Chapter 54

I’m following Jose, who is leading me to God-knows-where. He isn’t talking, and that’s more than fine with me. I don’t speak Spanish and he doesn’t speak English. It’s a mutual forfeit. Nobody wins, nobody loses; we just both agree not to play. I hope whatever we’re going to do, works. I need to get home today.

Jose sticks his thumb out to the passing traffic. Is somebody gonna pick us up on the freeway? Wonderful.

More than a few odd looks from cars as they pass by have me feeling self-conscious about my clothes. Holding my sombrero doesn’t help me feel any better, and I can feel my face getting sunburned when I don’t wear it. I hate my life.

Miraculously, an old blue Chevy pickup pulls over. That didn’t take long at all. I run to keep up with Jose. He gets there first and is talking very politely through the passenger side window. Looks like a man and a woman inside. Jose is smiling. He comes to the back of the truck, steps on the bumper and over the tailgate. I follow his lead. The man looks to make sure we are okay, and then he floors it to get back onto the freeway. The woman looks me over. I smile and try to look friendly.

The sun beats down on us pretty good now, and I wonder how long we’ll be traveling east. Jose hasn’t touched his water, so I don’t either. Well, just a taste won’t hurt. He looks at me like he just caught me with my hand in the cookie jar. Okay, I was just taking a sip, see? I’m putting the cap back on. I wonder why nobody has figured out this eye talking stuff as a real language. Everyone speaks it, and it works in every language.

The freeway here skirts the border between Mexico and The United States. There are hundreds of white wooden crosses attached to the fence. There were some just like these on the fence near the beach. Some of the crosses have names, and years, and some are decorated with flowers. There are a lot of crosses. I look down the freeway where we came from, and there are crosses as far I can see. That’s a lot of people.

There are quite a few towers with cameras on them every half mile or so. Nice to see we’re finally doing something about our border in California.

Local artists have spray-painted a few murals on the border fence, and then the crosses continue. A giant odometer-looking thing painted on the fence looks like it’s counting how many people get killed trying to cross the border. Could this get any more morbid? Wait, it just did. There are dozens of coffins with flowers and names on them, standing up against the border fence. Gruesome. This is someone’s idea of art? Or maybe it’s a political statement. Maybe it’s an enterprising funeral home. No, some don’t have names, just numbers of people who died, and the year. Every year the number gets bigger. Some people never learn.

The freeway leaves the fence and we turn off and go through a town. There are hundreds of shops in aging buildings of many different colors, punctuated by trumpets, accordions and Spanish lyrics. Only in Mexico could you paint your business purple. The only green around here is painted on some of the buildings. We finally do see some plant life in the town, and then we’re off into the wilderness again.

The road bends back toward the wall, and then snakes around next to it. The border fence is high on a hill, then falls back down, almost level with the freeway.

Jose looks like he sees something. He knocks on the back window of the truck and it pulls over. What the heck? This is a crummy place to stop. There’s nothing out here.

We jump out of the back of the pickup and wave goodbye, then run across the street and walk back in the direction we just came from. I wonder how far we overshot our mark. It’s very hot out here.

Jose stops walking and just stands there. Nothing. Why are we standing around? Yeah, way to look nonchalant, Jose. Just a couple of guys innocently hanging out beside a freeway in the middle of nowhere. I’m sure lots of people do this every day, especially nervous Mexicans with Americans who dress up like they’re auditioning for a western. No need to act suspicious or any . . .

A van pulls over and Jose smiles at me and motions toward the van. As soon as it stops, the doors open and a bunch of men, women, and a couple of kids come running towards us. Where the hell are they running to? Is there a gate I’m not seeing?

A couple of guys carry a ladder out of the van and run after the others. I take it we’re all going to use the ladder to get over the fence. But why exactly here?

The guys walk quickly down a well-trafficked dirt path to a dry gravelly creek bed, which we follow to the border fence and two guys set the ladder up against it, while the other people stare at me. Jose has been running next to someone, trying to tell him all the way over here that I’m okay, or something. The leader, van driver, ladder owner, or whatever he is, is not liking this one bit.

“¡Apúrate!” one of the guys says as he holds the ladder and people start up and over the fence. I can’t see how they get down the other side. Maybe there’s a ladder on that side already, that’s why out of all the miles of fence, this is the place to go over. Bags go flying over and more people scamper up the ladder and disappear over the fence.

Jose’s primo doesn’t like the idea of me, a white guy dressed for Halloween—in August, needing a coyote to sneak him into the US.  I hear, “pinche loco,” and I know what that means, followed by some other things I don’t quite understand. I notice he’s not really paying any attention to me, he’s just yelling at Jose.

I turn and follow the last person up the ladder like that’s what I’m supposed to do. I quickly climb to the top. Shit! No ladder on the other side.

I hear some loud yelling. I’ve been seen! I drop my water bottle over the fence, then hike both legs over so I’m sitting on top of it. I grab the top of the fence with both hands, then hang and drop to the other side. Unfortunately I didn’t stop swinging before letting go with my hands, and I land on my butt. I definitely heard a rip. The rocks on the riverbed are hard, and it really jarred my spine.

That seemed to settle the argument between Jose and his cousin because they are coming over the fence right behind me. After they both land on this side of the fence, I hear the ladder clank and scrape it’s way down. The van driver must be taking it with him.

Jose is trying to introduce me to his primo, Fernando, but he obviously wants nothing to do with me. He comes over and gives me a dirty look. I adjust my sombrero and he looks like he’s going—Damn! I fall to the ground. He hit me in the face with a gun. My whole face hurts. Holy Shit! He’s pointing the gun at me now. He’s going to shoot me. I can’t believe it!

He’s yelling something. I wish I knew what he was saying; this could be important. The other leader guy yells at him. He seems to think about—Ooof ! He kicked me in the ribs. At least he’s putting the gun back in his belt. If he’s warning me not to mess with him, I get it.

He starts heading down up the creek through some sagebrush-infested hills.  Everyone scatters when guns come out. I guess if you don’t pay, you can’t play.

My side is killing me. The fence is over ten feet tall and there’s no place for me to grab or hang onto it. Getting back over is not an option, but then following that coyote isn’t an option either. What the hell am I going to do?

Getting up is hard. My side and my face hurt. I feel my crotch and find the source of the ripping sound when I fell off that fence. Not too big of a hole. Probably not noticeable. Feels like my ribs may be broken, though. I’m having trouble breathing.

I pick my water up off the dirt and look around for options. This creek bed flows between two tall hills. I guess the only thing I can do is follow this creek and let them stay ahead of me. I sure don’t want to have another conversation with the Jose’s cousin again. I wonder what his problem is. Maybe he’s not comfortable with me being white. I heard “Imigra” a few times from those other people. Maybe they think I’m a spy. Yeah, that makes perfect sense:  A white guy dressed like a Mexican peasant from the nineteenth century—It’s the perfect cover.

The more I think about it, I think I heard “Incarce” which probably means incarcerated, and “anyos,” which I know means years. I’m probably the first white guy he’s ever tried to smuggle across the border and he probably isn’t sure what the penalty would be if he gets caught. Willie said coyotes get a lot harsher sentence than the rest of them, but how could someone possibly get in trouble for smuggling an American across the border? It’s the other guys you’re smuggling that will get you in trouble. I guess you don’t have to be a genius to be a coyote. You just need a gun, and a bad temper.

So now I’m in the middle of nowhere and all alone. The sun is almost overhead and it’s probably a hundred degrees out. I can’t really tell if I’m better off now or when I was in jail. I think they have a good enough lead for me to start following. They were following this creek bed, and I should probably try to keep them in sight, so I don’t catch up with them—that could be fatal. Out here in the hills, there would be nothing to stop him from killing me.

There they are. They’ve taken a trail out of the creek that slowly leads up a hill. I see several other trails going here and there across the hills. I need to keep them in sight or I could get lost and there would be no one to help me. I wonder how far we are from a town.

This so sucks. I can’t believe I’m having to do this. I’m a fricking American citizen for Christ’s sake. Why should I be sneaking around the hills trying to get back home? I should be shouting and making myself seen or heard from far away so someone will help me.

Rollling hills with scrub brush and short, enemic trees cover the landscape. The sun is baking everything in sight. I don’t see a bird in the sky either. Oh, great! There’s a fork in the road. I know I’m going to regret this, but I think I’m going to take it.

 

I haven’t seen the others for quite a while now. I’ve seen a few side trails, some going up, some going down, but this way looks the most popular.

Okay, the trail now forms a “T”. Up or down? Up I guess. Wouldn’t it suck to go back down only to find out I went the wrong way and have to come all the way back up again? Well, if I take the high road, I will at least be able to get a good look at what’s ahead of me. Maybe I’ll see a town or something.

I hope this is the only hill I have to climb; this is exhausting. I don’t think I’ll be able to do another one. The heat up here is getting unbearable. I keep the sombrero on and use it’s shade as much as possible.

When the trail gets really steep I take small steps and when it levels out I take regular steps. This way I can keep going and it will seem like I’m just walking. Keeping my eyes on the ground in front of me seems to help too. Every now and again I stop and look around, especially when another trail leads away from the one I’m on. Then I try to guess which one is more popular.

Radio towers stretch upward from a plateau up ahead. As I get closer, I see they are surrounded by some fencing and barbed wire. I try to walk as quietly as possible in case Mr. Gun is taking a break. This would be a good place to do it.

Something to the right of me catches my eye. Some dirt moved a bit. Holy shit! A snake. And it’s looking right at me. And it’s coming my way. Those coffins by the side of the freeway suddenly come to mind. I suddenly have to pee. What do I do? Run, Freeze? What?

I slowly begin to move away and the snake coils rapidly. Shit!  I jump and start flying down the path, Oh shit! I freeze. I could be running right into another one. Maybe that’s their plan. One snake scares the prey right into the other one that bites them. Snake teams! What’s this world coming too? My heart is beating a mile a minute, and I’m breathing like I just ran a mile.

The longer I go without seeing anyone, the scarier it gets. It’s so hot, yet I get cold flashes whenever I think about being alone and lost. I gotta keep a lookout for snakes too. These boots will protect my feet and ankles. Another plus on the boots side, but with my luck a snake will nail me below the knee and right above the boot. Yeah, maybe they know about boots. Maybe they have snake schools. Yeah, just my luck I’ll get nailed by a snake who’s a grad-student, doing research for his masters on ankle biting.

The more alone I am in these hills, the worse off I feel. It’s times like this I wish I were a boy scout, but then, when did I ever think there would’ve been a time like this? That’s probably why their motto is always be prepared, or something like that.

But how can anyone really be ready for anything? Should I buy a boat in case California falls into the ocean? Should I buy guns and ammo in case a natural catastrophe makes us all revert to hunters and gatherers? Should I learn to speak Chinese, Japanese, German, Farsi and any other language just in case they take over the world? It’s just plain impossible to be prepared for everything. I guess that’s natures way of ensuring everyone gets screwed from time to time.

Mike J Quinn About Mike J Quinn
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