Monday, March 8, 2010

Not Ready to Go (Ch 23)

Late Sunday evening was bustling with the usual crowds walking from the plaza and coming back from service. Mauricia anxiously packed her metate and holy shrine in a box and placed it on top of a makeshift wooden sled Francisco made to drag the children. "Are you almost finished Mauricia?" Francisco asked as he tied the final knot on another box that contained clothing. Francisco carefully tied both boxes to each end of the sled to provide enough leverage and for the children to hold onto.

"Ya Francisco. I'm ready." as Mauricia checked the room for items that may have been forgotten.

Teresa and Leopoldo fit perfectly in between the boxes. Teresa looked up at Mauricia and said, "Mama, where are we going?"
Mauricia knelt down and caressed Teresa's face and said, "We are going on an adventure. I need you to help me with the little ones and keep Leopoldo safe. Agreed?" Teresa grinned and nodded in agreement as she put her small arm around her brother.

Francisco and Mauricia quietly left the poor stricken area of shacks and dirt roads and headed North to find a better opportunity. Francisco led the way by following one of the routes he was instructed to take.
"Francisco, is this route safe?" Mauricia asked as she nervously trekked behind him.

"It should be. Juanito said many of his friends have been through this route and would be safer for the children. Don't worry Mauricia, I have my knife and machete in case anyone wants to bother us." Francisco turned around and showed Mauricia the items under his shirt. We should reach the border by nightfall and determine where to cross."
Night fell and everything was pitch dark. Mauricia feared the darkness and whatever unknown creatures roamed at night. She walked quickly along the higher grass areas and cursed as she lost her step on a bulging rock that she did not see on the path. They could not be seen from the main roads as they would immediately be spotted and brought back to Mexico.
Francisco turned around to make sure the children were okay and to see if Mauricia was keeping up. The constant movement lulled the children to sleep. Mauricia was grateful they were undeterred by the commotion and prayed to God for safety. Mauricia did not want to go to the United States. She quietly told Francisco as they walked, "I feel like I'm walking away from my home. I have a sense of guilt Francisco and I cannot imagine going to an unknown place where I do not even speak the language. How will we live?"
Francisco turned around and looked at Mauricia and whispered, "We will do what everyone else does, which is manage. This is a necessity not only for us Mauricia but for our children. I want them to live like I have never lived. I want to give them other opportunities. We cannot let fear determine our future. We have nothing woman! What do you want to do? Go back to a country that at the moment is going through its' own financial issues? We are a mere drop of water compared to the thunderstorm that is going on in Mexico today. We need to act now; right now! If they cannot guarantee us a better life, then we need to make one for ourselves in a place that unfortunately is not our native land. I know you love Mexico, Mauricia. I promise we will return once we get back on our feet."
Mauricia sighed and whispered, "Alright, I'll try this for now but I am not excited. Go on Francisco, I cannot remain standing still waiting for the snakes to crawl across my feet. I will certainly wake up the children with my screams."
Francisco responded, "Hush woman, what you will do is frighten the animals more than you are of them. We are close to the river. Can you hear it?"
As they approached a hill, Francisco looked over and said, "There it is, el Rio Bravo."
Mauricia stood in awe of the river and wonderment that on the other side was another country. A country that could open the door to more possibilities as parents than what they currently had in Mexico.
The bushes began to move and Mauricia cringed expecting a coyote to lunge out. As she and Francisco huddled to the ground they spotted two men coming out. They were Mexican like them. Both men were large in height and dark. One man carried a knife in his mouth, gripped down with his teeth while he held another in his hand. The other man shouted, "Who is there? Come out! If you don't come out we will attack!"
Francisco stood up and said, "It is only myself, my wife and children. We mean no harm. We are trying to get across the river."
Both men looked at each other as the knife wielding one nodded at the other. "We do not cross for free! We take any money you have."
Francisco responded, "We have no money! That is why we are trying to get across!"

The man with the knife said, "That is fine, we will take whatever you are carrying, clothes, shoes, jackets!"

Francisco looked at Mauricia and her look was enough for him to answer, "Well we will go on our own! Thank you!"
Both men laughed as one said, "To hell with you! You will all die trying! We must warn you, if you decide to sleep here the night, you will not live to see morning!"

Francisco said, "We'll see who is right tomorrow!"

Both Mauricia and Francisco retraced their steps several yards back and followed the course of the river closer to the road. Francisco felt they may risk being seen but it was a better option than risking his families lives. Half an hour later, Francisco found an area comfortable enough and hard to spot by anyone around. As Mauricia and the children slept, Francisco woke up several times to check for predators keeping his machete in his hand.

The morning began to set in and Francisco felt it was the best time to cross the river. He woke up Mauricia and explained he would cross the children first and then come for her. Hesitant Mauricia did not like the idea and said, "I do not know Francisco. What if one of them falls in?"

Francisco answered, "That is why I made the sled Mauricia. Teresa can sit on my shoulders and Leopoldo and Maria de Jesus will ride on the sled with the boxes. Do you understand?"

Mauricia was overwhelmed with fright. She gingerly placed Maria de Jesus next to Leopoldo as she told Teresa to tightly hold on to Francisco while crossing.

"Francisco please be careful!" Mauricia yelled as he plunged in the water and held onto the sled while Teresa mounted his shoulders.

Teresa looked back at Mauricia and she could tell she was frightened, "Mama? I'm scared."

Mauricia could not think of words to appease her child in this moment, "I know mi reina. Francisco will get you across and I will follow."

Mauricia swallowed the lump of fear in her throat as she held back tears.

Francisco carefully pushed the sled with the younger children and the boxes as he waded with Teresa on his shoulders.

Teresa started to scream as water began to soak her. Francisco told her, "We are almost there! Hold on!" The water was moving faster than Francisco anticipated as it jerked him back and forth. He lost footing and was able to regain his stability with one foot. Francisco could see Leopoldo look at him with fright as he was crying from watching Teresa. He pushed the sled with all his weight to get the children across.

Mauricia was watching from land as she was crying from fear of seeing the current move Francisco and the children harshly. The idea of her losing her children was too great to bear as her heart was racing and she concentrated on Francisco's every move. Mauricia began to say, "Mama help me! Please I cannot lose my babies!"

Teresa screamed, "Mama!" as Mauricia was watching Francisco place her and the children on land.

Mauricia breathed a sigh of relief as she watched Francisco make his way back to her. Once he reached Mauricia he yelled, "Jump in!" Mauricia lunged in the water as she held on to Francisco's shirt. She followed his lead as he guided her across the strong current. Mauricia coughed as she swallowed water and in an instant felt a force suck her under. Mauricia lost grip of Francisco and she frantically was reaching for anything to hold on to. She tried to open her eyes but all she saw was murky water. She swallowed water as fear consumed her. Mauricia thought to herself, "I don't want to die!"

Francisco began to swim down with the current in hopes of seeing Mauricia. He could not see her. He reached in the water with his long arms and as he submerged himself in the water. He suddenly felt something. He pulled with all his strength and prayed, it was Mauricia. He was able to pull her by her hair and keep her from drowning."

He pulled Mauricia back out onto land as she coughed up all the water. As she lay on the ground she regained her thoughts as everything kept spinning. She tried to get up. Francisco only held her down as he hugged her and told her to stay on her side. He knew she was dizzy and needed some time to be okay.

"I will be right back, I need to get the children." Francisco went and pulled the children and Teresa over to her. Mauricia hugged everyone and thanked God she was able to make it out of that ordeal. Francisco kissed her forehead and told her, "I'm sorry I messed up your braids." Mauricia leaned her face on his hand and said, "Thank you."

"Now where do we go Francisco?" Mauricia looked up.

"We continue on this course heading to San Benito, Texas." Francisco answered.

"Why there?" asked Mauricia.

"I liked the name. I had a good feeling, that's all." Francisco answered as he placed the children back on the sled with the boxes and waited for Mauricia to re braid her hair to begin their journey again.

Monday, March 1, 2010

A Metate and A Prayer (Ch. 22)

Two months in Matamoros felt like an eternity for Mauricia with the sweltering heat. Selling gordas on the corner was profitable but at the same time gruesome as she felt her clothes were melting off her body from the suns scorching rays. Francisco took two jobs assisting with farm animals and another shoveling coal. Mauricia kept the children close by her as they slept and played under a tent she built beside her stand. Teresa helped with the younger children and kept herself entertained by organizing her mother's condiments.

Mauricia prepared the gordas swiftly and effortlessly like flowing water in a river. She became accustomed to the heat and the goal of crossing over the family was not far behind in her mind. She felt a determination that burned inside of her just as the sweat steamed off her skin. She did not find it difficult to cook as she assisted her mother at an early age preparing Gordas in Pinos. "Mama, mama, here are the plates." Teresa placed the pile next to her mother's feet. "Gracias, mi reina." Mauricia lovingly told Teresa.

A small child ran up to Mauricia's stand, "Doña Mauricia, my mother said you received a package, come by and pick it up." "Thank you Daniel, tell your mother I will come by two o'clock the lunch hour is almost over." Mauricia continued to pat the maza, heat her gorda's and take orders from a bustling crowd of men who finished their morning shift. Within time all is still and quiet as everyone had been served and by this time the sun was intolerable. Mauricia ordered, "Teresa, pack up the condiments and I will put the other items up." Mauricia meticulously organized her items and walked a block to her living quarters. "Ay Mauricia, let me help you." her neighbor Linda runs up to get a hold of Maria del Carmen from Mauricia's already occupied hands with other items.

"Daniel said you had something for me? I wonder who it is from." Mauricia asked. Linda eagerly said, "I wonder too, open it now! Mauricia opened the box and saw a letter on top. She opened the letter and saw it was from Cipriana. Mauricia clutched the letter to her chest and said, "Oh, thank you God, my Ciprianita! I was afraid she did not get my letter about our move."

Mauricia read the letter, "My Dearest Mauricia, I hope God finds you and your family well and with health. I cannot complain, if I live to see another day that is enough of a blessing for me. I received your letter about your problems and your move. Mauricia please take care of yourself and remember you are the rock that sustains the children. They need you to be strong regardless of whatever is going on around you. Pray to God for patience and strength. I pray for you everyday and love you as if you were my own daughter. I hope that woman, Ana, will not do any more harm to you and Francisco. I will light a candle everyday for you both to enlighten your paths with God's help."

The letter continued by saying, "Everyone is well and sends you their love. In the box you will find a letter from your brother Carlos and two items I want to pass on to you. One item I cherish with all my life and it is my Nuestro Padre Jesus de Pinos shrine and photo. You will notice two small medals on it and there is a story behind this. When the Revolution was at its highest peak we were scared to leave our houses for fear of being killed. Our men would leave to work but at times some did not come back home. One day after Benjamin came out of work and was walking home a herd of Revolutionaries came and rounded up any man they found walking the streets and took them to the main square. One of Benjamin's friends lived close enough to get to his house and pass the word down the houses that Benjamin and others were taken into custody. By the time word came to me I panicked. I had just given birth to Eduardo and did not know what to do. The only thing that came to my mind was I needed to get Benjamin back. I left Eduardo with my cousin and ran to my altar. I lit all my candles and prayed to God that Benjamin not be harmed. I looked at my Nuestro Padre Jesus and told him "You need to grant me a miracle!" I carried him over to my room and wrapped him up in Eduardo's cloth diapers and put him a drawer. I told him, "I'm sorry, I have to do this but I am desperate and I will not take you out until Benjamin comes home. I have all faith in you and leave this in your hands." I ran out of the house in hopes of finding Benjamin and willing to plead for his life. I walked a couple of blocks down from the house and could hear the sounds of gunshots as they were killing each one of the men. I hurried myself as I was making my way up a steep hill and I saw a shadow coming towards me from the other side. It was Benjamin! We ran to each other and I asked if he was okay. I asked him how was he able to get away. Mauricia you know Benjamin was a funny man. I guess we can say that God blessed him with that gift. He told me when it was his turn to be questioned in line one of the revolutionaries tapped his face with his rifle and asked "And you? What is your name and who do you live with?" Benjamin said, "My name is Benjamin and I live amongst the living, sir!" His comment caught the man off guard and he let out a boisterous laugh and told him, "Your funny! Now leave before I change my mind. Run now!" Benjamin ran as fast as he could and that is where we found each other on top of the hill. Nuestro Señor has granted me two miracles one with Benjamin and one by sparing me from harm by walking alone in the streets that day. I think you need Nuestro Padre de Jesus now more than this old woman.

Mauricia looked over the patron saint of Pinos and admired him and placed him on her dresser. She picked up the letter and continued to read:

The other item in this box I took from Gertrudes' house. She passed away six months ago and died alone. I went to pay my respects and many things were being thrown out of the house and I saw this item. I immediately recognized your mother's metate (mealing stone) and remember it fondly. I used to joke with your mother about it's broken leg and she did not care as long as it still worked. I should know about this metate as I was with her when she picked it out and it was still in the same red bag your mother carried it in. I thought this is the only thing of your mother that is left and who better to have it than you. I hope to see you one day. With all my love, Cipriana."

Mauricia sighed and rubbed her hands over the metate as tears streamed down her face. "This is the closest thing I have of my mother. I remember her making gordas on this early in the mornings and carrying it on her back. I cannot believe this. I feel like a part of my mother is back with me." Mauricia looked up and smiled at Linda and said, "This was my mother's."

Wiping away her tears Mauricia hurried to open Carlos' letter. "Dearest Sister, It has been a long time since we have communicated and I hope this letter reaches you to learn the following changes in my life. I finished my term with the military as I promised you. I felt at this time in my life it was time for me to get married. I know I had no one in mind at the time but I set out on horse to Guadalajara to find a wife."

Mauricia puts her hand over her mouth as she says, "Ah! He is insane! He makes it sound so easy." She continued reading: "As I arrived in Guadalajara I came across a small town to stop for the night. The next day I walked around to find something to eat and I saw her across the street. She was petite, fair skinned, long dark hair, and beautiful. I never felt this way in my life. She took my breath away. When I went in one of the restaurants I asked the waiter about her. He hunched over to me and said, "Do not bother. She is the Mayor's daughter and she has no time for you."

"I hurried to eat my breakfast and thought this is the best time to meet her than never. I had no one to speak on my behalf for introductions. I paid my tab and determined I walked across the street. I introduced myself, she smiled, and said her name was Beatrice. I asked her questions about the town and the surrounding areas. Mauricia, I'm glad to say she was not stupid. I was afraid she was only beautiful but nothing else. Beatrice told me about the history and their agriculture as we sat underneath a tree. Time stood still for us at this point. She did not hesitate to answer or ask questions. I can tell she took a liking to me too. That was enough for me. I asked her, "Beatrice, when can we talk again? I have no time to spare and am looking for a wife." She was taken aback by my comment, and said she was not sure her family would approve. Beatrice said she was impressed by my perseverance and respect towards her. I was not pushy or obnoxious like the other men in her town. Let me tell you sister, we met six more times before we knew we were in love."

"Her father was not fond of me and made it clear he would not approve our relationship. Beatrice was heartbroken but I told her I would offer her the world if she would be my wife. I have two arms, legs, a heart and brain. God has blessed me with this and more and was willing to work hard to make her happy. I decided to do what was best for us both, before nightfall on our last visit I told her to get her belongings and run away with me. The next day we met again and this time she had her things thrown out of her bedroom window and as the sun set Beatrice and I left. We were married in the next town two days later. We are happy and looking for a place to settle down. Please write me back as I have not heard from you in some time. Your loving brother, Carlos."

"I cannot believe this man! He had some nerve, but now he seems to be happy. Good for him." Mauricia puts both letters up in a safe place in her one bedroom shack. Linda could not believe what she had heard and told her, "I will see you tomorrow, I need to finish making dinner, I don't think I need to hear any gossip today after your letters."

Mauricia beamed at her metate and knew she would happily put it to use at her stand. A short time later Francisco entered hot and sweaty from work. "I'm starving, what is there to eat?" he asked.
Mauricia pulled out his plate she had prepared and placed it in front of him as she told him about her package. Teresa and Leopoldo patted the metate as Maria de Jesus lay asleep on the bed. Francisco laughed and said he was content to see her happy for once. It had been a while since he had seen her smile.

"I have something to tell you Mauricia and it cannot wait. My cousin wrote me a letter that Ana found out we left San Luis and my mother told her we were here." Stunned Mauricia asked, "What!? Is she crazy? Why? Now we have to leave soon!"

"Mauricia! I had to tell my mother in case of an emergency. She did not tell Ana with any bad intentions. She accidently told her our location because Ana was accusing me of fleeing to avoid paying her the children's maintenance. My mother responded by telling her we were running away from no one and she knew we were staying in Matamoros. Ana then said, "okay, maybe I should try my luck across the border too." That is why my mother told my cousin to warn us."

Mauricia asked, "Where are the children?" Francisco said, "My mother found out she left them in the care of a family friend and told her she was seeking a better future for her children across the border."

Mauricia pounded on the table, "She is a liar! She has no intentions for your children other than laying around with men for favors and making our lives hell! She is not a mother to those children. Francisco, we need to go before she finds us again." Francisco looked at Mauricia and extended his hand and placed it over hers, "I know, that is why we are working through this week and we will start our journey across the border Sunday."