She watches the news, understanding what is happening at the American border, and yet she continues to pack his things. What other choice does she have? The last time the gangs came to the block, they brought the warning that on her son’s birthday he would be initiated or killed. A ten year old boy will have to either join in the work of the devil or be consumed by him. The corpse of the boy with twenty knife holes in his body that was left a few streets down on his parent’s verandah was proof that their warnings are to be taken seriously.
She has not told her son that they are going. He must not know until they are actually leaving the city. And even then, she will tell him that they are going to visit his abuelita. He must not know more than he needs to know because they are watching and listening. Look at what happened to her neighbor whose daughter told her friends in school that they were leaving for the States. Three days later, five men forced their way into their house and took away their twelve year old daughter so that she could work for them on the streets in the city. No, Jesus, she declares out loud, we cannot stay here any longer.
She hears that the American president does not want them in his country. The news says that she and others are being called rapists and criminals. She looks at her face in the mirror to see if there is anything about her that fits this description. A Guatemalan Indian’s face stares back at her with dark eyes and black hair that falls down to her waist. I am not a rapist or a criminal of any sort the face says to her as she sits on the bed packing her son’s teddy bear into the bag.
Perhaps, if when the American police take him from her, if he has the stuffed animal he will be less afraid. Maybe when they separate her from her son, drag him away from her arms, if he is holding on to this teddy bear, he will find courage.
They will leave at 4 in the morning two days from now. This is when her cousin will drive up to the back of the house and pick them up. The only bags they will have will be her purse and his school bag. None of the prying eyes in the neighborhood will be able to say that she left her house with the kinds of bags other people take with them when they are trying to run away.
She looks at the framed picture of her dead husband who was shot down in his shop last month. Ten gunshots to his head. Am I doing the right thing she asks. Her husband’s slanted eyes look too sad to answer her question. But this is okay, because she knows he understands. When his spirit comes to her in dreams, it always comes with a bag that he puts in her hands before he returns to the land of the dead.
When she dropped her son off at school this morning, he was excited about the school play he has been rehearsing for throughout the week. He is to play the part of a prince who according to him gets to fight with a sword before rescuing the princess from the tower. If they were to leave three days from now, then he would have a chance to be in the play, but they cannot wait any longer. Already, she has postponed leaving twice because of her fears about losing him at the border. But the kidnapping of her neighbor’s daughter and the other stories she was hearing about what the gangs were doing to the children in the area finally convinced her that even if she loses him in the States, he would still have a better chance of surviving than if they stayed in Guatemala.
She waits at the kitchen table. A cup of coffee in her hands now as she looks out the barred window waiting for him to get home. She braces herself for the tears that will come in a few days time once he realizes that they will not return home. She will have to hold him close to her and give him a strength she barely has for her own spirit. And then she will have to pray when they are finally sitting in her cousin’s truck and headed up North where even if they make it to the other side of the desert and the river, she will have to prepare herself for the Americans stealing away her ten year old son and locking him in a cage like a dog.
And what will they call him she thinks to herself when they drag him away from her arms. Will they call him a rapist or a gang member? Or maybe by the time they make it to the border, they will have other names for brown people that look like her and her son.