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Authors: John Vaillant

The Jaguar's Children

BOOK: The Jaguar's Children
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Table of Contents

Title Page

Table of Contents


































About the Author

Copyright © 2015 by John Vaillant


All rights reserved


For information about permission to reproduce selections from this book, write to Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 215 Park Avenue South, New York, New York 10003.


The Library of Congress has cataloged the print edition as follows:

Vaillant, John.

The jaguar's children / John Vaillant.

pages cm

Includes bibliographical references.

978-0-544-31549-5 (hardback)

1. Mexicans—Fiction. 2. Illegal aliens—Fiction. 3. Human smuggling—Fiction. 4. Border crossing—Fiction. 5. Arizona—Fiction. I. Title.

34 2015









For my family

passed and present





Anyone attempting to classify Olmec figures will be borne imperceptibly into those of the jaguar. Gradually, human faces will acquire feline features, blending one into the other before turning, finally, into jaguars. What is important is the intimate connection between the man and the animal.




Thu Apr 5—08:31 [text]


hello i am sorry to bother you but i need your assistance—i am hector—cesars friend—its an emergency now for cesar—are you in el norte? i think we are also—arizona near nogales or sonoita—since yesterday we are in this truck with no one coming—we need water and a doctor—and a torch for cutting metal


Thu Apr 5—08:48


please text me annimac—we need help


Thu Apr 5—08:59


are you there annimac? it's hector—please text me


Thu Apr 5—09:52


there was a storm—1 bar only now—ARE YOU THERE???


Thu Apr 5—10:09


1 bar—something's broken—maybe from the lightning—the helicopter came again but doesn't stop—how do they not see us? nothing going now


Thu Apr 5—10:26 [soundfile]


Hello? I hope this works. Still one bar only but I'm recording now and when the signal comes back I will send it in a file with all the details and the information from César. He is badly hurt, AnniMac—unconscious. I looked in his contacts for someone else, but the Mexican numbers won't work now, and you are the only one with an American code. I hope you are his friend. I know him from school, but I haven't seen him in many years. We've been together only a short time now to cross the border and already he gave me so many things. I have been telling him he's not alone, that I sent you messages and you're coming soon, that you will save us. I don't know if he hears, but in this darkness how will he know to live without a voice—some sign of life? So I talk to him, and to you also.

AnniMac, if you get these messages and come to look for us what you are looking for is a water truck—an old Dina. The tank is a big one—ten thousand liters and you will know it when you see an adobe-color truck that says on the side
—Water for Human Use. But that doesn't mean you can drink it. This one is different because someone has painted
so it says now
. I saw this in the garage before we loaded and I didn't know if it was graffiti or some kind of code, the secret language of coyotes, but then I was nervous to ask and later it was too late.


Thu Apr 5—10:34


It works. I made a soundfile. I will send it when the bars come back, and this one also. The coyotes told us it was a good idea to fill a water truck with people. A good way to get across. No one will know we are here because there is no way into the tank besides two small pipes in the back. The door on top is too small for a person, and they put a box inside with water so if the truck is stopped and searched by la Migra it will not look suspicious. This is what the coyotes told us, like they were describing special features on a new car. It is expensive to do it they said, and this is why we must pay extra, but only un poquito. They were talking fast all the time, but not as fast as their eyes.

Some things you want to know about coyotes—just like in the wild nature there are no fat ones and no old ones. They are young machos hoping one day to be something more—a heavy, a real chingón. But first they must do this thing—this taking across the border, and this is where they learn to be hard. Coyotes have another name also. Polleros. A pollero is a man who herds the chickens. There is no such thing really because chickens go where they want, but this is the name for these men. And we—the ones who want to cross—are the pollos. Maybe you know
is not a chicken running in the yard—
is the name for that.
is chicken cooked on a plate—a dinner for coyotes. This is who is speaking to you now.

Besides me and César in here are thirteen others—nine men and four women, all of us from the south. Two are even from Nicaragua. I don't know how they can pay unless they are pandilleros because it is expensive to be in here. To fit us all in, a mechanic with a torch cut a hole in the belly of the tank. Then we climbed in, and with a welder he closed the hole again and painted it over. Inside is dark like you're blind with only the cold metal to sit on and so crowded you are always touching someone. There is a smell of rust and old water and the walls are alive with something that likes to grow in the wet and dark, something that needs much less air than a man.

I can touch the ceiling if I stand, but the tank is slippery from whatever is growing in here and I could hear people falling when they got in. Unless you are in the very back or the front, the walls are round so it is hard to sit. César and me were the last ones so we are in the back by the pipes and we have a straight wall. It is a good position and we must protect it, the same as the shoeshine man must protect his puesto on the plaza.

The promise made to us for thirty thousand pesos each—
Lupo called them, like they were only small—the promise was to cross the border quickly between Sonoita and Nogales—no more than three hours, garantizado. Then drive straight to a warehouse where a compadre will cut the hole again and let us out. We will be safe there, he said, with water and gringo clothes and time to call our contacts. In the warehouse there is some kind of secret door with a place to meet the vans so we can leave invisible. These were the promises made to us.


All of us agreed to wait until this morning, until it got hot again, and then if the coyotes did not come back we would use the phones to call for help. No one wanted to do this. No one wants to see la Migra and be deported. We have traveled so far and paid so much. So we waited as long as we could—all day and all the night, but people are afraid now because we can die in here you know, and it is difficult to breathe.

There are four phones I know about—mine, César's, Naldo's and another guy from Veracruz with no more minutes who will not speak now. Naldo is a Mixtec kid from Puebla, maybe sixteen years old. He had some minutes, but he couldn't get a signal and then he used up his battery reading old text messages from his girlfriend, even though the Veracruzano told him not to. He has been crying a lot and this is bad for water conservation. Talking is not so good either, but to only wait is worse. Already it is more than thirty hours.


Thu Apr 5—10:41


We didn't know what side of the border we were on so first I tried Emergencias 066. I had two bars and a tone, but it would not go so I tried your 911 and it was the same. Then I tried to call my tío in L.A. who is expecting me to come there, but it made a sound I never heard in a phone and the text would not go either. Maybe it is all the metal around us, or maybe la Migra is jamming the signal from Mexican phones. Who knows. I didn't want to worry my mother so after this I tried to call my father's cell, but it didn't work. Only then I called my home in Oaxaca, and it was terrible—the call goes through—and it is my mother who answers, but for some reason she cannot hear me. It is like a dream and I am yelling but she says only “¿Bueno? ¿Bueno? ¿Quién es?”—she even guesses it is me—“¡Hectorcito!” she says—I can hear how worried she is—“¿Tito? ¿Eres tú? ¿Dónde estás?”—and I'm shouting “¡Mamá!” and the others in the truck are so quiet, listening so hard I can feel it because they think I'm connected. They think they're saved. But it's only me hearing her, and then she says to someone—my father, or my sister, “Nadie está allí,” and she was gone.

Es una gran chingadera, a knife in my heart, but people were shouting at me to call again. In that moment there was so much hope. I must tell you it was hard to lose my mother like that, but not as hard as losing my minutes because when I tried again I got the message from Telcel saying my minutes were finished. I had so many but they went so fast. That's how I knew we'd crossed the border. After this, I had despair. Maybe you saw that movie where the spaceman's cable is cut and he floats away smaller and smaller, and there is nothing in the world he can do.

Naldo was trying to call then also, but his phone is old and nothing was going. The Veracruzano couldn't even get any bars. Of course I tried César's phone. His phone is a good one—a Nokia 95, but he must be on a different network—when I called my home, the voice was so strange and far I couldn't recognize it. I tried again to call my tío in L.A., also 066 and 911, and then I tried Sofía from my Customer Service class, and Dani, another friend from the university, but nothing would go. That's when I looked in César's directory. Maybe you know César has been living in D.F. for five or six years now, going to the university—to UNAM, and working there also, so he has many numbers from the Mexico City code. I looked through them all—what else is there to do? That's when I found your American code together with an email address. The call wouldn't go so I tried a text. There were two bars then—strong, and I said the texts are going, and people cheered. But I was afraid of losing César's minutes too—we should wait, I told them, to see if anything comes back. That's when we heard the thunder, beating us like a drum. And a woman near me praying, “Dios salvanos,” over and over, like those are the only words she knows. Already it was smelling very strong in the tank—sweat and fear and other bad body odors, and the heat inside was growing.


Most of us have only a liter of water because it is such a short trip. That is all I have too, but I didn't forget that feeling I had yesterday morning when the truck stopped and we thought we were there and César said, “Dios, espero que sí.” That little prayer, maybe it's his premonition, I don't know, but after it I was careful with my water. The others are saying this also—Save your water. But now it's too late. Some people finished their water already and the food they brought is no good—Mars bars and lollipops and chicharrones con salsa—I know it by the smell. We are like children in here. Locked in a dark room.


Thu Apr 5—10:53


I don't think anyone in here speaks English besides me and César, but I can see with the phone a baby-face man sitting near us, a mestizo, who is suspicious. Him and some others, they were asking what I'm saying. They want to know if the bars came back, if I'm talking to a real person. I said to them, People send messages to God and the saints all the time and mine is not the only voice in here. Others are praying too, but not like last night when there were so many calls going out:
Virgencita ayúdame . 
 . Jesús mío, misericordia . 
 . Adorada Guadalupe llena de gracia . 
 . Ave María, santísima . 
 . ¡Señor, por favor!
And I knew by their words that some of them have not been to the church in a long time.

BOOK: The Jaguar's Children
11.81Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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