooms with her older sister Fatima. Fatima always had long silky black hair, but there was a time that she would wake up and her hair was braided. Done in these complicated braids that you would have to pay un peluquero to do for you. And she always had pretty flowers attached to her hair. Her parents never knew how she would wake up with hair like that, especially because they didn’t have those types of flowers in the region or in their garden. Even though her hair was braided so pretty, Fatima looked like a dead person. She would not blink. She also did not want to go outside and if she did, it was only to see the horses who by the way, also had braids.
Lupita’s parents started to get worried because they would find traces of dirt on her pillow. They even tried to sleep in the same room as their daughters to try to see what was going on, however the next day, they would always appear in their room. Lupita said she never saw anything because she is a heavy sleeper, yet one day, she heard the sound of boots clinking and woke up. She acted like she was asleep and she saw this short man who smelled like the horse stalls. He was playing music and her sister Fatima got up and he started feeding her dirt. She seemed hypnotized and just sat motionless on the bed as the guy caressed her cheeks and braided her hair. Lupita said she screamed so loud that he got scared and left the room. Lupita’s parents came into the room and she told them everything. Afterwards, they had to take Lupita to this curandera who said a few prayers for her and gave her a talisman to wear so he wouldn’t come back.
As I said that, Mirna screamed.
¿Qué pasa? Your face looks like you just saw a ghost!
“Lululupiiiita, your hombre del sombrerón is over there.”
“Right there. Behind the bushes.”
We all looked up and we saw un hombre con sombrero and suddenly upon us there was a wave of chilly air. The sun disappeared. We jumped as quickly as possible and went into the school. David and his friends started laughing at us.
“Mira estas locas. Why are they screaming?”
“You know Mirna and them. They’re so dramatic.”
We rush to the girls restroom.
“What just happened?”
“It’s all your fault Lupita for bringing him up.”
Lupita started hyperventilating and her skin color disappeared, she now looks white like Maycol Yakson’s face.
Mirna shut up. Lupita doesn’t look okay.
“None of us look okay!”
“Yea. I felt like mi corazón was going to fall off!”
Cristina starts biting her nails and asks for holy water. My friends always laugh at me for carrying around this little bottle of holy water that I got in a misa de sanación, but this is the reason I carry it around. There’s a lot of demons trying to perturbarnos. I pour holy water into a water bottle and we all drank from it. As Mirna drinks the rest of the water, she tells us that this will be the last time we ever talk about this again.
“I’m scared,” sobs Cristina.
“We’re all scared mensa.” Said Mirna who looks paranoid.
Let’s just stick together and say a prayer. Don’t be scared, God is with us. We say a prayer and go to class.
For an entire week we kept hearing a barking noise, especially at night. None of our family members could hear it, but we could. I finally told my mom what was going on, that I couldn’t sleep at night and my friends were scared too. “Nunca, never again should you speak about cosas del otro mundo. You’re invoking them when you talk about them. Here, offer this Magnificat prayer to your friends and you will see that the bad spirits will go away.”
The next day I told my friends and Lupita was quieter than ever. Even Mirna who never shuts up was extremely silent. We prayed together and somehow it felt good afterwards. That was the last day we heard the barking and it was the last day we ever mentioned el hombre de El sombrerón.
Cueponi Cihuatl Espinoza was born in Zacatecas, Mexico and raised in Iowa. Espinoza believes in the power of literature and at the age of 16, she started a literacy program for Latinx adults. She was the youngest person inducted into the Iowa Latino Hall of Fame as the first recipient of the Latinx Youth Leader Award. During her free time, she records podcasts episodes on Confessions of a Latina in the Midwest and spends time with her dog Canela.