Look at Paco. He doesn’t know how easy he has it.
Twenty two years old. He’s somewhere in southern Mexico. Eyes puffy. Maybe he’s tired. Maybe this has been the day he’s been waiting for. Maybe the day he’s been dreading.
Look at him put all the money he’s earned in the fields inside a lucky sock. Paco stashes it in his old book bag along with one change of clothes, couple pictures…couple scriptures. A pencil written love letter from Juanita. He loved her you know. Letter looks worn out. Blurry lipstick kiss still alive though. Two bottles of water and an apple from his mom’s tree.
His mom. Momma’s face buried in a reboso. Trying to hide the tears. Is she talking to herself? Is she talking to God? El llanto que solo una madre conoce. Her tired hands remove the silver rosary that she’s worn since her wedding. It was her father’s gift. Legend says he worked the fields for two summers to pay for it. She puts it on Paco.
“Dios te bendiga mijo” whimpers out before she breaks down on his chest. Paco holds back a lifetime of tears. Combing her hair. Hand on her back. Acariciándola como ella lo hiso when he fell as a kid and cut his knee.
“no lloré mi viejita linda”
Paco doesn’t remember the walk to the train. He takes off his dirty baseball cap and whipes the sweat from his forehead. Just remembers he thought of his entire life from momma’s garden to that steel horse. So he guesses that walk took him twenty two years.
He follows the crowd. The countless faces of fear that run to that moving train. They call her La Bestia.
Climbs it as its moving. Old rusted steel. Makes it to the top. Looks for a spot. A spot with something to hold on to. A bar. An edge. A memory.
Easy ride to America. He hears strangers stories. Similar to his. Completely different. Long trip. Made friends with someone who was also going to Texas. Dallas to be exact. Also had a cousin there. Made plans. His name was Guillermo.
“En Dallas conseguimos chamba juntos Guille, ya verás que la vida nos va cambiar”
Somewhere in Northern Mexico Guillermo fell off the train and was swallowed by the darkness of the night. Paco tried to catch him. Swung his body. Lost his dirty baseball cap in the process. Layed back. Breathe. Exhale. Breathe. Exhale. Staring at the moon. That’s what his life consisted of until the sun erased the moon.
Paco the Lucky one made it to the border. Eyes filled with hope. El Norte was a stones throw away. Heart racing. Thinking of his mom. His grandfather and his work of two summers. Juanita. Guillermo.
He meets the coyote. Name is Chucho. Thick mustache. Raspy voice. One too many squares and beers probably. Paco couldn’t stop looking at the Santa Muerte tattoo on El Coyote’s bicep.
Chucho gathered 14 people who wanted to cross to El Norte inside a small house with red doors and a broken Pepsi machine in the front. Paco and 13 lucky people walked into a cramped up living room. No furniture except two lawn chairs and an old teachers desk. A small radio hanging on the bars by a cracked window played a distorted Arrolladora Banda Limon track. Some new song that spoke of nothing but the rhythm was catchy. A TV on the teachers desk had a Toluca vs Tijuana game on mute. The room smelled like Marlboro and cheap Mezcal. The kind they sell at Oxxo. Paco felt his lucky sock in his hand moisten up with sweat. He was nervous and wondered why.
Chucho robbed all 14 dreamers.
Lucky Paco. 21 days. Twenty one days in a border town where he knew no one. Doing small jobs to have enough to eat and attempt to save up for another coyote. An older lady fed him a few times. They called her La Tia. She helped everyone who she saw as a lost cause. La Tia was a San Judas worshipper. Statues everywhere. Great soul. He just felt awkward asking for her help cause she was helping so many people. He was raised not to be a burden. So he stopped going to La Tia. He saw Chucho twice though. Stared at his Santa Muerte tattoo. Fantasized of murdering him. Tried to warn his possible victims. The border is a daze though. A casino with no clock. No slots. And the house will always win.
Day twenty two he had enough. He didn’t have enough for a coyote. He was tired eating two tortillas with jalapeño and tomato slices. He missed mom. Missed Juanita. Missed his rancho. Hated knowing that 50 yards away glory awaited him. He spewed the phrase to himself that Mexicans use when facing a tough decision.
“Pues ya que chingados”
Paco crossed the border that night. Alone.
Five days later he would be in Dallas. His cousin Felix picked him up at the Bus Station.
“No Mames Paco…te vez de la chingada. Como estuvo la pasada?”
To this day Paco hasn’t spoken of crossing that border. About getting shot at by minutemen. God bless their bad aim. About those confederate flags on pick up trucks he had to learn to hide from. About the three days with no food. Surviving off water. About crying himself to sleep in some field wondering if he’d wake up. He never even told anyone of Hector, the Mexican dude who saw him running through backyards and went out of his way to help him. Gave him clothes and let him shower. Fed him. Took him to the bus station. He offered Hector the silver rosary around his neck as a thank you. Hector declined. Just said…”triunfa. Trabaja y no le tengas miedo a nadie. Con eso me pagas”
Dallas was a different world. It wasn’t his grandfather’s fields. The fields his family lost due to Clinton and NAFTA in the 90s. But Paco thought the brown faces surrounding him would make it easier to adjust. They listened to Corridos too. They looked like him.
It didn’t take long before they called him a brazer. A paisita. Indio. Then Paco would see those same brown faces at the Mexican parade waving flags full of patriotism. It didn’t take long to figure out that in America many of his countrymen are proud of being Mexican…but not THAT Mexican.
“Osea no te pases de verga wey”
Paco holds two…sometimes three jobs simultaneously for the better part of the next six years. Everything you can think of. Never called in sick. Not when he got a call that Juanita got married. Not when he tried to meet Guillermo’s cousin and was blown off. Not when he was so hungover after that lonely Christmas.
Not when his mother died.
“Triunfa. Trabaja y no le tengas miedo a nadie”
Paco kept Hector’s words close to him. Work. Lucha. Ganas. He often thinks of La Tia. He forgave Chucho. Still gonna punch him in the mouth if he ever sees him though.
Still has the rosary worth two summers of his grandfather’s life. It hangs in the rear view mirror of a used SUV that he paid cash for. Full coverage but no license cause America is funny. Cop driving behind him and Paco prays. He’s sober. Maybe drunk off routine. Leaving one job to head to another. He removes his baseball cap and wiped the sweat from his forehead. Paco drives the speed limit because he can’t afford to be seen. The cop passes him up and turns left. There’s a red light. He turns down the radio. It’s that old Arrolladora Banda Limon song that talks about nothing but has a catchy rhythm anyway. He rolls down the window and gives a dollar to that blond man asking for change. He thinks to himself…”pobre guerito. Tal vez su camino fue difícil”
Yeah. This whole time Paco is the lucky one.