Arturo looked at his Bible’s bookmark.
A photo of the teenaged oak tree into which “Arturo y Bernice” was carved half a decade ago. His eyes welled, but he was able to control himself just enough to stop the flow.
He thought of Bernice.
And he thought of Xochitl.
And he couldn’t fight back the overflow of tears gathering in the corners of his eyes.
Nauseated, sweating with fever, and malnourished, Arturo slumped in his bus seat and leaned into the aisle, against another deportee.
His wrists ached from shackling.
He did his best to fight back the yearning to fidget.
The odor of musk, urine, and salt floated above them in the poorly ventilated prison bus.
Arturo caught a glimpse of the mile marker through the steel-netted window—
"WESLACO 8 MILES"
She once stood stern, with pride. A worked, but attractive woman. Noble.
Even when Arturo was taken, she kept her strength about her, enough to take on extra work to supplement the missing income. Despite the uncertainty of Arturo’s situation, the long hours, and minding her five-year-old, Xotchitl, Bernice carried on. She told her daughter the truth. Her father was taken by La Migra. But he’d be back. She was certain.
She once stood stern.
But who could blame her? The rapes, the beatings, the lack of sleep, sunlight, and exercise…
The detention center in Mexico City was a gem compared to this…at least they left her with dignity.
To pass the time, she cried mostly. For her husband, for her child.
As the gringos groped, grabbed, bit, and forced themselves on her, she’d escape by wondering about Xochtil.
They came as she was preparing dinner.
Milanesa con papas.
Xochitl played in the dried up creek bed with the neighborhood kids. Their laughter echoed through the block and into living rooms as they ran under the streets, in the storm drains.
The pounding on the door startled Bernice as she dropped the breaded meat in the hot oil. Some splashed back. No matter though; her callused hands never registered the heat.
"Aye, Xochitll!" She removed the milanesa and placed in on a paper towel and went for the front door.
"I speak English," she defended while surveying the neighborhood for Xochitl. No sign, but Bernice heard her daughter’s laughter as she was cuffed and stuffed into the back of the car.
When the sun began to set, the neighborhood kids departed.
Xochitl cautiously entered her home through the back door. She made her plate. She made two additional plates. And ate at the empty kitchen table.
After washing her dish, Xochitl grabbed her doll and a blanket and escaped back into the storm drain to wait out the night to play with the neighborhood kids the following day.