Ice cold coke
The pounding heat was inescapable. Not a single pool of darkness lay amongst that plain terrain. My shirt, drenched in sweat, my only relief from the sizzling waves that grazed upon the cracked earth. And yet, all I could see for miles was the infinite stretch of bladed grass. Pinpoint straight.
My eyes, swallowing nothing but green and blue and heat, began to cry. Letting the last bit of moisture in my body release. Wasting it on my internal doubt of survival. I cry in silence for I do not have the energy to let out even a whimper, a sniffle, a sigh.
Lalo, his head below a red bandana, turns his head to face me and all I see are his eyes. My brother’s tired, swollen eyes. Eyes that have seen a many things. Ribcages that shackled with every breath. Flesh piñatas that hung from telephone poles.
My brother, who held me tight as we jumbled on the packed, dingy bus. Who watched for wandering eyes and unwelcomed touches like a perched eagle. His height towering over me. The one who would saved me the other half of his torta, despite skipping breakfast. And the one who kissed my Mama on the forehead, promising that God would keep us safe.
Our smugglers, the coyotes, followed his gaze. “We have to keep moving.” said one, a tall scruffy man with a skinny frame. In his hand, a milk jug that was once filled to the brim with water, not a single drop to give to my sandpaper tongue.
The beer-bellied one walked up to me and nudged my chin up. The sweat stung my eyes as I mustered the last of my strength to meet his face, covered in sunspots and miscellaneous scars. “I can’t go on anymore señor...” I whimpered at last.
The coyote paused and searched my face for what exactly, I wasn’t sure. Vulnerability to do whatever it took to get there? A resemblance in a daughter I’m not sure he has? But as the man went to speak, the first movement in what seemed an eternity captured the sound from his throat.
The field rushed with a sudden funnel of wind. I followed their eyes to the blades that cascaded in one direction. A defibrillator of adrenaline pulsed into my veins as I looked up to the sky and bristled, the slicing helicopter zooming into vision. I cowered at the only English words I knew how to read, plastered on the side of the swinging machine. Border Patrol.
“La migra! Run!” The coyotes shouted, swinging us around to search the clearing. My eyes darted from Lalo, who dragged me behind his long strides, to the scattered bushes along the plain. My legs sloshed like plump raindrops as I ran. Before I could get a second glance of the area I was shoved into a leaf-covered haven. “Don’t move!” the coyote, the thin one, hissed as he flashed past me.
The propeller neared, pounding louder than my heart. Where’s Lalo? Where’s the other coyote? What if they capture us? What if they rape me, what if they kill me? The gears in my mind spun rapidly, convinced I was going to combust and set the bush ablaze. Pounding. Loud. Racing. Fast.
You could hear the rise in pitch deep within the water, muffled screaming that always made me anxious. My heart, as though it were twisted tight and suddenly released, dispersed all my oxygen and I coughed up to the surface. I was greeted by boos and whistles as my heart continued to pound, getting slapped in the face by the water whipped up from my competitor’s hair. “Better luck next time, Claudia!” he sneered as I plopped out onto the bank. The children of our barrio met at the stream. We’d cup the water beneath our arms, frantically kicking and say “Watch me!” as we puffed our cheeks with oxygen and submerged into the sunkissed water. The children lining the bank and splashing around the competitors were the cheerful timers. “Trece! Catorce! Quince! Dieciseis!..” My wet shirt clung to my body, making me shiver as the sun retreated behind the clouds. The birds flew across the tangerine sky, twirling in groups. Flapping their wings as hard as they could, gaining speed. Was this their way of acting in vain? Were they aware of their gift? To take flight at the growl of a jungle cat. To fly through the desert slums and land on sandy beaches. Did they mock the peasant incapable of escape?
The faceless men jumped from the helicopter, touching down to the field. Its wind ripping up the blades of grass. Watering the bush with my silent tears, I watched the men pummel the coyote to a pulp. He was dragged along the ragged earth, his face unrecognizable. Shoved into the back of the helicopter, it floated away with the man, who saved a girl, that didn’t even know his name.
The field was lifeless again. And after what seemed an eternity, Lalo cried out for me. I coaxed myself to leave the shrub I so quickly attached to, gently pulling from its motherly twigs into the desert sun once more.
Beside him was the beer-bellied coyote, waving his hand. “We have to keep going, we aren’t too far,” he said. I squinted my eyes toward the blazing star and felt my lip begin to quiver. The last of my strength had escaped me, a deflated balloon.
Out from my cheap denim pocket, I pulled out the last of my pesos, holding it out the coyote in a crumpled fist. “My legs won’t carry me anymore. Please let me ride on your back, all I have is 500 pesos.”
The coyote’s belly rose and then fell. Before Lalo pressed toward me to offer his last ounce of strength, the coyote pushed my fist towards me, then adjusted his cap. “You don’t have to pay me. I’ll do it.”
Passing the miles of endless plain, I nuzzled my face into his cotton shirt, drenched in sweat. Convinced that no king plush mattress would amount to the luxury I felt at that very moment. I laid my fatigue on the coyote’s broad shoulders as I comforted my eyes with darkness, letting my bled-through shoes dangle over his side.
It seemed like a blink in time when I was awoken by the familiarity of livestock, sheep humming in the distance. Lalo shook my lifeless arm as the coyote bent to the ground. “You made it,” the coyote said. I looked out to see a pen of sheep, filling the space to the very edge with fluff.
“La migra passes through here. You’re going to have to crawl through the sheep. On the other side, is the rancher, Francisco. He will take you to Corpus Cristie with your aunt.”
I looked at Lalo and he nodded, shaking the man’s hand firmly. “Gracias señor. I’ll never forget what you did for us.”
As he got on his knees, my eyes hesitated on the man with the rough exterior. And in the eyes, his gentle spirit beamed and I wrapped firmly around the roundest part of his belly. “Gracias.”
The grass was plush as we crawled between the hooves, pressing against their firm coats. The occasional lamb pressed its taste buds against our salty skin. After what seemed an eternity, a leather glove reached out to grab Lalo and I from over the pen.
Francisco, a stubby man led us to his barn and welcomed us to a couch covered in misshaped quilts. “Bienvenidos! Welcome to Texas,” he said, handing us both an ice cold Coke.
Jackie Costilla is currently a broadcasting student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with an interest in creative writing. Recently, she's begun writing fiction solely for personal enjoyment and for her fiction class assignments for which she's written several short stories. She is a Mexican-American and her culture often inspires her writing.
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