The man had promised them an easy walk. “Only three days through the desert, and we will walk at night, when it’s cool.” It seemed easy enough: the seven men were, after all, young and strong from years of farm labor. And they were used to the heat of Southern Mexico. “Just bring plenty of water and wear hats and shirts with long sleeves”, he told them.
They were eager to cross the border, no matter how difficult the journey. They had dreams: jobs, money to send back home, reunions with friends and loved ones who already lived in America. A few days of their lives were worth it.
Of course it was more difficult than any of them dreamed possible, and the three days he promised them stretched into five. The men left the town of Altar, Sonoma, after a quick stop to offer a prayer to St. Jude, and for $50 a truck took them to the crossing place. They carried backpacks stuffed with water bottles and food which the eager merchants of the border town had been eager to sell at outrageous prices.
The ‘Coyote’, their travel guide, met them at the crossing. Each man paid him two thousand dollars cash, and they set off through the Sonoran Mountains. “I am glad we are all men,” the Coyote told them. “One thing to worry about is the bandits in these hills. They like groups with women and children because such groups move more slowly, and the women are good for sex. Women are given free contraceptives in Altar because everybody knows they will be raped.” He continued, “But even without women, you must still watch for the bandits. They will come after your money if they think you have any.”
The daytime heat was brutal, but the men were used to that. It was the freezing temperatures at night that was the difficult part: because of the thieves they didn’t want to light any fires and their fingers and toes grew numb and icy. By morning they were eager for the sun to rise and the temperatures to climb back up to one hundred degrees. Hunger, too, was always with them, and constant thirst. At one point they found a nopal cactus plant. Their guide showed them how to scrape away the spines and feast on the deep red fruit. It was filled with seeds, but it refreshed them and gave them nourishment.
They slowly trudged north. Sometimes the Coyote would walk behind them and brush away their footprints with a branch, and at other times the helicopters would swirl overhead, and the men would crouch under whatever cover they could find. At night, distant headlights on the two-track surveillance trails would send them to the ground, flattened and shivering, pressed hard against whatever depression or slope was near.
The obstacles continued: nosebleeds from the extremely hot and arid daytime temperatures, scorpions and snakes, and ‘jumping cactus’ with spikes that seemed to travel through space and attach themselves painfully to bare flesh.
The foothills of Baboquivari Mountain had been their first land mark; now, five days later, they spotted the lights of the radio tower which marked the presence of Arizona State Route 86 and the pickup point located several hours beyond the two-lane highway. The Coyote warned that Route 86 was the last and most dangerous obstacle, under constant watch by the authorities. Silently, the men slipped to the other side of the road by wiggling through the corrugated metal storm water sewer pipe underneath it.
The rusty white pickup came for them shortly after sunrise of the sixth night, and they climbed into in the blazing hot truck bed to lie covered with dusty tarps which smelled of chicken droppings. Two hours later they were at last in Phoenix in a secluded parking lot, and their lives had changed.
As if in welcome, the Arizona sun disappeared behind a swollen gray cloud and they were dancing in the cleansing, life-giving rain.
(This writing prompt was furnished by Patricia Ann McNair)