Misericord: a medieval dagger, used
for the mercy stroke to a wounded foe.
Snug in her electric blanket, Eleanore Wharton ignored the first ring from her alarm clock. The second would go off within a quarter of an hour with immense intensity—filled with more reproach in the name of discipline. If she continued sleeping, she would have to suffer through an insidiously calculated squeal every five minutes meant for guilt to reach all the way down into the depths of her sleep. She hated the alarm clock but considered it a good investment; there was no doubt that the Japanese made their inventions well. The bad habit of lethargically staying cozy between bedsheets had caused some cuts to her paycheck. Now, with the help of the repetitive alarm clock, she had become nearly punctual. They no longer scolded her so often at Robinson & Fullbright, the company where she had been working as an executive secretary for the past twenty years. Nevertheless, she dragged along with her an unjust reputation of being lackadaisical, which she didn’t wish to disprove. Her bosses were men and men didn’t go through menopause. How could she explain to them that she sometimes woke up depressed, without the urge to work, sick and tired of herself for having spent the night carrying the dead weight of her own body?
Today, she relapsed into laziness. She didn’t get up at the second loud ring—the Japanese could go to hell! The bad part was that they had achieved their purpose; she was already awake—so awake she could reflect upon the civic function of somnolence. God had invented it so that man would wake up bewildered at not being able to oppose the unrelenting mechanism of working days. However, she had awoken clearheaded—absurdly clearheaded—and nothing could impede her thinking that laziness was as warm and homey as her bed. She took her hand out from under the blanket and groped around for the glass of water she had left on top of the nightstand. She grabbed the one that contained her dentures instead and drank the bitter green liquid that kept them free of impurities (Polident, for odor-free dentures). How revolting it is to be forty-nine years old! How revolting to wake up clearheaded and decrepit!
She thought of her hanging double chin, of that repulsive obligation to “make herself beautiful.” Another reason to miss work: a woman such as herself should have no reason to make her ugliness presentable. To hell with cosmetics and makeup! Let the weeds and mold grow on their ruins, nobody would look at them anyway. She had divorced at the age of thirty, no children, and since then, she avoided dealing with men. She saw her friends once a year, generally on Thanksgiving. She never sought them out because after half an hour of chatting she’d rather be left alone. Her individualism bordered on misanthropy. She sheltered herself from life behind impregnable shells and rejected any act of affection that could cause them to crack. She hated being this way, but what could she do? Take a transcendental meditation course? She would run the risk of finding her inner being when what she most wished for was to lose sight of herself. No, meditation and psychoanalysis were swindles, tricks used to cover up the wrinkles of the soul (a sip of water had gotten rid of the bitter taste in her mouth), and what she needed was a complete restoration—a change of skin. Eleanore Wharton was a sack of phobias. Why did she have to hear her own voice both in and out of the mirror? If she would at least vary the subject matter of her monologues every once in a while she could stand it, but she always spoke of the same things: fatty foods are bad for circulation; Michael Jackson should be imprisoned for debauching little children; in this world of machos, women of her social status have no chance of standing out; men want sex, not efficiency, and the proof lies in the office executives who were quite severe with the older women and lenient with the younger ones. But no, she would never allow them to cut her paycheck again due to tardiness—that’s why she had bought the repetitive Japanese alarm clock, which was now ordering her to get out of bed with appalling screams: Wake up, you fuckin’ lazy bitch! What, are you sad, you fat pig? Well then, die of bitterness, but only after you clock yourself in.
She unplugged the alarm clock in open rebellion against Robinson & Fullbright. She’d get there late on purpose; she wasn’t going to waste a good existential crisis on pleasing her bosses. She turned the TV on from bed. The night before, she had recorded a Bob Hope special and wanted to check and see if the VCR had not played another one of its dirty tricks on her. The device, as was expected, had indeed pulled a fast one: she had programmed it to record at 12 but could instead see the news program that began at 11:30. Damned Panasonic! The most annoying part of these types of situations was having to deal with the company’s repairman. If she kept her distance and only exchanged a few words with him—the bare minimum in order to explain what the problem was—a tense, unbearably formal situation formed. However, if she offered him coffee and tried to break the ice, she felt as though she exposed her intimacy to the public’s eye. Why haven’t they invented devices that fix other devices?
The news showed the latest photos from the earthquake in Mexico: buildings in ruin, campsites on the streets, women running long distances to fill buckets with water. Poor country. Where was Mexico exactly? Next to Peru? The man from NBC spoke of twenty thousand dead. There were survivors in the rubble but not enough equipment to save them. There was also a shortage of clothing and food. A shot of a hotel marquee showed a clock which read 7:19. “No Mexican will ever be able to forget that exact hour—the hour when the earth tried to erase one of the most populated cities in the world off the map.” Cut to a building collapsing. Cut to the president thanking the international community for its help. He looked too white to be Mexican. Cut to people kneeling in a church. “In this scene of pain and tragedy, the children who have been left with no family or home are the main victims.” The camera turned to a half-naked child crying amongst the ruins. “Children just like this one are desperately looking for their parents.” The reporter feigned a lump in his throat. “Unaware that they will never see them again.”
Eleanore felt a stabbing pain in her heart. Was the boy shedding black tears or were they tainted with dust from his cheeks? He was wearing a sweater full of holes, which, judging from how his body shook, was insufficient to protect him from the cold. He must have been two or three years old and yet his face, swollen from weeping, expressed the grief of an elder person who had seen a hundred wars. Behind him, a mountain of rubble rose against a gray horizon. Over it, firefighters and rescue team members climbed wearing face masks. The report ended with a close-up of the boy.
She rewound the cassette to see the child again. That poor angel lived in Mexico. Where is Mexico anyway? It was the country of the mariachi who sang tango; this she was sure of, but she just couldn’t locate it geographically. She paused the screen in order to closely study the boy. He seemed undernourished. Here she was with her fridge stocked with TV dinners (all diet, of course) while this poor creature stood there crying for a piece of bread. Selfish. What right did she have to stay in bed licking her wounds while out there in the world were unhappy children worthy of sympathy? Someone would have to bring the boy to an orphanage; that is, if one still existed. Incredible but true: she was moved. That poor little boy had given her the strength to fight again. She would have liked to walk right through the VCR to console him, to tell him he wasn’t alone in the world. She got out of bed with a revitalized self-love. That’s what she needed to feel alive: pure emotion. She would call the Panasonic repairman from the office and chew his ear off.
Busy writing real estate property contracts and making calls to land registry, she had no time to think of her new dream until noon when she heard a comment from Mr. Fullbright about the earthquake in Mexico. What he had seen on TV was so dreadful, so astonishing, that he would never return to Acapulco again. Miserable. How dare he encroach on a sentimental territory that belonged to her in her own right? She’d bet a hundred bucks that he had changed the TV channel in order to avoid seeing the telenovela of Mexican orphans.
Taking advantage of her boss’s absence after lunch, she consulted the encyclopedia in the meeting room. Northern Mexico bordered the United States and its southern end, Guatemala. It was hard to believe that South America was so close to the States, but the map was very clear. There were less than three inches of distance between her town of Green Valley and the gravely injured city where the homeless, family-less, loveless child wept.
When she got home, she turned the VCR back on. New and more intense throbs of compassion beat at her chest. She broke her habit of not eating after dinner and made herself a bag of popcorn, then blasted Ray Coniff’s version of “Ode to Joy” and sprawled out on her bed to watch the agitated and adorable face of that Mexican boy who already belonged to her sentimentally. God had placed him on her screen just four days before she went on vacation. The heavenly command couldn’t have been clearer: go find him, save yourself by loving that little bundle of joy. He would be called Roger—it doesn’t matter how his mother had baptized him. The best homage to his dead mother would be to raise this orphan in a healthy environment that would allow him to forget about his traumas of the earthquake. A plane ticket to Mexico couldn’t be very expensive… and even if it were, she was prepared to make sacrifices starting now.
The hotel that the agency recommended had the advantage of being right next to the United States embassy, where she immediately headed in order to find out the formalities of adoption in the country. The young man who assisted her at the information counter told her it would be very complicated to adopt a child from Mexico. Its government had established a lot of requirements for foreigners, but given the current circumstance of the country, perhaps the process could be sped up. He didn’t want to discourage her, but it could take over a year.
She left the embassy with an optimistic smile. Welcome to the difficulties. She would demonstrate that love can overcome everything. She intended to find the boy in a methodical manner. She would, above all, show the cassette tape to the people at NBC so that they could tell her where they had found the little orphan. At the hotel reception desk, she located the address of the foreign correspondent’s office. With great difficulty she spelled it out to the taxi driver, who, in turn, was an enemy to tourism itself and did not have the patience to decipher her babbling Spanish and ended up snatching the card out of her hand. The ride through the streets of Mexico City was a series of surprises, most of which were unpleasant. The city was much more imposing than she had imagined it would be—more imposing and uglier. She saw so many street dogs that she asked herself if they weren’t perhaps sacred like cows in India. Why didn’t anybody take care of them? The gigantic puddles could have been caused by the earthquake, considering that it had damaged the drainage system, but no natural catastrophe justified the proliferation of the fried-food stands, the deafening roars of the buses, the unsanitary custom of hanging intimate garments on building balconies. The landscape was no better inside of the taxi itself. The driver had the face of an assassin, but his dashboard was jam-packed with religious images. To whom could a Neanderthal such as him—someone who risked the lives of his passengers in order to get ahead of the game by a yard while yelling horrible interjections at the other drivers who were just as uncivil—pray?
At the foreign correspondent’s office, she waited for over two hours for the cameraman, Abraham Goldberg, the only person who, the receptionist swore, could help her. She didn’t like the idea of having to talk to a Jew at all. Nor did she like the attitudes of the reporters and operators as they walked by, insulting her with their looks. Did they think I was there to sell them footage? Damned vultures! While they were all earning a pretty penny out of the earthquake episode, they couldn’t understand why someone was wasting time and money for a noble cause. She sat there, hugging the videocassette, waiting. It was like hugging Roger, as if protecting him from an inhuman mob. She was thirsty, but not enough to drink from the fountain that was in front of the waiting-room chairs. Water in Mexico was pure poison; she had read this in an article in Selections magazine. The bottled sodas also had amoebas. No sir, she was not going to fall into that trap! She would only drink her own water—that crystalline and pasteurized water she had brought with her from Green Valley in hygienic plastic bottles.
Abraham Goldberg ended up being exactly as she had imagined him to be: large-nosed, disagreeable, curly-haired and especially hostile to people who took up his time. He didn’t understand, or pretended not to understand, what she was asking for. “But you want to adopt this kid especially? Do you think you can find him among 18 million inhabitants?” Eleanore wanted to punch him in the face but kept her cool and replied with her best smile, explaining that she hadn’t wanted to disturb him, she just wanted a little bit of help in finding the child. Goldberg promised he would do something and went to consult with a reporter who was busy at a typewriter. From afar she could hear them laugh. They thought her crazy. Of course, anyone with a good heart had to be crazy to them! Goldberg’s coworker, who was either friendlier or more of a hypocrite, took her to a room where there was a VHS machine. They saw the scene from the news story. He remembered the child but not the name of the street. “But how badly do you really want to adopt this particular child when there are so many orphans out there in the city?” Eleanore felt hurt. By the looks of it, people from television were made of stone. Didn’t they understand that this child—this exact one—had awoken her maternal instinct and that maternal instincts were not transferable? In her attempt to calm down, she asked the reporter to kindly call in a Mexican colleague. The NBC man made a gesture of annoyance.
“I beg you. Someone from the city won’t have a difficult time identifying the street. I came all the way from Oklahoma for this kid. If you don’t help me, I’ll be lost,” she sobbed.
A few minutes later, a bilingual Mexican came to the room. He assured her, without any hesitation, that the child was on one of the most devastated streets, Carpintería, located in the Morelos neighborhood. Eleanore memorized the names the second they hit her ears. She warmly thanked the Mexican man and less so the NBC reporter. On her way out, while waiting for the elevator, she thought she heard them laughing at her.
The next day, she hired a tour guide at the front desk of the hotel where she was staying who offered his interpretation services for ten dollars a day. His name was Efraín Alcántara. When he was a young boy, he had met a teacher from Texas in San Miguel Allende (“you know, a very close friend,” he boasted upon introducing himself), who had given him English classes. His hair was slicked back, his mustache full of grey hair, and his manners that of a ripened Don Juan. It seemed a breach of trust to Eleanore when he took her by her hips to cross Paseo de la Reforma Avenue, a courtesy that he would repeat once they got out of the taxi in the area cordoned off by the army. Efraín held a long conversation with the soldier who was blocking their access to the street. “I’m telling him we are family members of some of the victims. We’ll see if he lets us through,” he told her in English. The soldier showed no signs of softening. Feeling defeated by this unwavering attitude, Efraín returned to Eleanore and whispered into her ear, “He wants money. Give me five thousand pesos.” She hesitated. She didn’t like to give herself over to corruption. The right way would be to report the soldier and get permission to enter the street legally. However, nothing in this country seemed the right way, and if she wanted to find Roger, she had to play by the rules of the game. Feeling like a criminal, she gave Efraín the money. The soldier let them pass below the tape without any sign of shame or embarrassment. He must have certainly felt that receiving bribes was just.
Upon entering the devastated area, Eleanore could detect a lugubrious smell of decomposing flesh. Efraín had once again taken her by the waist; she brusquely pushed his arm away (his move was obscene, impertinent, lubricious) and covered her nose with a handkerchief. There were buildings that had been entirely pulverized. Others, folded like accordions, only waited for the wind to blow them over. The neighborhood’s former residents, piled up in camping tents and anxious to recuperate furniture and belongings, watched them from the street. How could they breathe in this air filled with death and still remain so jovial, as if they were at a picnic? Cranes removed concrete blocks with extreme caution where only rubble was left. Efraín explained to Eleanore—again squeezing her with his sticky hand—that if they worked any faster, they ran the risk of crushing any of the survivors. She nodded with indifference. She hadn’t come to Mexico to take courses on survival. She examined every corner of the ruins with great detail in order to find where Roger had been seen. She had the hunch, as absurd as it was intense, that she would find him in the same exact place where NBC had.
After two hours of fruitless searching, Efraín begged her to be reasonable. She wouldn’t gain anything looking for the ruins that she had seen on television. Perhaps the area had been demolished by now? It would be easier to show the picture of the boy to the neighbors and see if anyone knew him. Eleanore accepted the sensible suggestion of her interpreter, not because she was convinced, but because she was exhausted. More than with Roger, she had fallen in love with his poignant image and was afraid that her budding love could not handle the heartbreak of finding him in front of a different landscape. They went house to house, even to the set-up tents, with the hope that someone would recognize him. Roger’s blurry photo—an imperfect and deformed visual fling between a Polaroid and a television screen—was a lousy assistant to the investigation. Some people looked with curiosity; others hardly glanced. In the end, everyone shook their heads. It was an act Eleanore had seen at least forty times and which made her lose her patience. Could they be hiding the child? Do they want money in exchange for information?
They reached the end of the street without having obtained any clue at all. Just as she was leaving the area taped off by the army, feeling defeated and furious, a woman who had seen the photo intercepted her path to give her good news. Last Tuesday, the neighborhood orphans had been taken to a Social Security clinic. The van had taken one of her own children by accident, so she had to look for him there. The place was stuffed with children. Maybe the one they were looking for was there? Efraín wrote down the address and Eleanore muttered a “mouchas gratzias,” which had come from her heart—that same corner where she had saved Roger’s image.
At the first hour of the next morning, after having slept little and poorly because of a mosquito, she showed up at the clinic. There were already more than fifty people in line to see the orphans. Efraín filled out the form for a visitor’s pass at the reception, telling the employee that they were man and wife. He later told Eleanore this, delighted like a mischievous adolescent. “You think you’re so funny, huh?” she replied ironically and with scorn. His gallantries and Latin-lover caresses were already tiring her. He very well knew that she had come to Mexico in search of a child, but he treated her as a floozy looking for adventures. What does that idiot think? That I’d pay him ten dollars a day to take him to bed? The dirty state of the clinic was as irritating as his insinuations. She accepted that there would be sick people in the hallways, but this did not excuse the negligent janitors who had left the uncovered food trays on the floor and threw bloody cotton swabs into coffee cups.
Advancing with excruciating slowness, she finally arrived at a section of the hallway where the line was abruptly cut off. The reason: some splendiferous vomit was spread across the floor. “But how is it possible that nobody has come to clean this up?” she complained to Efraín, transforming him into a Mexican ambassador presented with her nausea. The interpreter shrugged his shoulders, ashamed. Eleanore detested him more than ever. A big man when it came to flirting, but at the time of protest, a coward. With the smell of vomit stuck to her nose, she left her spot in the line to sit down on a rickety bench. She started to calm down when she felt Efraín’s detestable hand on her shoulder.
“Keep the spot in line!” she ordered him, freeing herself from his claws with a violent pull. “And please, if you want your money, don’t touch me anymore!”
By way of apology, Efraín mumbled that he had only wanted to ask her if she wanted a coffee. He went back to his spot in line and from there, put on a resentful face. Was he angry? Well, then let him quit. There were plenty of rogues like him in all hotels.
The room where the orphans were had been improvised into a nursery. The older children, with puffy eyes from having cried so much, pressed their faces to the windows and looked at the visitors. Very good: there was an atmosphere of human suffering here, just as in the news story. With Roger’s face in mind, Eleanore examined every child of his age. By simple compulsiveness she dismissed all of the smiley ones—Roger had to have been crying; his tears were, after all, half his charm. She focused on the crybabies. He wasn’t among those in the first line, and most of those in the second displayed incomprehensible joy. Further back there was a little one who kind of looked like him. But no, Roger’s head was round, and this kid had a long one like a cucumber. Apparently, she had gotten in line in vain. She just had to examine this last little guy back there—the weepiest of them all—who had up until then turned his back to her. He wasn’t wearing underwear: a good sign, because neither was the one in her heart. Suddenly, the boy turned around, and like a flash of lightning, she saw him right there—Roger! Angelic, sad, helpless, crying as he did in the news report!
“¡Es el mío, ese de atrás es hijo mío!” yelled a Mexican woman at that same instant, pointing at Roger himself.
Eleanore guessed what the woman had said, and, forgetting any language barrier, began screaming in English that the child was an orphan and that she had come all the way from Oklahoma to adopt him. Efraín translated her shrieks to the social worker that took care of the nursery. Both Eleanore and her enemy went for the child, who, right now with the yanking from both women, had plenty of reasons to want to scream at the top of his lungs.
“Get the hell out of here, you stinky gringa! This is my child; his name is Gonzalo!” The woman turned toward Efraín. “Tell her to let him go or I’ll kick both of your asses.”
A doctor came to ask everyone to calm down and to resolve this entanglement. He wanted the women to show documentation or photographs of the child to determine who was the real mother. Eleanore hurriedly whipped out the photo from her bag. The other woman didn’t have a photograph, but she did have a birth certificate.
“Don’t pay any attention to this crazy lady, doctor. I’m the real mother. Just take off his shirt and you’ll find a birthmark right under his bellybutton.”
There it was, all right. Eleanore fell silent. She would have continued the dispute, but now she wasn’t really sure she had in fact found Roger after all. This kid had almond-shaped eyes, looking like a little Japanese boy, and she, who so deeply appreciated that country’s devices, viscerally hated its producers. She asked Efraín to apologize to the doctor and mother of the little samurai; she was quite ashamed—everything had been an unfortunate misunderstanding.
She ran to the street, trying to keep her head up in case the vomit was still on the floor. While waiting for the taxi, with Efraín escorting her at a safe distance, the sting of doubt returned to disrupt her. What if, in spite of everything, it really was Roger? Perhaps the TV had changed his features a little. The woman who claimed that he was her child could very well be a child exploiter, taking advantage of the earthquake in order to find fresh meat. And she had left him in her hands—left him condemned to malnutrition, crime, to barely get by in life in one of those horrendous shacks where ten or twelve people were crammed in together in an unhealthy and promiscuous environment. She turned around and walked back toward the clinic. She had to save him. Efraín followed and intercepted her at the door.
“Wait. Where are you going?”
“For the boy. He’s mine. I’ve thought about it a bit more and decided that that broad is a thief.”
“Well, you should have thought about it before asking me to apologize to them. We can’t make another scene now.”
“If you don’t want to join me, then move it.” She tried to push Efraín out of the way. He slapped Eleanore to keep her in check.
“Listen to me well, ma’am. I’m sick and tired of your nonsense. Here’s your money—I can’t take it anymore. I just want to warn you of one thing: Better stay calm or you’ll go to jail. You’re not in your country, got it? If you really do have a heart of gold, then adopt another child. Why does it have to be that particular one?
“I said get out of my way! I don’t take advice from cowards who hit women. Let me through or I’ll call the cops.”
“You know what? You’re nuts. Go right ahead, make a scene! I hope this time they put you in a straitjacket.”
Stamping his feet on the sidewalk, Efraín walked toward the bus stop. Eleanore put the ten dollars in her wallet. The slap had made her return to her senses and before going back to the orphanage, she paused to reflect. She thought of the child’s slanted eyes, the fury of his supposed mother. She would defend Roger with all her soul, life, and heart, but it would be stupid to fight against that viper for an imposter.
She returned to the hotel, flustered and depressed. Half a bottle of filtered water quenched her of her thirst but not of the unease she felt. Efraín had hit the nail on the head: she was crazy. The caprice of searching for a specific child she had seen on TV could only take root in a sick mind. Normal people who adopted children were enlivened by generosity of heart. Hers was vile and squalid. She didn’t care about Roger—this, she had to admit. She just liked the idea of being an adoptive mother on paper. And, naively thinking she would prolong that idyll with herself if she found the boy, she had come to Mexico without considering that NBC could have lied about his orphanhood, or even, in the absence of sensationalist images, have showed a victim of another earthquake, the one from Managua or Guatemala, to deceive its hapless audience of robots. They were capable of this—and more. She had already seen how they behaved. Without a doubt, they had given her any old clue just to get her off their shoulders. Well done. Very well done. A cheesy woman like herself didn’t deserve to be treated any better. The best bet was to keep her going in circles among the 18 million inhabitants until she was exhausted from making a fool of herself. But she wouldn’t give them the pleasure of returning home empty-handed. Although her compassion was egotistical, and although she couldn’t stand being in Mexico a minute longer, she would continue looking for Roger. It was a question of self-esteem. She couldn’t imagine herself returning to Oklahoma without the boy in whom she had embodied the most noble, the most tender of her neurosis.
For three more days, she looked in hospitals, shelters and police departments. She was even able to have her cause announced on the radio. She learned how to sneak into the areas that were under the control of the army and sniff around the districts ruined by the earthquake when she could. It was useless. Roger had been swallowed by the earth. As she didn’t like lies, she would tell people, without beating around the bush, that she wasn’t a family member of his but looked for him out of the simple love of others. That’s when, invariably, the sometimes cordial, sometimes impatient and rude, suggestion of adopting any other child would pop up. Mexicans didn’t know how to say anything else. That prejudice against unipersonal and exclusive affections was very much in line with their character. She had noticed that they were only happy when in groups—more so when the group turned into a crowd. They did not exist separately; that’s why they were always drawn to the masses. In the subway mayhem, they laughed instead of throwing insults at each other. Everything had to be done in family. If a visit to a sick friend was in order, the father, the mother, the eight children and the thirty-four grandchildren would all go to the hospital. They weren’t persons; they were particles in this noxious collective being. If something motivated her to reach the end of her philanthropic mission, it was to show that country of sheep—that individual-less hive—that she, Eleanore Wharton, had her own ideas, that her extravagances were her own and that if she had never given up her independent judgement, much less would she swap Roger for any other orphan. But a setback stopped her from going on: she only had enough water for one more day. It was time to act decisively; nothing ventured—nothing gained.
On her last day of searching, she rented a car from Hertz. She preferred to deal with traffic than taxi drivers. She had been recommended to take the photograph of the child to the missing people office. It was a logical step, but logic wasn’t worth anything in an irrational country. She trusted more in luck. She took a wide and congested avenue without caring if it took her to a disaster area or not. The passenger buses pulled her out of the lane, jumping on her like in road movies. Driving on the side streets was agony: minivans would stop every minute to let people on and off, and the buses behind would honk as if she had stopped just for fun. Roger would have to adore her for her heroism. Suddenly, without warning, a construction fence appeared, closing the avenue. Great. She would take the detour and see where it would randomly take her… Total stop: ten minutes to check out the landscape.
To her right, a vegetable stand. The vendor was “washing” the goods with black water. Viva hygiene! To her left, a dying bum lay at the door of a cantina. If Roger made her mad, she would remind him that it was his fault she had experienced these scenes. But maybe it wasn’t worth so much suffering for a brat who would leave the house when he turned 18. She soon came to a street that forked and headed left. She would come across Roger now because she was no longer looking for him. She saw a school next to a factory. Excellent urban planning. The children would finish elementary school with lung cancer and, this way, unemployment would be resolved. She was sweating blood to save Roger from that kind of destiny, and yet he might end up being a thug who was incapable of loving her. The lead in the air caused her eyes to burn. To top it all off, the smell of excrement seeped its way in through the window. How many dogs did their business out in the open air here? A hundred thousand? Half a million? And her, the idiot, who could have enjoyed her vacation at a Grand Canyon hotel or at the beach in Miami, was wasting it in this huge cesspool. She was so stupid, so absurd, that she deserved to be of Mexican nationality. That damned idea of coming here to adopt a pygmy, who, on top of being a crybaby, was horrible. But she had had enough. She would immediately return to the hotel and take the first plane back to Oklahoma.
She turned right in search of a street that would take her in the opposite direction. She was in a neighborhood where the houses were made of aluminum and cardboard. Here, disaster was a daily occurrence, with or without the earthquake. Young people with their hair spiked, underground punks, who drank beer on the sidewalks, abounded. Roger would be the same as them when he got older—she had been naïve in thinking she would turn him into a decent man. She was thinking about how the problem with Mexicans wasn’t economic but racial when a kid appeared in the middle of the street, as if vomited up by a storm drain. She heard a dry thud, a moan, a crushing of bones against the car’s bumper. A beautiful ending for the benefactor of Mexican children. Now she’d have the mother demand that she be compensated as if her child were Swiss. A crowd came at the car, bottles, chains and pipes in hand. She gunned the vehicle and in the blink of an eye, lost them from sight. She didn’t feel guilty but was disappointed. Disappointed in not having run over the innocent, the sweet, the adorable and helpless Roger.