TOPIC OF THIS CONTEST WAS:
Their small sacks heavy with apples, they huddled on the cobblestone path, not sure if they could make it back in time. Bright orange and yellow leaves rushed across their shoes and they shivered, their cloaks no match for the approaching dusk. Their eyes widened as the town’s striking clock began to issue its warning…
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The bells of Santuario San Judas Tadeo tolled in the distance, their warm tones wafting through the cool night, but giving me a chill that raised the hair on the back of my neck. Nightfall is here and we will reach our destination tonight, or die trying. For a week now, we have been on the run, and while my body aches more than I would have thought possible, my heart grieves and bears a weight that makes my physical pains pale in comparison.
We are fleeing our country in search of a better life, wanting to find work that will pay enough to feed and clothe our growing family. The situation back home is unbearable, poverty so rampant there is no escaping it. After learning I was pregnant with our second child, it took very little convincing to get my husband Carlos to agree that we had to leave and try to make a better life for ourselves and our children. We knew the risks, but God turned a blind eye to us. Carlos is now dead, gunned down mercilessly by heartless border patrol guards. In the not-so-distant past, the guards would round up any people trying to make it across the border and haul them off to a jail; now they shoot first and ask questions later. People everywhere are less humane, the worse things became, the worse our species reacted. Tolerance is all but gone, and for those of us seeking to immigrate, there is no pity from the guards.
We’ve been traveling by night and hiding during the day. I gently shake Maria to rouse her from her slumber. Like me, her skin is filthy, her arms and legs bear scratches from the bushes we trod through as we make our journey. She is only three years old and doesn’t understand what is happening. Carlos would carry her most of the time but that is no longer an option. He drew the border guards away from us, sacrificing himself to allow Maria and I to escape. Now it is up to me to make sure we make it.
Maria wakes up slowly. As she shakes off the remnants of whatever dream or nightmare from which I’m waking her, I pull out my sack. All that remains is a nearly empty jar of peanut butter, half a sleeve of Ritz crackers, two apples and about three quarters of a bottle of water. I slice the apple into ten wedges, spread the peanut butter on a few crackers and pour two small cups of water. The food helps brighten up Maria, we’ve been very careful with our rations. Carlos had carried the heavier sack; when he was shot down, we lost him and his supplies. I know we could make it without food for a day or two but we wouldn’t make it without water.
Once fed, I pull myself up and prod Maria to do the same. We begin the final leg of our journey, and I pray silently that we’ll make it. I’m in my seventh month of pregnancy so I can’t carry Maria very much at all and shouldn’t even be lifting her. This trek has been difficult for her though and I’m afraid she’s coming down with a cold. She sneezed a couple of times in the last half hour and coughed more frequently than that. So far we haven’t been heard or spotted, but with the El Paso/Mexico border less than a quarter of a mile away, stealth is going to be critical over the next hour.
Twenty minutes later, we’ve made it across the border and need only to make it to the rendezvous spot where transportation will be waiting to take us to a temporary safe house. Suddenly, I hear the roar of a jeep barreling towards us. I pull Marie close to me and press her face to my thighs, holding her tightly to keep her still. We’re hidden behind a large tree, but if the jeep makes it to us, we’ll be seen without question. Maria starts to cough, and the knot in my throat makes it impossible for me to talk to her to warn her of the consequences. I’m frozen with fear. We’ve made it so far, and lost so much. We’re so close we have to make it. I can’t believe this is happening.
The jeep screeches to a halt and the guards are running, yelling. Shots are fired. But they’re not close to us. There must have been about forty shots fired in all. I hear the guards shouting to each other, but I can’t hear what they’re saying, they’re too far away. It wasn’t us they found. I feel so guilty – I want to care for the poor souls who have just been shot down, but I’m rejoicing that we’re still alive. Once the dust settles, we complete our journey and find our transportation waiting as planned.
It is now five years later, and as I wait to pick my girls up from school, I am still thankful that we made it across that border. Although my loss was great, my girls are healthy and happy. We have a lovely home here in Calexico, Mexico. The news of the poverty that continues to plague the United States is on the television every night. The crash of their financial structure back in 2012 had the unexpected result of allowing previously poor countries to prosper. Although I miss the United States that once was home, I love the life I now have here in my Mexican home.