The Chronicles of Anton Chico (A Mexican moon)

Border wall erected at Mexican border with United States.

The Inhuman Wall

I sat in the back of the hotel van as the Mexican man drove me to the border. He was playing Mexican music on the radio and speaking into a CB handset of some sort once in a while. He was telling his comrades on the other side: “Here I come with another gringo! Get your baseball bats ready you fuckers!” That’s what I thought.

It was at times like these that Anton Chico wished he had known how to speak Spanish, or at least understood some of it, especially with those bruisers on the other end waiting for me. I shifted uncomfortably in the seat and looked out the windows at all the chaos I had just come through myself earlier.

So, I should have turned there, but I didn’t, and the van pulled into a lot, and I thought to myself, “Well, this is it. They’re going to club me, and I’ll be done for. My keys, my camera, my wallet and I’ll wake up handcuffed to a bed with a dirty mattress in some dingy room with thin curtains and a half empty bottle of tequila sitting on a wobbly table and there sitting in the chair by the table will be this Mexican girl, big brown breasts exposed smoking a cigarette and staring at me like I was some sort of villain and then in would walk her John Boy in a stained wife beater t-shirt and having a big, black, bushy moustache and holding a switchblade and he’d come at me, cursing at me in Spanish, flailing the sharp blade all around in front of me, slicing the air, then he catches my cheek and I can feel the warm trickle start rolling down my damp face like a maroon tear and flow into my mouth.”

“We’re here,” the driver said as he always does, and he got out of the van, came around the other side and slid the door open. I stepped out and handed him $3.

“Gracias, senor,” he said, and got back into the van and drove away, leaving me there right on the razor’s edge between two very different nations. I was immediately approached by another man who had been waiting in the lot.

“You need senorita?” he asked. “Twenty dollars and I take you to senorita. Pretty senorita. My taxi right there, $20.”

“No, that’s all right,” I said. “I’m going to walk over the bridge. I want to go across on the bridge. Walk.” And I pointed toward the bridge. He looked at me like I was crazy. He seemed so disappointed.

I fell into the queue crossing over. I deposited 35 cents and stepped across. Now above me the Mexican flag painted the sky in the wind. I looked over the edge of the bridge and saw the muddy trickle of the Rio Grande piddle through. I saw the great barriers designed to keep the undesirables out rise up at its American shore. The sign deciphered: This is America. No illegal aliens, only illegal activity by our own is accepted.

Those barriers, those watch towers, those rows of razor wire are grim reminders of human selfishness, the God negative and gluttony, hypocritical pride and the suffering in its wake. On one side of the barriers, perfumed buttoned-up crooked sophistos drive to lunch in a polished Mercedes; on the other side, a starving man drinks himself senseless on a dirt road while the stars and the sadness spin. If only for an opportunity, but they don’t pass out opportunity like political payoffs.

Anton Chico suffers from a debilitating mental illness. When happiness should be sweet, it is sour for him. When love should be beautiful, it becomes a desperate crawl along the cold kitchen floor crying out in emotional pain for him. When human contact should be soft, it is like petting a dragon kitten of thorns for him. Everything hurts, everything aches, a narrow tunnel lined with dark light and harrowing thoughts of soiled innocence. It is physically exhausting and now I cannot get over the wall that they never did build. Such heartless, godless stupidity.

I was there. Stepping across the imaginary line that separates one way of life from another. The street was packed with people shuffling in and out, up and down. Ratty store fronts lined the way. Spanish language signs everywhere. Green and orange and sky-blue facades with painted black lettering. In every doorway stood someone desperate to sell me something. Desperate for the American money they could use on the American side to buy things made in Pakistan or Bangladesh or Honduras. To buy clothes sewn together by the sore fingers of their not-so-distant relatives in another, oppressed land just like their own. There were more offers to meet a “sweet senorita” upstairs for $20. “She’ll make you feel so good senor. Do you not want to feel good?”

There I was, sticking out like a flashing American beacon. They could smell me. They could see me in my red ball cap, my faded striped shirt and faded shorts exposing my whiteness, my 17 days unshaved and a Pentax film camera slung around my neck. And then I wondered as I walked, where were all the other Americans? Where were all the others just like me flowing across? But then I remembered, as I was crossing over, there were no others. I was immersed in the clan. It was a weekday, and these were all simple workers and shoppers streaming back into their homeland and I suddenly felt all alone, a poster on the white wall. I no longer felt so at ease.

I stepped inside a relatively safe looking shop; bare and dusty and two men hunched over the counter. One sprung on me as soon as I entered.

“What are you looking for? Some jewelry? Something nice for your girlfriend?”

“I don’t have a girlfriend. Not anymore. Just some postcards. Do you have postcards?”

“Postcards! We have postcards. Here, I will show you.”

He took me to a wobbly spinner rack of muddy brass that held a few faded, dry looking postcards. I grabbed two.

“Fifty cents. Nothing else? No senorita?” He motioned with his head toward a staircase. “My daughter. You will like her.”

I set the postcards down on the counter along with one dollar. I stood for a minute thinking, looking out the grimy glass window to the hot, bustling street. The whole place smelled like greasepaint, and I could feel the greasepaint on my face. The grease clogging my fat pores. The sweat stinging my pale skin. I lifted the red ball cap from my head and wiped the wetness from my brow.

“I’m so sweaty,” I said to the man.

“Everybody sweaty. Don’t worry, she’ll take good care of you.”

I set twenty dollars on the counter and the man smiled. He motioned me to stand there while he went to the bottom of the stairs and shouted something up in Spanish. An agitated female voice shouted something back down. He came back over to me.

“Upstairs. You can go now.”

He tapped his worn wristwatch with the tips of his fingers.

“30 minutes,” he said, and I went to the stairs and climbed them slowly.

I heard crackling Mexican radio songs flowing down the stairwell. It grew hotter as I climbed, and I wondered how they tolerated it. At the top of the stairs was a doorway to the left. I looked in. It was a bathroom. Hot, not too clean. There was a short hallway and at the end of the hallway was a flowery curtain covering a doorway. I touched the soft fabric and pulled it aside. Inside the room was a single bed covered in crumpled white sheets. Next to the bed stood a small table and on the table a few glasses, a half-empty bottle of brown alcohol, and an ashtray littered with lipstick-stained butts.

The room had two windows spaced closely together. They were open, ratty, flowered sheets for curtains languidly flopping in the light breeze. It was very hot in the room and the sweat was pouring out of me. I saw a cloud of smoke spurt forth from another corner of the room. A girl was sitting in a chair, a yellow towel wrapped around her body, her hair was dark, flowing and wet. Her large brown eyes stared up at me in a kind of hopeless, loving and lost way. Her brown skin was dimpled with sweat or maybe water from a shower she just took. I watched her take a drag on the cigarette tightly clamped in her full, bare lips. She smiled after she exhaled and motioned for me to sit on the bed.

“Cigarette?” I asked her. I had my own, but for some reason I wanted one of hers.

She tossed me her pack and I pulled one out. She tossed me a book of matches and I lit it. I waved out the match and dropped it in the ashtray and then sat halfway in the windowsill next to her chair so that I could see inside and outside. I didn’t want to sit on the bed. I could feel the heat on my shoulder and the greasepaint smell was rising again. I could taste the smog on my tongue. Off in the distance I could hear traffic – honking horns, gunning motors, people yelling in Spanish. The girl sat emotionless, staring off into space as she held the cigarette between her fingers, the smoke flowing from the tip of it like a bluish whisper. We sat there in silence for half an hour looking at a Mexican moon that wasn’t even there. She didn’t seem to mind, and neither did I. I looked out the window one last time, and then I got up and walked out. She never said goodbye.

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