The children call me Sasquatch and say I live in a hole in the playground. They say that I never get cold, that my body hair keeps me warm as I curl up to sleep. They say that I walk the Mexico City metro lines by night, from Tacubaya to Indios Verdes, looking for stray passengers. That I come into school to use the phone after hours, that mine is the midnight voice on the line you least want to hear. Mine is the reflection glimpsed in the wing mirror in the Chihuahua desert, accelerating out of the cacti shadows, bounding alongside the car no matter what the speed. Mine the shape seen foraging through dead men's pockets in a burnt-out van on Viaducto, drinking mescal with the Skeleton Queen in no-go Tepito, making off on a strange raft on the Xochimilco canals, poling it with superhuman strength. Brother to the Yeti in the frozen upper reaches of the Himalayas, to Bigfoot, whose shadow haunts the woodlands alongside the Trans-Canada railway, I am 6,000 years old, one of only 133 in the world, bullet-proof and love-proof, immune to time, lonely, expatriate, Welsh, and a thing of would-be terror to the kids here at the Colegio Britannico.
-Sir, why do you have no neck?
-Sir, sir, why do you walk so funny and swing your arms that way?
-Why is your chest so furry, sir, your moustache so fierce?
-Sir, sir, why did you eat my cat for tea? All you left was frazzled scraps of hair and bone.
Like all wildman myth, I travel well. How far this dappled colonia from my Welsh village, the slaggy sides of the mountain hopping with brown rabbits, the shouting of Saturday morning football, the rooftops glistening with rain, beer and prurience. Even there I was accounted savage, when the reality is that I was invisible. I have since understood that this is an occupational hazard of Sasquatch, who like all good urban legends never fully appears; there is only ever a tuft of brown hair caught on a bush, an outsize footprint, a huge hominoid shape flitting in a car's headlights on a lonely country road. In Europe, I am a sighting that can never quite be verified. In Mexico I am visible; I do not have to exist from one chance glimpse to another; Mexico is where the fairytales of Europe – mystery primates, love, jaguars, death, and synchronicity - are still alive. Here in this city of smog sinking into its lake bed, here, tensed with a whistle beneath the jacaranda tree over the football game in the dust, I am real.
-Sir can make himself look like a man when he wants to.
-Spot the giveaway – his head sits square on his shoulders.
-His stride is longer than a man’s – we measured it.
-Always look him in the eye - Sasquatch can’t bear the human gaze.
-Never turn your back on him.
Despite my awkward gait they were glad enough to have me here as a joint proposition, maths and sport, beast and brain, an easy combination for me. My father was Loki, a trickster, able to ignite dangerous situations unexpectedly. Impregnated with tobacco and coal dust, he lived on half a lung for many a long year and no one felt safe until he had wheezed his last and was carried black and glistening to rest. They laid him decently on his back to hide his tail, and raised the shroud swiftly to cover his twisted, sinewy, satyr legs. From him I inherited my nose, my fabulous seven-league nose that can smell treachery, deceit, betrayal; a diviner’s gift in this international school where lying is the lingua franca, in this city of magic and lies. Yes, I fitted in fine before this morning, when the black dog visited. The kids say I summoned it, but it was not me, it was my fate. Out of nowhere. A rush of hot black fur from the street, come in through the school gate like a gun.
-Look out – the black dog! Out of the way!
-Sasquatch, it’s his dog! Sir’s familiar!
-Sir, your dog is here! Sir, sir! Aqui esta su perro!
-The black dog! Sir whistled for him and he came!
-Catch him, catch him!
-No good, he’s gone, into the school. Gone to find Sir…
Coalblack and massive as a Welsh pony, eyes reddish and glowing, it shot through the yard and into the hall aslant with sunshine and Vivaldi mandolins, past the headmaster’s study where my fellow Welshman, Davy Davies, a grey growl of stubble, was taking his second gin of the day. Up the stairs and along the corridor and straight into the staffroom, scattering books and staff, leaping up onto the sofa and jumping round and round on itself: a grinning of yellow teeth, a sputtering of saliva, and the smell of sulphur. Amidst the screaming of the women I recognised one of my own kind and leaped over the limen of the windowsill after it, for it exited as swiftly as it had arrived, onto the shed roof just below and down into the yard. The cries from the staffroom ascended in my ears as I plunged, the wind rushed by and we struggled upward, upward; the Cherokee Indians call the Milky Way 'where the dog ran' and my feet scattered on stars, my neck and shoulder strained against the navy sky, my moustache grinned around my teeth as I hauled the beast back and I thought I glimpsed the mathematical formula of the universe as I wrestled with my psychopomp. Its hot breath scarred my hands, my fingers tangled in its warm hair, its head flat and slippery as a furred snake. My wrists scotched with its snarls, arms pulled to the full, the earth spinning blue and green below me, I heard calls to turn my head away, not to look him in the eye. For this is what we do not name or look at, the dog that guards a wobbly tree-trunk bridge to the village of the dead. This is the dog of gateways, crossroads, stiles, footpaths, bridges, apertures of all kinds through which, having measured our stride, we leap, the song of the wind in our ears.
How long was it before I swam up again, to hear the children chattering around me, the jingling, Spanglish, superstitious, rich kids of the Distrito Federal: Mauricio, Pierre, Miguel, Toufik, Anna-Maria, Wedad, Bo-Michael.
-The black dog, sabes lo que significa? A death! Black dog is dog of the dead.
-Aie, el perro negro, esta annunciando la muerte!
-He’s gone… ya se fue... Sir locked the gate pero no importa al perro negro, black dog he’ll be back, locks don’t matter to him.
- Sir, sir, you holding your hand, did it bite you?
-Calle te, tonto, Sasquatch don’t feel bites, he don’t feel pain.
-Eh, puta, don’t worry, Sasquatch strangled the dog with his bare hands, esta muy fuerte, superhuman strong! Sasquatch threw the dog out!
I dragged it heaving and buckling to the gate and it melted into the street as if it had never been, but my hand was paining to the bone, and I thought of the black dogs of Wales, said to haunt lonely lanes at twilight. It didn’t bite me. But it breathed on me and I thought of the hound of the Welsh hills, who breathed on a man one night after chapel in 1782 and left him all shrunk up like a piece of leather scorched in a fire.
-Did you master your familiar?
Skinny Mair, headmaster’s wife, face scraggy from marriage to an alcoholic, the usual fag clamped to the side of her screwed-up mouth, was still juggling with books as I trooped back up the stairs, escorted by the chorus of children.
-Miss, miss, It’s the dog of the dead, the Nahual, he can change shape from man to dog.
-Dog bit sir, miss… bit right through sir’s hand and the blood came out black!
-Bites don’t hurt Sasquatch, no le toca nada…
-It’s Sir’s dog, miss, he takes him for walks in the big cemetery, in Panteon de Dolores.
-Yeah, miss, you can see them every evening, walking along the clouds above Chapultepec park.
-Dog of the dead, miss, come for somebody’s soul. He came to collect someone and I hope it isn’t me!
-Bugger off, you lot, muttered Mair Davies, and aloud, -It didn’t bite you, Eddie, did it?
-Oh yes. I was careful.
-Just as well, here.
- OK, kids. Mr Edwards has done a sterling job showing our unwelcome visitor the door, and now, I warn you that if the black dog doesn’t get you, then I will if you’re not in class in about ten nano-seconds from now, I can’t spare anyone’s soul today, not with that test on the causes of World War 2 you’re all so looking forwards to. Mr Edwards is going to ring the bell now - Bad enough trying to get it all done without visits from bloody supernatural dogs from the bloody otherworld... never heard such rubbish, even here…
-Not rubbish, miss. Asi es.
-Ask Sir, Sir knows. It’s true. He will tell you.
-Someone’s going to die, always comes, that dog, a few days before the day.
-That’s his job miss, tiene que hacerlo, to collect the one who is to die.
I washed my hands thoroughly, thoroughly. Its teeth didn’t touch me. It didn’t even catch my eye; I could see by its intent look that its goal was elsewhere, it was merely passing through. Yet I went to ring the bell with some reluctance, for who knows what it might ring in, what else might be summoned? Through the watery Mexican morning, smelling of tortillas and traffic fumes, the clanging of the bell went on and out, though the shaded, fountained lanes of San Angel, through the shimmering lines of cars, the two-toned whistles of the traffic cops, all along those glittering avenidas that run straight out to the ring of mountains circling the city, while I heard still the chanting of the children.
-He’ll be back, the black dog, no good locking the gate. Locks and bolts mean nothing to him.
-It’s Fate, Fate, you can’t change destiny.
-Va a volver, he’ll be back. He don’t visit for nothing.
I clasped the bell with both hands. Both my hands were wringing, screwed and twisted, and I thought again of the hound whose breath left a man all drawn up together like the mouth of a purse or a bag drawn with string. The bell died as the kids went in, and I stood in the empty playground. I had liked Mexico City and its breezeblock flats painted pink and turquoise, this vast bowl where you could reach out a hand to touch the white tips of its dreaming volcanoes.
-Sir, what you doing, sir? Thinking? We are all ready and waiting for you, sir.
-Mrs Davies sent us out to get you, she wants to know are you okay.
-We’re waiting, sir, have the books all out and ready.
-Sir is still thinking about his dog.
-Don’t worry, sir. Quando te toca, te toca.
When it’s time, it’s time. The city is a good place to hide for Sasquatch, there he can live well-disguised, but at some point the wild comes to fetch him. I swear the dog didn’t bite me. But it breathed on me and my life here all curled up. I didn’t want to go back into that ramshackle colonial house where I have to duck my head through every door and pretend to be a man. The breath of the wild scorched my hand and I put it in my pocket, to hide it from the air. There I found a letter, unopened from the day before, offering me a warden’s job on a wildlife reserve in Africa. There I can breathe free and my head can touch the sky, there my long arms can swing and my sasquatch stride have full rein. All I have to do is break the news to valiant, nicotine-scraggled Mair and gin-shrunk Davy. They will be annoyed to see me go, maybe even a touch sad. To the kids, soon a half-forgotten legend in my own lunchtime: Sasquatch, who threw the black dog back to hell through the staffroom window one watery, sunny morning in Mexico City.