Here is a piece I wrote for LOVE NAIL TREE during the spring of 2013. It was originally published here.
Rebecca finds her mother in tears. They live in a tiny apartment where they eat rice, beans, and week-old bread for dinner most nights. Rebecca has two t-shirts, one pair of pants, and one pair of shorts. Her shoes have holes in them, as do every pair of her socks. She has never owned a new hairbrush. Mother weeps because of a note she has read. She pulls her daughter close and hugs her. There will be one train without a search, she says. Nobody is supposed to know, but this will be our chance. Mother is not crying out of pain or sorrow, but out of joy. The family will get to move to America after all.
Mother keeps money in a jar underneath her bed. She never brings it into the open, but today she holds it high in front of the windows. She is singing a song about prosperity, and she is mouthing intermittent prayers. She calls Tio Juan and wakes Abuela from her nap.
Two weeks, and the family is on a passenger train headed north. Mother is with Abuela, and Tio Juan is with Rebecca. He is pointing out signs and teaching her what they mean. He is telling her that one day soon she will know what they say, and that she will be teaching him. Rebecca asks Tio why they are leaving their home. Tio Juan says so they can have a better life and so they can be free. He says, your mother has wished this for you for a long time.
Twenty miles beyond the border it happens. Mother looks at Tio and asks why the train has stopped. Men in green and beige uniforms are on the train and asking for papers. Tio writes an address and a phone number down and gives it to Rebecca and demands that she get under her seat. She resists, but he demands again. She is scared but obeys. She watches from the darkness below as the men in green ask Mother, Abuela, and Tio for their papers. They are motionless and when it is clear that they do not speak the language of the men in uniform they are told to stand. Mother begins crying and Abuela is yelling at the men. Tio is the last to leave. Rebecca knows he wants to look at her but he doesn’t.
When the train stops in San Diego she is told by a man in a white shirt and navy cap that she needs to get off and find her Mommy. She vaguely knows this word, Mommy, and responds to his motioning toward the door.
She studies the paper from Tio. She has used a telephone three times in her life. Twice to call Tio, once when someone called by mistake. She turns back and finds the man in the nice shirt and navy cap watching her. She holds the paper up to him and he studies it. His brow furrows and he pulls a telephone from his pocket. He is pressing its plastic buttons and then holds it to her ear. It is ringing. Rebecca’s heart begins to beat with a charge of excitement, wondering if Mother will be on the other line.
A second ring. Maybe Tio, or Abuela. Maybe they have gone to plan a surprise party for her.
A third ring. Maybe she needs to find them? But it has been over an hour. They would have come by now…
Hello? comes a voice on the other side. It says words she understands and knows who she is before she speaks. It says to be patient, and that they are coming for her. Then the voice is gone, the phone is quiet. She gives it back to the man and he says, Okay? She nods at him and looks out upon the station parking lot. It is dark and vacant. Her legs are cold. The locomotive is lit up and running, but otherwise empty. Still no sign of Mother, Tio, and Abuela.