She has the face of someone who has just sworn off marriage: part wilted, part revived, neither of the factions ever too transparent. She drew back the curtain. She was on the third floor of the motel. It wasn’t a great height but from there she had a fragment of the horizon. Close again. Closer all the time.
Only on one occasion did she make it as far as Nogales. If it weren’t for all of her prejudices she could have gotten away with it. Of course, she was just a snot-nosed kid. She had been trying to do it the clean way, that’s why she had paid her fee to the coyote. But no, saying no was enough for them to deport her. Only once has she made it this far. She could almost see herself on some gringo street, in some mall all cold and illuminated; she almost admired the green lawns wet by the sprinklers at the maquilas. It wouldn’t have cost her anything to go to the bathroom that night, pull down her panties, let that gringo put his cock into her. But no. The idiot thought that she was only a few hours away, that she should wait for the coyote’s signal to cross. She was scared. Oh, yeah? said the human filth and immediately went to the phone to report her. When she returned, her house seemed too dirty to her. When you leave and see new things, it’s very difficult to see all of this the same again, she told her sister as she swept the dust and the dog shit on the threshold.
She observed the hustle and bustle, the river where inner tubes and tires were used to cross people and merchandise. Everywhere she looked the profound green of the landscape invaded the space with a certain passivity, as if, inside, nothing were happening. She saw children running on the sidewalks; one of them could be her son, she thought. She touched her belly. A shudder shook her suddenly. She stopped for a moment on the concrete bridge. The accumulated laughter of a gang of kids running behind a splatter-painted bus reached her. If she really looked, she felt as though she were at home. The same heat, the permanent noise of the market, the old buses, the colorful ambience of fiesta that never ends because the fiesta is the only way to survive in these towns. She saw a semi-truck pass in the distance and remembered. Silvia reached for her bag, stuck her hand inside; the bundle was still there and it was for her and her alone. She made a relieved face. She would buy a ticket to the capital. This time she did have to try her luck. From her bag she also took out a piece of paper where she wrote some things that she should know if, in a moment of bad luck, they hauled her in to interrogate her. On the other side of the paper, still scented with the truck driver’s cheap cologne, she found the address. Ah, it’s the witch’s, the one who reads cards and does odd jobs. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to go see her, she thought.
Yesterday she went up to the border. She was on her third beer when she saw him come in. Silvia gave him a signal. Emilio, that’s a cute name, she teased him and ordered more beers. It was getting dark. Short-tempered, she intuited, because no matter how much she chatted up Emilio, all he would do was rub her thighs. After a snack, a little drunk, they got up to dance.
The place was full. It was Saturday.
Things accelerated. She teased Emilio until he took her outside. She had never been in a semi before. The cab was like a motel room. From up high it felt like being on the third story. It was clear that he was tired. He came from El Carmen; tomorrow he would go to the Tapachula station to leave merchandise and come back. It seems to Silvia as though she has been forever impregnated with the scent: a violent perfume, the perfume of fever, the perfume of sweaty dermis. She didn’t always keep everything under control: Silvia had had too many drinks.
No. She didn’t have any condoms. He didn’t either. But she intuited that he was healthy and decent; she didn’t want to think about sicknesses—that put her nerves on edge. No, I’m not going to charge you; I just want you to give me a ride. I’m going to Hidalgo.
From the glovebox he took out some toilet paper and Silvia cleaned her mouth. Two more rounds and Emilio snored, lying face up. Silvia rolled down the window. The hustle and bustle had turned her stomach. She vomited. She wiped her bitter mouth again. But she didn’t close the window. She needed air. It was a dark night, oppressive, like a storm that won’t make up its mind to break.
She put her head back inside and rested it on the window while she extended her body to touch Emilio’s legs. How long was she like that, watching the intense contours of the moon, listening to the noise of the cantina?
She remained sleeping for a moment until doubt exploded in a sudden burst.
Who was this guy? Besides being named Emilio, being a truck driver, and coming from who knows where? Before her eyes the words of the TV host rained down hard, transmitting the alarming phrases of infection. No, she didn’t have a condom; how was she to know that tonight she’d get the chance to move on? She looked at Emilio; he looked dead. She wanted to wake him but she contained herself. If only the sun would come out. Only the daylight could make her feel better. A strong headache and then, hardly, light sleep.
She opened her eyes. Emilio still slept. Her stirring woke him.
Hey, are you going to take me to Hidalgo? she asked, intimidated.
His was an empty face, bottomless.
—You’re not sick are you?
—What do you mean am I sick? Don’t start. On top of being a mooch, you’re crazy. I should be asking you that. If you want, I’ll just leave you here.
Silvia took a broken mirror from her bag and pulled back her hair. She looked very gaunt. She disgusted herself. They pulled onto the highway. She wanted to forget the night by fixing her gaze on the lines that divided the concrete.
—What else do you do?
—Fuck, I do this! One job isn’t enough?
—Well, I mean, you’re married, you have kids.
—Well, yeah, all of that and the rest. You know.
She was quiet. She looked at the surroundings of their route, fields and more fields full of interminable trees. She wanted to turn to better observe him; she wouldn’t even recognize him if one day she were to run into him again. Out of the corner of her eye she looked at his profile and then turned her gaze to the front.
—You’ve never tried it?
—I’ve already been.
—Really? And what’s it like? Why did you come back?—Silvia wanted to ask him every question. Every time she met someone who had already done it, had worked in the United States, she recovered her spirits.
Emilio shrugged his shoulders. He put in a cassette.
—It’s Reynaldo y la Tormenta. Have you heard it?
—Ah. No. I don’t know. Maybe.
It was a guaracha, half cumbia with some charango thrown in.
—And why did you come back?
—From there, man, where else?
She didn’t receive an answer, but rather an order.
—No sudden moves, but start ducking. I can’t see very well, but it looks like they’ve got their lights on.
Silvia lowered half of her body. It smelled like socks.
—No. They’re not. But just in case–he said, and Silvia got up again.
Later Emilio stopped. He had to pee.
Then it happened. Silvia saw the bundle on the seat. She didn’t think twice. She was risking it all because the man could realize it; he might even have done it on purpose; maybe luck was with her. If she made it to Hidalgo she would know.
His face was red. The heat was a threat starting early in the day.
—We’re almost to Hidalgo.
They stopped so that Silvia could get in the back, settled under the sugar sacks.
It didn’t take long but in the middle of the bags time seemed to lengthen without her knowing whether the semi would be stopped for an inspection or if they’d make it without any problem.
The semi stopped, but quickly started moving again.
Minutes later, it was Emilio who opened the door to get her out.
He left her a few steps from downtown. Silvia thanked him for the favor, with some timidity. Anyone else would have made her pay. She walked quickly, almost fleeing, feeling him behind her, following her if he had noticed.
She went along ducking into malodorous streets until she realized that she had walked far enough to hide. Motel El Palmito. She put her hand into the bag to make sure the wallet was still there. She paid for the room. This time she wasn’t going to fail. She didn’t have much, but she did have luck. Or at least, she wanted to cling to that idea even as doubt assailed her. She went downstairs to eat. Afterwards she went upstairs to take a bath, to watch TV in the evening. A cool, if dirty, bed. The walls of the room looked like chalkboards: “Mila was here and sucked Simón’s cock real good.” A dense odor of drainage extended from the toilet. She couldn’t sleep. Once more the fear of illness. The man looked healthy. The first thing she would do in a few hours: buy condoms in the pharmacy, to be ready for whatever came up from here on out.
She opened the curtain. Along the lanes a line of semis was forming. How depressing. What a whore—with a truck driver. Lula says that the sicknesses aren’t only for fags. The wallet. And I rob him on top of him helping me cross. I should take another bath. How depressing, she repeated before feeling her eyes moisten, before clenching her teeth and feeling a strong cramp in her stomach.
All because she wanted to leave. The wide streets. The desert. More luminous signs. The norteña music announcing that you’re close now. No, he isn’t sick. He’s a father. He listens to guarachas. He must be romantic and all that. Without a doubt, I’m lucky. Look—he got down to pee and left his wallet on the seat. He must be really tired not to realize. Or really distracted. Did he cum inside of me? What a stupid thing to do, and me drunk. I don’t remember anything. Halfway. Only half-fucking-way and I’m already in the mood to do nothing.
She looked through the wallet again. Emilio Flores. Forty-one years old. Truck driver. Other information on the driver license. If something happened to her, she could find him this way. I swear that this time I’ll make it, she thought.
She had to check out at twelve. She bathed again, as if she wanted to remove any doubt. She saw her pallid face, the deep bags under her eyes, a mix of exhaustion and vitality that pushed her to go on even if it was only to the corner.
A free wallet, she thought hurriedly. She was going to buy a bus ticket that very day, and condoms too. When she got there she wouldn’t feel any fear. Since when had she become paranoid? This attitude wouldn’t get her anywhere, much less if she planned to get to the other side. As soon as she went out she wouldn’t see blurriness or half measures and much less turning around. Her mouth, tits, and ass had to be good for something. This time. She took her things, tied back her hair and, before leaving, stopped the futile fugue of a cockroach.
Translated from the Spanish by Julie Ann Ward