You can plead with a gunman not to pull the trigger, but you can’t plead with sand not to bury you. Yet oftentimes it’s with the latter that people choose to entrust their dreams.
On that particular day, a group of crossers was dragging their feet through the desert. There was a dozen of them; a baker’s dozen. Nine men and two women. A kid, also. Brows shone with fatigue; pupils wandered in the eye’s white. A stench proceeded them from half a mile away. The sun was high when they passed a pair of saguaros, lone observers in the white-hot expanse. The kid, a boy, fell behind to urinate hidden by a rock; when he rejoined the group, he was accompanied by two men, their bodies slant and bare. The crossers—tired, not blind. Still, pragmatic enough to realize it would’ve required too much energy to put up a fight, either physically or verbally, energy it was wiser to spend on surviving. So they gifted tatters to the two men to cover with and all together left behind the spot where the saguaros had stood for decades.
A hierarchy of sorts reigned inside the group. Huehue, a rugged-skinned man with an oddly shaped gut, herded the crossers with unquestioned authority on pathways invisible to common eyes. He had control over the provisions and it was only when he said Now we rest that anybody was allowed to stop walking. After him, the women—Uno and Dos y tres—along with the kid, whose name was Cuatro, were the most cared for. They slept inside the circle of bodies formed at night, shielded from diamondbacks, bark scorpions, ear-loving centipedes. Names were bestowed upon the newly arrived, too. Trece and Catorce. Unfazed bunch, the two of them, quick and tireless; their eyes and ears took in any stimulus, their mouths let out no sound.
On the second day of trekking, Siete’s cheeks blushed with pink, then purple, then the hue took over his whole face. Siete was the most in shape of the entire group. That evening he spat bits of his own tongue, now gray and riddled with cracks; he did not see sunshine again. Cinco died a little afterwards—the capillaries on his face dilated until everything above his neck was simple gore.
Catching some shade in an oasis of ocotillos, they recovered four gallons of water. AG JA PURɅ it said on them in faded handwriting. The gallons were empty, the lids uncapped and thrown nearby. All for the better, announced Huehue. It was devil’s poison anyway. Now at night it became frequent to see the horizon cast in blue hues. Beacons for morons, still Huehue explaining. You go there, scavengers will breakfast on you. Doce, who’d been vocal about regretting to have embarked on this desert-crossing suicidal attempt of theirs, found the lights soothing. Like the TV glow when I used to fall asleep on the ground as a kid, he confessed the third night. Do you remember that, Dad? he continued, awaiting his father’s response. His father was not a member of the group. Still the response came. Before dawn Ocho got up, him too hallucinating, and left never to come back. The fifth crosser to give up was Dos y tres. She just lay down by a palo verde tree, refusing to stand again. Her last words unveiled a publicly known secret regarding her hidden, or so she believed, pregnancy.
By the fourth dusk, the steel border fence was within reach. Two more men had fallen cold yesterday, including the boy Cuatro. The surviving crossers posed as guests in a ghost town. They feasted on what little they had left, beans and corn and water, and rested on tombstones. The night was filled with the ecstatic laughter of the Minutemen. After hours of insomnia, Huehue had the crossers gather around to learn the plan. We run, he said. Trece and Catorce awaited for the rest but were soon to realize the plan lacked a second or third step. Life was a machination of luck, or so the crossers had come to believe, therefore running for it was the safest, least thought-requiring gamble.
So they ran.
To not much avail.
Seis was caught between two raging SUVs, rock music blasting high from the subwoofers. At least ten bullets passed side to side Dies’s head. Starved dogs were released upon Huehue, whose unathletic legs did him no favor. Once and Seis were captured alive, though not in one piece.
Ultimately only one man and woman set foot in heaven—Nueve and Uno. Also Trece and Catorce. From the border they trekked northeast, where a friend of Huehue’s picked them up on the road, retrieved the drugs from their bottoms, dropped them in a foreign town. Day and night, day and night, for a week, two, three—just hiding in a hole. Then the call: It’s safe. Get yourselves a gringo life. Standing on the curb outside Eastern European food joints, Nueve, Trece, and Catorce—pleading drivers to let them do some handiwork around the house. Few cars stopped by. Fewer yet offered something in reward. Uno begged for a different kind of job in a different part of town. After a month of this with no results, Trece’s mouth filled with human tongue for the first time. This is no living, it said. Catorce agreed. They wished good luck to the Adam and Eve of this proletariat limbo, and deported themselves back to the desert.
They stand in the spot designed for their prickly selves. Arms scalded by sun; needles shook by wind. New groups of crossers always appear from over the dunes. The leader unchanged: Huehue. He grins to them every time, but the saguaros are experienced now, selfish now—they shake their heads, say Forever cacti, and hope to never meet that devil’s eye again.
Myra’s work has appeared in Geometry, The Airgonaut, tenderness, yea, and elsewhere. He was not nominated for the Pushcart Prize, which is criminal, I know. Find him at willemmyra.wordpress.com