When I landed on American soil, the noise I made was akin to that of a sack of potatoes. I didn’t break any bones, although I was ready to face that possibility. Despite my lack of belief in God, thanking Him was the least I could do. Jose’s friend, Skinny Man, leaned against the wall but sprang out of there as soon as I landed.
“Follow me,” he said while hurrying toward the house that was on the other side of the road. I ran behind him and still had a chance to look around. That part of the neighborhood was identical to the one on the other side. It almost felt as if I had merely walked into a mirror. The thought was anything but pleasant.
Scratch that thought, I whispered to myself.
“What did you say?” Skinny Man asked. He opened the door of a white, bricked house, summoned me inside, and shut the door closed. Like Negro’s house, this one looked identical on the inside. I had the sudden and unexpected feeling that this was a dream and I was still sleeping on Negro’s couch.
I blinked twice, just to make sure, and then answered the question. “Nothing. I’m talking to myself.”
Skinny Man smirked, “Don’t we all?” he waited to see if I wanted to say anything else. When I didn’t say another word, he looked at my hands and asked. “You don’t have any gloves?”
I shook my head.
He took a pair from his back pocket. “Take these. You are gonna need them.”
I took them. “Thank you.”
I’d forgotten how cold it was but looking at the gloves made the unsavory reality come back to the scene. I shivered while putting the damned gloves on. Walking further, I looked around to start familiarizing myself with the surroundings. There was nothing particularly exciting about this house. There was an old, wooden table to the right and two wooden chairs rested on top of it. There was a black, old leather sofa on the left, and cans of Budweiser and Corona littered the floor. There was a black door on the other side, and I surmised there were more rooms there.
I never knew for sure.
“We’re gonna stay here,” Skinny Man said. “Someone is gonna come and tell us when we can go.”
“Where is the other man who jumped?” I asked.
“He went somewhere else,” he said while taking a seat on the sofa. “You can grab a chair if you want.”
I didn’t get it. If that was the house where the pollos had to wait, where was the other man who had jumped first?
“How come?” I asked.
“How come what?”
“That I’m the only one here.”
Skinny Man looked at me and said cryptically. “You are a special delivery.”
I was afraid. I didn’t like Skinny Man since the first time we met when he dared to take my backpack. And now that we were alone, I was afraid he was now going to ask me for something else. I also remembered the conversation I had with Negro the night before. He’d mentioned that he never brought pollos into his house and that the boss wanted me to get to California safe.
Maybe that is what they mean by ‘special delivery,’ I thought.
But what was so special about me? There were so many questions but no real answers. A knock on the door killed the silence, and Skinny Man stood up so fast it almost seemed as if he flew from the sofa to the door. I never saw his feet touch the ground. He opened the door. The light of a new day was already covering the streets, and a tall, fat man with a baby face stood outside the front door. He wore a plain white t-shirt and gray, loose shorts with black stripes on the sides.
He told Skinny Man to hurry up.
He walked out, and I followed behind him. Instead of heading toward the street, we walked to the back of the house and up a small rocky hill. When we were on the top, there was a curve up ahead and more houses on both sides. Since there were no cars, we jaywalked toward the other side. Baby Face walked into a green house. The door was ajar. He left it like that because he knew it wouldn’t take him long to get to the other side of the street. Skinny Man walked inside, too, and before I could make it to the door, a car appeared on the curve, its low lights staring right at me as I froze in the middle of the road.
Fuck, I thought.
I stood there, ready for the worst. I could’ve run, but there was no point in it. If that car were the police, they would pick me up. That’d be the end of the story. I looked at the car.
It was just a regular, fucking car.
The weight on my shoulders was celestially removed.
I walked toward the green house. Baby Face said, “That was intense, wasn’t it?”
“Sure, it was,” I said, my legs still shaking and shrinking inside my pants.
Twenty minutes later, Baby Face drove me toward another house, farther away from the wall and deep into the Red, White, and Blue. Baby Face was driving a blue sedan. By that time, Skinny Man had jumped back into Mexico. Again, he promised he would send my backpack, but I couldn’t believe a word he said. That man’s face was so untrustworthy that even his mother doubted he was her son when he was born.
Yes, it was that bad.
My newest companion was different. Later, I learned Baby Face was a lot younger than he looked. “I’m fifteen,” he said, and his voice was deep, as though it belonged to a different man.
“You’re kidding, right?” I didn’t buy it.
“Nope. My mom gave me too much milk. And guess what? I still need to grow a little bit more.”
I looked at myself. I was only 5′ 9,” and according to my age, I wasn’t going to stretch up an inch more. That was another fact that proved my theory: life isn’t fair.
We arrived at another house. The façade was yellow, almost hurtful to the eye at that hour. The white door was wide open, and there was a red Ford pickup parked outside. Pink curtains were covering the two front windows. I had what I liked to call ‘a brief Sherlockian moment,’ where I deduced that the inhabitant of that house had to be a woman.
Well, on second thought, you never really know.
A woman came out of the house, proving my assumption correct. She was wearing a white, short-sleeved blouse and black jeans. Her short, black hair rested on her shoulders. Her piercing, brown eyes looked great on her square face, and her gait oozed confidence. Yes, I thought she was the perfect woman. She must’ve been ten years my senior, but still, perfection doesn’t worry about those trivial details.
“Hi!” she said while Baby Face and I got out of the sedan.
She was friendly. Too friendly, I thought.
The Woman and Baby Face exchanged a couple of words in English. I didn’t know what they were talking about, but it didn’t look like they were planning to kill me. Baby Face said to the woman, “I’m leaving.” And to me. “Good luck.”
He left, and I stood there, in front of the woman. I didn’t know what to say. In fact, I couldn’t even look her in the eye. At that age, I was still afraid to talk to women. Thus, she had to break the ice and help out this hopeless pollo.
“Are you hungry,” She asked, and the smile on her face revealed an entirely white and even set of teeth.
I thought about it. “Yes, I’m actually hungry,” I said.
“Great! Let’s go inside,” she said. As we walked toward the front door, she introduced herself. “My name is Cecilia. What’s yours?”
I almost didn’t hear that. I was too focused on the fact that I was getting closer to my destination. I was happy, hoping to be able to get to California and start a new life. The life I deserved. I looked at her, smiled, and said. “Gabriel Lucatero. My name is Gabriel Lucatero.”
Photo by TheDigitalArtist.