We crossed the United States/Mexico border on a cold night in February. My brother, Mateo, and I didn’t know how cold it was until we had been out of the car and had walked for an hour. We both worked as laborers, so being outside in the cold was not an unknown discomfort for us; but it was an especially cold night. The air felt heavy and dense. Whenever the wind blew, it came through our coats like water through a colander. We felt the cold on our legs. Our hands could not stay warm in our pockets, so we had to place them against our necks to warm them.
We hoped a fast walking pace would warm us. It was easy to see where we walked without a flashlight: the sky was big and clear so the moon and the stars illuminated our way through the desert. We would need to walk all night and half the next day before we would meet our contact in the United States. He or she would find us a place to live and work. The set up would be Spartan, but it would give us a start until we found our own way to realize our American Dream.
After hours of walking in silence, I heard my brother exclaim, “¡Trucha! Santiago,” It was not something I wanted to hear. I searched the horizon and saw what he had seen: headlights.
“Escondamonos hasta que pase,” I suggested although there were not many places to hide until the vehicle passed. The only options for cover were small plants that were spaced far apart and thin from their adaptation to the desert climate. There were barely perceptible hills of dirt and depressions. Mateo laid down behind a cluster of shrubs. I hid behind a hill of dirt.
I listened as the sound of an engine increased. I hoped our paths had crossed by coincidence. I hoped the sound of the engine would increase and then decrease as the vehicle passed and continued on its way. But where would it go? What business could it have out at night in the middle of the desert?
The noise of the engine reached a steady level. The vehicle had stopped. Headlights illuminated my leg, but I did not dare to move. Shadows moved in my periphery. Then, I heard ‘shick-shick.’
“Get up,” I heard a man say behind a rifle that was pointed at me. He flicked the tip upward as if he was jigging a fishing lure. As I slowly rose from the dirt, I saw another man lead my brother toward me at gunpoint. Since he was not pointing his gun at me; I noticed he wore a cowboy hat, camouflage coat, jeans, and ropers. I called him the cowboy in my mind. My captor was camouflaged from head to toe. He wore a cap. I called him the hunter.
Once Mateo and I stood side-by-side, the hunter said “Now, we know that you know that what you’re doing is wrong. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be coming into our country like thieves in the night.”
“They didn’t understand a word,” the cowboy said.
“You’re going to have to walk back,” the hunter said. “You,” he pointed at Mateo and me. “Are going to walk,” he made his fingers walk through the air. “Back to Mexico,” he pointed south.
“But it’s going to cost you,” the cowboy said. Like a caveman, the hunter communicated that I needed to take off my backpack and coat. Then, with the authority of the rifle, told Mateo he needed to do the same.
When I saw the cowboy return with a jug of drinking water, I thought we were going to be all right. I thought the men would punish us, but would have enough compassion not to cross a line.
I was wrong. The cowboy poured water all over Mateo. After Mateo was soaked, the cowboy poured water all over me. It was so cold, it took my breath away.
The two men got in the truck and forced us to walk south at gunpoint. I told Mateo that we should run to warm ourselves. The men in the truck howled and laughed at us when we started running, but allowed it.
We ran until we could not run anymore. Then, we walked. When we stopped to rest, the hunter forced us to stand in one place while the cowboy poured cold water on us.
After that, we were too tired to run. We walked south as briskly as we could, but we only felt colder. We shivered and stomped our feet to stay warm; but, whatever heat our bodies produced was blown away by cold desert breezes. After a while, I stopped shivering. Mateo had stopped too. He looked confused and disoriented as he followed me.
My mind clouded up as well. I tried to keep Mateo moving, but I was not sure where I was supposed to be going. Mateo started having trouble walking: it was as if he had forgotten. His breathing slowed. I knew there was something very wrong, but I did not know what to do.
The men stopped us, or perhaps we stopped ourselves – I was not thinking anymore. The cowboy took our coats and bags out of the truck bed and brought them to us. It gave me hope.
“Here, put these on,” the hunter said. “You don’t want whoever finds your bodies to think you came out here unprepared, do you?” We put our coats on. Mine was cold and my body was not producing heat.
“Alright, break’s over,” the cowboy said. He pointed something out to the other man. He got a disappointed look on his face, and they left abruptly in their truck.
The men were gone, but we did not move. I looked over at Mateo, and he just stood in his coat breathing as if he were sleeping. I felt the same: exhausted, confused, like I wanted to sleep forever. The desert was quiet, dark, and cold; like a good bedroom. I continued to look at my brother and was sorry that I had brought him with me. I was sorry about our situation, but not sorry to be with him.
His face was suddenly illuminated by a multitude of colors of light. I thought my mind was finally going, but then I saw a truck. It was the Border Patrol.
Men in green uniforms carried us to the truck where it was warm and dry. Someone removed my wet clothes and wrapped me in a blanket and then plastic bags. My brother was laid beside me, also wrapped in a blanket and plastic. I saw his chest slowly rise and fall. Then, I went to sleep.
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