Antonio worried not so much for himself, but for his wife and son. Their deliberations about what to do went on for months. Though he only had an 8thgrade education, Antonio was intelligent, resourceful, and hardworking. The area was known for its tourism, and in comparison to other parts of Mexico, the Yucatan was relatively safe. Or so he thought. The undeniable deciding factor was when Antonio came home late one night and found Cuca lying on the floor, blood flowing from her vagina and Xaco violently sobbing over her body, traumatized and hysterical. A note left in blood lay on the floor next to his wife. It read, “Join or never see little Xaco again!” He knew they had to leave.
The doctor advised Cuca to take antibiotics and to rest for at least a month. The gang-bang had torn her apart, and in the humid jungle climate, the dangers of infection were great. Yet Cuca begged Antonio that they leave only after two weeks. Antonio felt she should be patient, but she was too frightened for all of them.
With just a few hundred pesos on them and a small suitcase filled with clothing mainly for little Xaco, they hopped a train and joined the caravan of others fleeing poverty, violence and murder. Each had their own horrific story, but all were just a variation on a theme. Everything went well though most people had to ride on top of the rail cars. Sometimes someone found a boxcar whose door hadn’t been locked, and Antonio, Cuca and Xaco managed to sleep oblivious to the rain and wind that dominated the season. Getting to sleep inside a boxcar was rare, and did little to alleviate the tortures of sleep deprivation that made them act and look like tramps. Little Xaco was the exception. He seemed to think they were on a grand adventure. As long as he had his mother’s arms around him, he slept peacefully, though the gnawing hunger kept returning. The bulk of what little food Antonio could buy or beg went mainly to Xaco, while Antonio and Cuca became more and more scrawny.
They were making good progress for which Antonio was grateful. On one of those rare days when they got to sleep inside a boxcar, Antonio woke up to the screams of his wife. She was in great pain. They were just outside Cuidad Victoria in Tamaulipas state and he suggested they get off the train and seek help. Cuca refused. She was determined to get to the US border. They were so close and certainly there would be some kind of medical aid available.
Antonio made her as comfortable as possible and he climbed the tricky ladder to the roof of the car with Xaco holding on to his neck, his little legs straddling his dad’s waist like a jockey rides a horse. The weather was pleasant. The cloudless sky was a beautiful blue. The altitude and cool breeze suited Antonio. He felt optimistic. He sat on the roof of the boxcar all day, letting Cuca rest as much as possible. Little Xaco snuggled in his lap and felt secure in his father’s arms.
As the sun set, and the air cooled a bit too much, they made their way back inside the boxcar. Cuca lay on her side. Antonio asked if she were feeling any better. There was no reply. He sat next to her and asked again, thinking she was still dozing. No response. He shook her and rolled her over. Her eyes just stared at the top of the car and not at him. He knew. Oh, yes, he knew. Nevertheless he administered in a panic what little first aid he had learned on the streets. But he could not, would not, admit to what he knew was true. He was in total denial. He took her in his arms and rocked back and forth. Xaco squirmed his way into the embrace. Something was wrong. Tears were gushing from his father’s eyes, but he did not know why. That is, until Antonio screamed so loudly, his wails trailed down the length of the train and his convulsive sobbing scared Xaco so much, he ran into his mother’s limp arms for comfort. The arms did not embrace him. They did not comfort him. Her eyes were wide open, yet without the slightest movement. Antonio reached over and grabbed his son and held him tight. With one hand he closed the eyes of his wife.
A day later, when the train stopped in the middle of nowhere, he and a few other men traveling atop the cars, helped him dig a shallow grave and made a marker with some large rocks. One man from Honduras fashioned a cross with some branches from a mesquite tree. Another from Guatemala said some prayers. Xaco finally realized he would never see his mother again. He climbed into his father’s arms. Other men encircled them, hugged them, cried with them. But when the train started moving, they dispersed and climbed aboard where they could.
For the rest of the journey Antonio and Xaco were inconsolable. When they reached the Rio Grande, so close to what was supposed to be a better life, Antonio could care less. He was in a state of shock. If not for the kindness of other refugees fleeing their own nightmares, Antonio would have just stood there like a statue on the banks of the river.
Some men who had made the long journey with Antonio, managed to make a raft out of a few rusting oil drums, hemp rope and dead trees. In the middle of the night, their families climbed aboard. It was touching to see the deference given to the many women traveling alone with their children. The men who helped bury Cuca had to guide Antonio to the raft. Xaco pressed into his chest. He was in a stupor. The men had to tell him what to do. He just stared vacantly at them.
When they reached the other side of the river, the US Border Patrol and ICE greeted them. Most everyone began clamoring for help, yelling the few English words they had learned from others along the way. “Asylum, por favor… please… I beg… mi esposo malo… gangs, they will kill me… my children…” It was a cacophony of sobs and cries, beseeching and begging. Though many of the Border Control and ICE agents spoke Spanish, all they heard was noise that made them uncomfortable. It was difficult to distinguish one cry from another, one request from another… phrases all jumbled together at the same time… a nightmarish rock concert you went to and stood too close to the speakers. It was chaos. It was a fear of being trampled by sounds… like those that might come from some kind of purgatory.
It was much easier to see these hordes floating across the Rio Grande as invaders…. just enforce the laws. The Laws. Laws are good. You don’t have to make decisions with your head or your heart. Laws exonerate you from all morality and compassion. Besides, these are not individuals. Look at them. They are dirty. They smell. They look like feral cats and dogs. They are a stampede of animals. The President said so! And do any of them know that Stephen Miller instructed Jeff Sessions to announce that domestic abuse and gang threats are no longer valid claims for seeking asylum? Don’t they know that? Don’t they read the tweets? Are they stupid?
The Border Patrol and Ice agents were thinking these things and wondering why everyone was being so compliant… simply surrendering themselves without putting up a fight. They didn’t get it! All the more reason to handcuff and put ankle bracelets on this damned infestation!
Antonio wasn’t thinking. He was being goaded by his compadres to surrender to the agents and plead for asylum. They all assumed they’d be taken to the nearest port of entry. It was easy for Antonio to surrender. He already had. He was resigned. He was at peace… if you could call hell, peace. As long as he had little Xaco in his arms he knew he existed. He was a man, a mind, and a heart… as long as he had Xaco in his arms.
And then he didn’t.
To be continued…
The Unapologetic Hippie