My first meal on American soil was scrambled eggs with a drizzle of ketchup, buttered white toast, and black coffee. Cecilia was there, eating with me, and our conversation featured the usual small talk topics: the weather broadcast, the things we do for fun, and the name of our favorite soccer team. I wasn’t sure if I should spill all the beans and tell her all about my dark secrets. Even if I’d been treated like a guest of honor, I couldn’t help but wonder why.
As soon as I finished my food, I stood up, walked the short distance toward the sink, and washed my plate and coffee mug. I looked around. The kitchen didn’t have anything special. It was all the same. There was a rectangular wooden table in the middle with its set of chairs, a white refrigerator next to the sink, and a black stove on the other side. There was also a window right above the sink. I looked at the horizon and imagined what could be waiting for me.
Everything was still new. The things I wanted to know about America would reveal themselves to me sooner or later. There seemed to be no rush. I looked back. Cecilia walked out of the kitchen when her house phone rang. I thought about washing her plate, but it still had eggs and a half-eaten piece of toast.
Waiting was the prudent thing to do.
While Cecilia talked on the phone, I sat on my chair. All I had to do now was wait. I didn’t know where I was going to go this time and thought I might ask later. It was 9:30, I was already on American soil, and the dream was now becoming a reality.
Fifteen minutes later, Cecilia came back. She had a set of keys in her left hand while her right held the phone against her ear. I could hear the voice coming out of the phone but wasn’t sure if it was a man or a woman.
“See the red pickup outside?” She asked. I said yes, even if the front door was closed and I couldn’t actually see shit at that moment. “Heat it while I finish. We’re leaving soon.”
I stood up at once and walked outside the house. I wondered why she trusted me. I wasn’t a thug but was sure that nobody would hand me the keys of Heaven just because I cracked a smile.
Maybe I was wrong about that.
I sat on the copilot seat and waited for her. She came out carrying a notoriously big handbag with a big metal ‘G’ hanging at the front. She hopped in, put the bag next to me, and asked, “ready?”
“Yes, I am ready,” I said. As she drove away, I had to ask one of the many questions I had. “Why do you trust me so much?”
Her hands were on the wheel, but her eyes set on me for a moment. “You seem friendly,” she said. “A bit shameless, too, but not really dangerous.” The way she said that made me feel like a laboratory mouse.
I chuckled. “Maybe you’re right.”
I looked around for a moment. “This town looks a lot like the one on the other side.”
“True,” she said. “It is because we are still close to the border.”
“This isn’t the first time you jumped, is it?” her question was the kind you ask when you think you already know the answer.
“It is,” I said.
“You look awfully calm.”
I hadn’t noticed that. “I guess I am.”
Cecilia looked at me from head to toe. “Can I give you a piece of advice?”
“Take off your hat and your jacket,” she said. “Only keep the white shirt you have underneath.” Before I could ask why, she said, “If you look around, you’ll see many people wearing the same sort of outfit.”
It was true. I’d seen that before when I was in Hermosillo. All the illegal immigrants I encountered had not just the same look of apprehension on their faces but similar hats and black jackets.
As we approached a highway, I read a yellow, ‘slow’ sign. I knew that could mean anything but still had to ask.
“It could be a checkpoint,” she teased me.
All of a sudden, the calm and serene look I had flown out the window. Luckily, it all came back when I saw a group of men wearing yellow outfits standing next to the road.
“Or they might be just workers,” she said, smiling.
I had to smile too, “You knew that, didn’t you?”
“So tell me more about yourself,” she said after an awkward moment of silence.
We were driving into the desert, and I was mesmerized by the yellow, arid nothingness and the endless road we were going through. I told her the little there was to know about me. Like others, I had left loved ones behind. The stories I told Cecilia were too similar to others she’d heard before.
“So you left a girlfriend, too?”
“Are you gonna marry her?”
I didn’t know what to answer. Marriage wasn’t in my plans. I loved Rosa, there was no doubt, but I was also young and wanted to accomplish something in life first before tying the knot with someone. “I want to say yes,” I finally answered.
“I’m not ready.”
“That’s an honest answer.”
“I’m honest. Sometimes.”
She smiled. Then, a light in her eyes suggested there was a question she wanted to ask. “What about your last name?”
“What about it?”
“Sounds made up.”
I smirked. “I’ve heard that before.”
“What does it mean?”
I sighed, retrieving the memory from one of the drawers inside my head. “I haven’t met my father’s side of the family, but my mom said that some people came from Italy years ago and established themselves in Michoacan. That’s where most of them are now. I don’t really know what it means.”
“Really?” She wondered. “Maybe you should look it up.”
“I knew it sounded Italian.”
“Yeah, it kinda makes me feel important.'”
She smiled at that.
“So you say you’ve never met your dad’s side of the family?”
“You think they come from Italy, too?”
“Not them, but someone did before they came to the picture.”
She agreed and smiled, focusing back on the road.
There was silence for a moment. Many thoughts and unanswered questions kept dancing in my head. Maybe talking about what I’d left behind wasn’t the right topic at that moment. Looking ahead was the only thing I had to focus on. And so I did, by looking at the desert. My eyelids felt tired. It was time to relax. I didn’t know when I fell asleep, but the two hours I was out were the most peaceful I’d had up to that moment in time. When I opened my eyes, I had the feeling that I had slept minutes instead of hours. The desert looked the same way, and I was afraid that maybe, just maybe, we were going around in circles.
“You slept almost the whole way,” She said.
I looked surprised. The clock in the truck said it was 12:30, and that reminded me that I needed to adjust my watch to the new time. A few houses were now visible in the distance. They seemed to come from underneath as the pickup got closer to its final destination. A few people were walking around, and I wondered if the whole city was this isolated.
Cecilia drove into a parking lot. A few cars were scattered around. She parked next to a good-looking, green Grand Marquis. There was a woman in that car, talking on the phone. I could only see her long, curly hair. I thought I was looking at my mother for one second because she also had her hair long and curly.
I looked at the nearest building. A casino. “Are you gonna gamble all your dollars here?” I asked.
She looked at me. The look in her eyes was the same you see in a person who doesn’t want to say goodbye and at the same time knows that is the only thing left to do. “See that woman in that car?” She asked.
I nodded. In fact, she was the only human being around at that moment.
“It’s time for you to meet the boss,” she said, and the woman inside the Marquis stepped out and walked toward the red pickup.
Photo by D_Van_Rensburg.