Chapter 21: The Trip
“My friends, where are you going?” The tall and skinny one with the missing front teeth, Raul, asked the group of 12 travelers that were standing in the barren lot.
“Phoenix.” Blurted out Santiago, a youthful 20 year old that had made it this far from Guatemala. “My uncle has an upholstery business, and I can work with him.”
The shorter chubbier coyote with scruffy chin hair as a poor excuse for a goatee standing next to Raul, Raul, replied “You will be there in two days. You’ll thank us.”
Raul had a wife and two kids to feed and would work several times a month alongside with Carlos to move immigrants from Auga Prieta north to just outside of Bisbee, where he’d return infrequently to his wife and family.
Carlos was single, untamed and wild, and worked more frequently as a coyote. He enjoyed the freedom of the desert, his drink, and making the money that his trade provided.
Tomas, a thirty-something Honduran national, listened closely to the two coyotes that were pre-arranged by Xavier, the first of a string of coyotes that he met in San Pedro, Honduras, to take him across the line. “I’m going to Fresno, California.” Tomas said next. “I hear you can get a good job there.”
The air was teaming with excitement.
Raul looked at Juan, “And you? Are you going?”
Juan paused and turned to Sofia. Juan, Sofia, and their two boys had left their friends and family in the town of Tehuacan, Puebla Mexico, some 160 miles south of Mexico City, where his work as a factory workers in the textile industry had dried up over the past six months leading to the loss of both of their jobs and the eventual repossession of their home by the bank and his wife and family in dire need of a way that they could sustain their business.
“We must go.” Juan recounted the conversation with his wife some three weeks prior. “We can both get jobs in Tucson.”
“Juan, we are running out of money.” Sofia expressed her concern.
“Our house has now been taken by the bank. We both do not have jobs. You are pregnant and we need the money. I have enough to get us across the line. We can get to Tucson and we can both get jobs. We can start over. The United States also has free education for Juan Jr, Pablo and our little one. They’ll have a better life than us.” Juan said convincingly to Sofia, as he wrapped his arm around her to assure her. He kissed her cheek. “It will be an adventure. Something new for us. For our family. We can make it and in a few months we’ll look back at this as a good decision.”
Carlos, one of the coyotes interrupted, “If you are coming, leave your bags here. We don’t have any room in the vehicle to take you and your stuff. We’ll have your stuff sent to Tucson later.” Carlos pointed to the ground in front of him as if he was instructing the group to drop off their articles in one place. He continued “We only have enough space to carry us and water to get you to Bisbee, where we’ll meet up with another person who will safely take you to Tucson and, if you have enough money, to Phoenix or California. In Tucson, you’ll stay at a safe house where you can shower, get a good meal and then head to your various locations.”
With blind trust, the group compliantly piled their backpacks, suit cases, and canvas bags of personal items near Carlos. The temperature this early August evening was dropping from a high of 107 degrees to slightly below 100 degrees as they piled into the 1977 Chevy Suburban, most were clutching small canteens and bottles of water.
Raul drove while Carlos was sitting in the passenger seat toking a joint. All 12 passengers were crammed into the Suburban as they headed on a dirt road out in the great wide open area of the Sonoran desert west of Agua Prieta, Mexico.
“We’ll stop in about 20 minutes, get some water, and then we’ll hike about 5 hours to get across the line and into the United States.” Raul shouted over the growling of the engine. Dust filled through the rolled down windows and wind whipped around the tightly packed passengers. Raul grabbed a bottle of tequila from his backpack and took a extended gulp. Handing the tequila to Carlos, Carlos passed a joint to Raul.
As the Suburban came to a sliding halt some 20 minutes later, Carlos shouted, “Pendejo Raul” and tossed the empty bottle out the window. The inhabitants piled out of the vehicle, Carlos and Raul put on their large backpacks, mostly filled with water and some crackers for the journey.
“Follow us closely. Do not talk. Stay in single file. And, when we get to the line, after the fence, there is a 30 meter stretch of sand. The Border Patrol looks for many foot prints in this sand. When we get there, be sure to step in the foot prints of the one before you. Follow me. We’ll be about 90 minutes before we cross.” Raul instructed the crowd, turned and headed on a narrow pathway northward.
Few words were said that night, with the exception of Raul and Carlos who would occasionally laugh and light another joint to share between them. As the night drew nearer to midnight, the lights of Douglas, Arizona could be seen over the horizon to the north.
Juan followed Sofia who clutched three year old Sonia in her arms. Juan stepped between the lower rows of barbed wire held down by the foot of one of the coyotes, Raul, and between the upper strand propped up by a make-shift pole from the stem of a yucca plant. Juan was the last to cross the line following behind his wife who followed their two sons, Juan Jr. and Pablo. As earlier instructed by the coyotes, Juan carefully placed his foot over the footprints of his wife, who also carefully placed each sandal in the footprints of her oldest son who led in front of her. Each of the crossers did so, as instructed earlier, to limit the detection by an occasional U.S. Border Patrol helicopter that would scan the fence line with a high beam light looking for footprints that were headed northward in the groomed sand.
Once past the groomed stretch, the 12 crossers and the two coyotes huddled. Juan looked over to the lights of Douglas, Arizona and felt confident and proud that he and his family had finally made it past their biggest obstacle. They would soon be on their way to Tucson where both he and his wife could settle in and make a new home for their children.
“You have 18 miles to walk.” Raul stated loudly to the 12 crossers huddled close together. Raul took an unopened quart of Tequila from his backpack, snapped open the twist top, took a large swig and handed it to Carlos, the second coyote. “We will show you the path to follow tonight and you must meet the bus on Warren road in the United States off of that highway” he said pointing to a distant road where an occasional headlight could be seen. “The bus will take you to Tucson where you will catch another bus to Phoenix or California, if that’s your destination.” Raul took another long drink of the now almost empty tequila bottle handed back to him by Carlos. Carlos began to smell and stroke the hair of one of the three females in the group. The young woman drew back behind the group and Carlos refocused his attention on Sofia who was standing nearby.
“Ser muy mujer” (a real woman!) he slurred as he reached again for the bottle of tequila that Raul was now gulping down. Snatching the bottle from Raul he took a large gulp and leaned in towards Sofia. He began to whisper in Sofia’s ear as she abruptly recoiled.
Juan became alerted but was cautious to not offend either of the two coyotes who brought them this far and placed his arm around Sofia’s shoulder staking his claim. Carlos snorted and leaned forward in Juan’s face and began prodding him in his chest. “You owe us. You need us. Don’t fuck with me. I can do as I please” Carlos said forcefully poking Juan once with each short statement.
Riled, Juan unwrapped his arm from around Sofia’s shoulder and pushed Carlos with both hands sending him backwards onto an outcropping of thorny ironwood and mesquite. Carlos’ arms went straight up into the air sending the nearly empty bottle of tequila sailing over Raul’s head.
Raul charged with both arms straight at Juan. The rest of the crossers took a few steps back as Raul knocked Juan face-down in the dirt. With three hard punches to Juan’s face, Juan managed to roll to his side and cover up his face. Raul kicked Juan as hard as he could in the back and said “You fucking ungrateful wetback. Find your own fucking way to Tucson.”
Raul walked over to Carlos who was gingerly attempting to pull himself from the thorns. Raul held out his hand and Carlos pulled him from the tuft of thorns. “Fucking bitch” Carlos screamed, as he pulled away from the thorns that pierced his right thigh and buttocks.
He picked up his backpack. Carlos pointed at Juan who was still lying on the ground and was being tended by Sofia. “You find your own way, you fucking wetback.” Carlos waved his hand in a circle and shouted to the remaining “Let’s go. Follow me.”
Raul sneered at Sofia and Juan and got in the last comment “Fuck you two.”
The night was dark and frightful. Juan’s two sons, Juan Jr. who was eight, and Pablo, who was eleven huddled around Juan, Sofia, and the baby who were now sitting under the dark desert sky. Terror rushed through Juan as he attempted to compose himself in front of his family. He reached to the sand behind him, searching for the half-filled canteen that he had been clutching before Raul had tackled Pepe. As his fingertips felt the canvas strap of his canteen. He retrieved his canteen by locating the strap and pulled it towards him. Shaking the canteen, he thought about the small amount of water that he and his family were now left for the 18 mile trek to Bisbee that laid before them on this hot August night.
Juan stood to his feet helping his pregnant wife who was holding their daughter to her feet. “We’ll be okay.” He assured his family. “We’ll get to Bisbee by the morning. We’ll have to share this water.” He shook the canteen in his right hand. Looking in the direction of his two boys, he directed, “If you get thirsty, take only one mouthful, wash it around your mouth before you swallow. This will make it last for all of us.” Juan said with a sense of surety as he buried his own fear about the limited amount of water remaining. Even at night in August, the desert temperatures were in the low 90’s, which would only increase as daylight approached.
As Juan led the way, he jagged between ruts avoiding tufts of spiney mesquite and shafts of thorny ocotillo. Sofia closely following Juan’s twisted path through the desert as they headed west towards Bisbee with their two sons closely in tow. The desert floor had a slight glow from the reflection of a half-moon and presents a dark glow
After about an hour of walking in a zig-zagged path that avoided the highway, Juan looked to Sophia who is now exhausted by this time. “Let’s stop and rest.” As the family gathered, Juan unscrews the plastic lid from the small canteen and gives instructions. “Remember, one small mouthful, swill it around your mouth before you swallow.” He handed the canteen to Sophia who then passed it on to Juan Jr. and then Pablo. As Pablo returned the canteen to his father, Pepe says “I’m okay right now” and screws the plastic cap back onto the now emptier canteen. “Let’s get going before the sunrise” Juan said in an uplifted tone while looking at Sophia, Juan Jr. and Pablo. Concerned about the desert heat, Juan noted “We have to make some time before the sun rises.”
They continued to walk for a few more hours making way carefully through dry river beds and crisscrossing the desert while heading towards Bisbee. As the sun began to slowly rise giving light to a clearer path, the temperature began inching upward.
They stopped at a crumbling adobe that rested on an old ranch a few miles outside of Bisbee. The roof had collapsed years ago. Large chunks of thick hand trawled stucco were chunked from the face of the small structure and exposed the slightly worn darker brown adobe bricks. The dirt floor, once packed hard from the original construction, was softened by the infrequent seasonal torrential rains.
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