They descended a steep ravine and saw a
long stretch of train tracks.
“Won't be long now,” Nestor said with a
triumphant tone to his voice. His enthusiasm seem to spread to the
rest of the group as some walked ahead of him, following the rail
He met some good people during his treks
but he kept them at arm's length. Invariably, they would tell him
their stories of hardship and he empathized with each one. He heard
horror stories of border patrol agents killing his people for
sport. Stories of them getting trapped in the poorly constructed
tunnels and being buried alive. Stories of young women raped and
sold into white slavery were a common occurrence.
Yet, they were willing to risk all of this
to come to the USA.
Nestor did not want to tell them the truth.
If most Americans lived lives of quiet desperation, he thought,
what kind of life would a Mexican national have?
“Piled up on top of each other like dead
” Veronica froze in place
about ten yards ahead of the group. Nestor ran in front of the rest
of the migrants and gasped as he saw the dead bodies. Bodies strewn
amongst nothing but small cacti, a few ragged bags and shallow
fire-pit, looked strange. The kind of thing you watched on American
television. Serial killer kind of shit.
chickens, flies buzzed furiously around the human carnage. Nestor
heard about drug traffickers massacring migrant camps, but never
actually saw one. Two headless bodies lay near a smoked out
“Be quiet,” Nestor commanded as he hid
behind the nearest bush. Wilfredo, came up next to him, paranoia
etched across his face.
“TheNestor shrugged his shoulders. Violent
?” he whispered.
enough to be cartel work, sure, but he heard of a vigilante police
group returning the same favors in the area.
He put his fingers to his lips to shush the
group. Straining his ears, he heard muted sounds of a man crying.
He followed the sound. Nearing the furthest corner of the camp, he
saw a man clutching himself and shaking.
Sobbing quietly, the man pounded his thigh
with the butt of a .38 caliber handgun. A young woman with her head
blown off lay in front of him.
The man bolted up and marched toward two
dead bodies lying next to the beheaded ones. He shot one of them
multiple times and the corpse spasmed with each bullet. Throwing
the gun down, he ran his finger through his hair and rubbed his
eyes as if trying to clear his head. He mounted himself on the dead
man's stomach and began pummeling his face with his both
Blood geysered onto his face. Out of
breath, he stood up and looked at Nestor.
Something in the young man's face made
Nestor think he could reach him. He put his hands up and tried to
look as non-threatening as possible.
“The young man looked down at the blood that
,” Nestor said. “What
covered his body. Shaking like a wet dog, he tried to stop himself
from crying but couldn't.
Nestor played detective on his own. The guy
that received the post-mortem pummeling had a red bandanna around
his neck, as did a few other corpses. They were part of a gang that
started killing off the group when they produced no money. Or
perhaps they were kidnapped and used as a bargaining chip.
“What is your name?” Nestor asked.
“Hernan,” the young man said.
“Nestor.” He thought about extending a
handshake but ruled it out. “Your whole family?”
“All I had.” Hernan's eyes were wet and
Nestor got up and kicked what he believed
to be the lead Zeta. The limp body convulsed with each hit. He
kicked it again, harder. He wanted Hernan to hear the ribs
“I am not like them.”
Hernan nodded in understanding.
“You're welcome to come with us. Going to
California, right?” he asked.
“We're about a day or two away,”
The members of his group circled around the
young man. Veronica offered him a bottle of water and Hernan got up
without saying a word. Nestor followed him as he walked back over
to the dead woman.
The young man stared down at the corpse.
His lips trembled with his sorrow.
“We have to go now,” he said. “If we had a
shovel, we could give her a proper burial.”
Hernan knelt down and fingered her torn
dress. Turning sideways, he rolled her on her back. Bite marks
covered her bloodied breasts with deep bruises on her thighs.
Nestor looked around for a blanket to cover
her, knowing that he would not find one. He took a poncho off one
of the dead bodies and covered the young woman.
“We are going to California,” Nestor
continued. “I assume you were too. Whatever happened here, I can
see you are good with a gun. We could use an extra hand.”
Gunfire sprayed the camp. Everyone took
One of the bullets pierced Marco’s skull.
He fell to the ground, tendrils of smoke rising up from the hole in
his head. Nestor grabbed Hernan by the wrist and ran toward the
bottom of the hill. Crouching down, he saw each member of his group
rolling down the slope.
“There was one more,” Hernan said as they
took cover behind a rock. “I was waiting for him to come
“Later.” Nestor tugged Hernan by the wrist
but the young man wrenched himself out of his grip.
Hernan did not listen. He marched back to
the camp like a man drawn by a voodoo spell.
Nestor remained behind the rock. His fellow
travelers peered over their own rocks as Hernan took out his own
They cringed as they heard the gunfire. An
exchange of a few short bursts followed by two final last
After a long moment, Hernan walked back
over to Nestor with his pistol in hand.
“I'm ready to go now,” he said.
The sound of Hernan crying woke Nestor. He
lay on his side awhile, hoping the sobbing would go away. Maybe the
young man would somehow work things out and would be okay by
Five minutes was enough.
He walked over and put his hand on Hernan's
shoulder. The young man reached out and hugged him.
Nestor did not know what to do or say.
Tears welled up eyes but he fought them
back, blinking hard to make them go away.
“You need sleep, amigo,” he said.
“Sleep?” Hernan said. “Sleep only brings
“It will get better,” Nestor bluffed. “The
memories will fade. You'll only remember snippets. Same with your
feelings. You'll only have snippets of emotions. Whatever doesn't
kill you, makes you stronger.”
Hernan shook his head.
Nestor paused as he tried to find the words
he felt unqualified to interpret. He knew things would only get
worse. He would either blow his brains out or take the route of the
slow burn with alcohol or drugs.
“Go to sleep,Hernan lay back down. Nestor drew the
,” Nestor said.
blanket over the young man. He looked around to make sure no one
else saw this softer side of him.
He laid back down,Maybe sometimes the answer could be simple.
disappointed in himself. He read everything he could get his hands
on to avoid becoming
another dummy numbed
by sixteen-hour workdays. He read politics, news and had imaginary
conversations with people who cared about his opinions. He
fantasized about making his points as clear as a pearl stamped
Hernan, he failed to get the simplest point across.
Like going back to sleep.
He closed his eyes. A coyote howled at the
The group continued the trek north. The
morning sun offered no quarter as another blistering hot day loomed
ahead. Nestor crossed his fingers, hoping they had enough water
left for the remainder of the journey.
Hernan jogged up alongside him.
“Hey,” he said. He wasn’t“Hey,” Nestor responded without slowing. If
panting Nestor noted.
the man wanted to talk, fine. He could do it and keep up at the
“I was thinking. More like a question. Once
we get to California, what happens then?”
“Yeah, I mean, what are you going to
“I am going to stay there. Fuck Mexico.
This is my last run.”
“I was wondering if you needed a
“For what?” Nestor asked, stopping. He turned toward him, but
thought better of it. They needed to press forward.
“Whatever it is that you are going to
“Don't you have anyone up there?”
“I have nobody.”
“Go back home.”
“I don't have anyone, anywhere. There is no
home. My big brother took me to a busy street plaza one day and
left me there. I was sent to an orphanage. Adopted by a nice lady.
Catholic. She adopted another girl.” He shot a thumb over his
shoulder. “The girl back there, Teresita.”
“She was twenty. Smart. She“I see.”
could have gone to school. But our
got sick. She died last
month. It all happened very fast. She wanted us to go to the U.S.
She left us money and paid this guy. He tried to get us across the
border and then—”
“Teresita was all I had left. My big
sister. She was going to look after me. She made all the
arrangements. I...I was never that good in school. I'm a hard
worker. Whatever you need. Whatever work you might have for
Nestor sighed deep.
“She was my sister,” Hernan said. He
dropped his head and tried to fight back the tears. He looked up at
the heavens. “Fuck you, God!” he said aloud.
Nestor looked over at the group. He saw
Veronica cross herself at Hernan's words.
“I keep seeing her face in my head, you
know. It is all I think about. What they did to her,” he said,
balling his fists and gritting his teeth. “They tied me up. I
couldn't do anything. Tied me up,” he repeated, louder. “I finally
broke free and I got them. Broke free at night. Stupid ass drunk
motherfuckers. They should have killed me when they had the
“But you got your revenge,” Nestor said,
realizing they were hollow words.
Hernan started crying. This time he did not
let up or try to fight it. He cried the deep soul wrenching tears
that come from the angriest parts of a man’s broken heart.
Nestor let him cry. He did not have the
heart to tell him that he would abandon him in California.
They reached the tunnel without a hitch.
Nestor remembered a television movie about a group of migrants
smuggled across the border. One of the tunnels was filled with
rats. He smiled at how things improved with technology. The tunnel
he had access to had a trolley and functional lights.
Three hundred yards long. They just had to
latch on to its pulley system and follow it until they reached the
They entered through the narrow hatch one
person at a time. Nestor went first, helping each of the others
out. Each of them complained about the tight fit of the hole.
Nestor joked that he never smuggled fat people.
The warehouse with the secret hatch had a
floral smell. A former rose dispensary, it stood abandoned and far
away from scrutiny.
Attacked with fatigue, some members of the
group wanted to stay and rest inside the warehouse.
Nestor insisted that no one could stay
there. Rules were rules and they had to go their own separate
A gas station stood a block away from the
warehouse. Some used the phone there to call their waiting
relatives. Others disappeared into the night.
Nestor noticed Hernan staring at him.
“I have nowhere to go.”
“You'll figure it out.” Nestor walked away.
“America is like Mexico but sometimes you get what you paid for
Hernan looked like a lost puppy.
Finally, Nestor stopped.
“I am getting a motel room. You could sleep
on the floor.”
Hernan ran to catch up with him.
“Then you need to get a job,” Nestor said.
“Immediately. Do anything. I don't care if you are washing dishes
or mopping floors. Shovel shit if you have to, but I am not taking
care of you.”
Horse races. Golden Gate Fields in Albany
became his favorite place, next to the duck pond.
He would hang over the railing as the
jockeys made their way into the paddock. He waved hello, offering
words of encouragement. A few would nod back at him, amused. He
rarely gambled, but he liked to “help out” when he spotted someone
rooting for a horse that needed it.
One time, an elderly Hispanic man in a
cowboy hat screamed for the number two horse that ran neck and neck
with the number four horse. Hernan stood next to the man and joined
him in yelling for the two horse which edged out his foe at the
wire. Hernan exchanged high-fives with the man even though he had
no money on the horse.
“Do me a favor,” Nestor said. “Only root
for the horses I play.”
“Okay,” Hernan laughed.On the rare occasions Nestor won, he would
treat Hernan to a trip to the Merritt Restaurant in East