Skip to main content

8:07 p.m. A knock on the door woke me up. I was afraid to open the door, even though I knew someone was coming to pick me up. A second knock. Hesitation is your worst enemy when you are about to make a decision that will change the course of your life.

I stood up, still hesitating. The knocker yelled my name from the other side of the door.

It was funny. I hadn’t heard my name in the last twenty-four hours. I had to think about it for two seconds to make sure it was the name on my identification. “Espera!” I managed to say, glad to know that at least a perfect stranger knew my name.

I opened the door. The man outside wore black sandals, blue jeans, and a bright yellow soccer jersey. He glanced into the room. “Estas solo?” He wondered if I was alone.

“Si,” I said. I wanted to say ‘yes’ but didn’t want to sound pompous. I did learn English back in school and was now going to be able to practice it.

Thank God.

The man introduced himself, said his name was Jose, and that he had a special request. “You’re gonna follow me, but not too close. We’re gonna walk up the hill toward the border. Got it?”

I nodded.

I wanted to ask questions but thought that maybe it was ok to keep my mouth zipped for the time being. I grabbed the backpack and shut the door closed. I was ready to keep moving forward.

We walked out of the motel. Fluorescent lights showered the streets with their colors. The traffic was heavy, so we stopped for a second. When there was a window of opportunity to jaywalk, Jose was the first one to take it. I did likewise, standing right next to him. He gave me a stern look.

“Follow me, but not too close.”

I gave Jose a chance to walk an extra block. Then I followed him. I looked up. The night sky seemed notably darker. I also saw people peeping through the windows and closing them as Jose looked up. To the left, I saw a house built with red bricks and spiderwebs on the corners.

Jose stopped, turned around, and told me to come closer. There was a white door in the middle of the bricked house. There was only one window to the right, and a woman was inside, standing in front of a stove. A man came out of the house. He had on black jeans, brown boots, and a plain white t-shirt. He was extremely skinny. His hair was thin. The sweat lines on his forehead suggested he was doing manual and hefty labor before Jose and I came.

I never knew what this man’s name was.

“This is a new one,” Jose told Skinny Man.

Skinny Man looked me up and down. I felt the same thing a cow feels when a new master is about to buy her.

Although Mexicans, Skinny Man exchanged words in English with Jose. I didn’t know what they were talking about. Based on Skinny Man’s obvious stare, I thought that he had a weird fixation with my backpack.

Jose looked at me this time. “You’re gonna have to leave your backpack here,” he said, “So when you jump the border, la Migra doesn’t see it.”

Of course, I was an illegal immigrant, but I wasn’t stupid. The ‘reason’ they came up with smelled like bullshit.

“When you’re on the other side,” Skinny Man said, “We’ll send it back to you.”

I was hesitant. These thugs were pulling my leg so hard it was going to get dislocated. Against my own will, I decided to do it. I opened the bag and saw the clothes I had inside. I gave it to Skinny Man but kept two things: my dreams and the toilet paper.

And just like an ordinary thief, he grabbed it and closed the door behind him.

“Vamonos!” Jose said.

Jose gave me a suspicious look as we walked away. He wanted something else. My backpack wasn’t that big of a bone to please two starving dogs.

“How much money do you have?” he asked.

I see what you want, motherfucker, I thought.

I had the meager amount of five pesos in my left pocket and the equal of fourteen dollars inside my shoes.

“Five,” I said, and the look on Jose’s face was of sadness.

He wasn’t going to give up that easily, though. “I can use those five bucks to buy a drink,” he said, clinging to the last thread of hope.

I fished out the coins and gave them to him, the same way you’d do to a beggar who asks for spare change on the streets.

We walked further up. The street was dark, and the whole area was as creepy as a cemetery. We didn’t talk much. Jose’s interest in the interaction had a price, and I had already paid for it. We finally arrived at a house on the corner of the street. At about a hundred feet away, I saw the border.

The house was like Skinny Man’s, but this one had a white fence and a bricked path that led to the doorsteps. The white door was wide open. A man wearing a red hat, red t-shirt, and black shorts came out. I felt this place was a lot more inviting.

The man’s dark skin color might have been the result of his family’s ethnicity, the hours he worked under the sun, or a combination of both. Jose called him Negro, a well-tailored nickname. They talked for a spell. Negro criticized Jose’s shirt and told him to take it off the next time he came to his house. Jose laughed, gave him the middle finger, and finally had the decency to introduce me to his new friend.

Negro looked at me, not like he wanted to buy me, but with respect. Jose told Negro that he was going to leave and that he would bring more people in the morning. He didn’t say goodbye. There was no need for that.

“Come in,” Negro said.

I walked in. I had a sense of deja vu as I walked through the corridor. This place was like my house back in Michoacan. There were two rooms, one on each side, a bathroom further to the right, a living room to the left, and the kitchen right behind it. A woman came out of the kitchen, wearing a red apron over a white long dress. She walked toward the living room, where a teenager wearing light blue overalls watched Dragon Ball Z on a black big TV.

Was it like my house, or was I feeling homesick already?

The woman smiled at me as if I was an old family member. Even the teenager stood up to shake my hand. The whole atmosphere was a lot more inviting. “Do you want to eat something?” Negro asked.

“Sure,” I said.

Negro sat at the head of the table, his wife sat on his right, and his son left. I sat at the other end, right in front of the man of the house. The coffee, fried beans, and warm tortillas intensified that feeling of deja vu. Yes, I guess it was homesickness after all.

As we ate, I looked around. In fact, this house wasn’t what I expected to find. The place I pictured was a small room crowded with people like me. More or less what I’d seen on TV. No, I wasn’t complaining. I considered myself lucky.

“What’s on your mind?” Negro asked as he cut a tortilla in half. He used it to grab a handful of beans and ate it all at once.

I told him what I was thinking.

“We keep people in another place, just like that,” Negro confessed.

I cleaned my mouth with a paper napkin while wondering why I wasn’t in that place. For some reason, I didn’t want to ask. I was being treated like a guest and didn’t want to question that.

“Normally, I don’t bring people into my house,” Negro said while sipping from a cup of coffee.

“Would you like some more coffee?” the woman asked.

“Yes, please,” I said and then looked at Negro. “Thank you for the special treatment.”

“Don’t thank me. The boss wants to make sure you get to California safe.”

I had twenty-five thousand more questions. Instead of asking them all at once, I thought it was prudent to wait and see if the days ahead could give me at least some of the answers. When everyone finished their food, the woman took all the plates off the table and placed them in a sink at the far left corner of the kitchen.

We stayed at the table a while longer while Junior watched TV and the wife was washing the dishes. Negro gave me instructions, told me what to do the next day. Half an hour after that, the woman brought a blanket and a pillow, put them on the couch, and told me that that would be my bed for the night. Before going to sleep, I went to the bathroom to wash my hands and mouth. I used my fingers to clean my teeth. I would have to buy a toothbrush soon.

The lights went off. Everyone went to sleep. I slid into the blanket with my clothes on. Now that everything was quiet, I noticed how cold the night was. I’d never felt that cold before. The city where I was born was hot all year long. In fact, people say that the devil himself had to walk away because he couldn’t withstand the weather.

I turned off the switch inside my head, giving all those thoughts and questions a break. I closed my eyes, convincing myself that the answers would come in due time. I then fell asleep almost immediately.


Photo by Anemone123.

Leave a Reply

Close Menu

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 7,687 other subscribers