Fiction | Issue 1 (April 2023)

The Joy of San Miguel de Allende

François Bereaud

Mitchell asks me to move in with him before the holidays. I tell him there’s too much stress for me to make a decision. After, in January, I take a group of students for a two-week immersion program to San Miguel de Allende, an artsy colonial town four hours north of Mexico City. The night before I leave, I tell him I’m not ready. He says nothing.

I teach in the morning and wander around in the afternoon. In the city’s center, the streets are narrow and cobblestoned and artisan shops offer locally crafted products ranging from hand woven textiles to Spanish tapas. There are many Americans, tourists young and old, but also expats. Some are seniors who’ve chosen to retire here, but others are younger, starting second careers as horse guides or Zumba teachers. Spanish and English intermix at an organic market. I treat myself to meals in small places with lovely courtyards, fancy coffees, attentive wait staff, and bilingual menus. I sit in the main zocalo, ostensibly to read, but mostly watching the passersby or street vendors. One, a thin man, is over seven feet tall with the fifty or more straw hats he wears; another, a large woman, totes a staggering load of plastic dolls and rockets which young children beseech their parents to buy. I count churches in the city. I get up to twenty-four and discover the bells are rung from the ground, simply by pulling a large rope which hangs for anyone to yank.

I grow tired of the chit chat with my compatriots and venture away from the center. On street corners, I eat tacos at eight pesos apiece. Mechanics working out of grease filled garages use the curbside to repair cars and dogs patrol the rooftops of the small houses. At an empty car wash, I smile at the pretty young girl who tends the register while the two wash-boys fiddle with an ancient looking boom box. She gives me a bored look in return. Down the road, an older man and I watch as a crew of construction workers pour concrete into the skeleton of a house.

On the outskirts of town, in a space the size of three football fields, a nonorganic market is held. All the vendors are Mexican. Some offer hand-crafted work, but others display products varying from cheap Nikes to generous helpings of Chicharrons, the fried pork rinds so popular here. I’m looking at blankets when I see Mitchell from behind. Tall with a slender, muscular build. Hair cut in a tight fade, square shoulders, dark skin tone. He turns – a stranger, of course – I shudder. I buy him a twisted copper bracelet for twelve pesos, doubting he’ll wear it. Doubting all of it.

After dinner on Friday night, the students and I head to the zocalo. Several mariachi bands serenade diners at the sidewalk restaurants. In one corner, a large brass band plays for a wedding party. The band leader shakes a bottle of champagne and sprays the guests. In the square’s center, a group of teenagers draws a crowd by brake dancing to hip hop beats from a large speaker. One of the younger ones passes through the onlookers with a weathered ski hat, collecting five- and ten-peso pieces. Kids chase soccer balls and pull plastic dogs, couples walk hand in hand, and older men sit on benches, newspapers in hand as if the square were empty. The students cheer on the dancers, buy churros, and take pictures of everything. My phone rings.

“You at a party?”

“The main square, there’s a lot happening here.”

“You haven’t called.”

“It’s been busy. Sorry.”

“Sounds like you’re having fun.” He hangs up.

I want to call him back. I don’t.

On my last day, with the students gone, I visit a gallery I’d missed. A cough startles me and I turn to see an unshaven, bespectacled young man, the long fingers of his right hand brushing the hair out of his dark eyes. I flash back to days I’d thought were behind me.

His room is shabby and we speak little. I can’t say if I experience pleasure. I leave and walk over the cobblestones to my room. Before the sun sets, a car will come to take me to the airport in Queretaro, a city an hour from here. Church bells ring and I hear music. I can’t smile. I’ve betrayed the joy of this town.

François Bereaud is a husband, dad, full time math professor, mentor in the San Diego Congolese refugee community, and mediocre hockey player. His stories and essays have been published online and in print. In 2024, Cowboy Jamboree Press will publish his first full manuscript, San Diego Stories, which is the realization of a dream. You can find links to his writing at