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La Camiseta Roja
“JAMES!” No answer. “JAAAMMMEEESS?” The cry pierced the din of the Led Zeppelin streaming from James’ bedroom. “Yeah mom?”
“Where’s that box of your old clothes? I have to deliver them to the Church for the North Korean refugees tonight.” A hurried minute later, James was downstairs with a Kirkland Signature Dried Fruit box overflowing with old shirts, caps, socks and a forlorn pair of jeans. “Thanks hun. I’m sure they’ll really appreciate this. I’m just amazed at how brave these people are. Can you imagine sneaking out of your country to try to escape to a better life? These people just want what everyone should have; freedom, comfort, and the ability to give a better life to your children. Imagine if we had to do that? I don’t know how we’d do it. It’s just amazing. We’re so lucky we live in America, where we have all that. Alright well I’ve got to run. I don’t know how long I’ll be. There’s steak left over from last night in the fridge if you want something to eat before youth group. Do you think they will have posted the photos from the African Missionary trip yet?”
“Dunno.” James shrugged “I’ll ask Corey at the welcome home party tonight.”, “That would be great. I just love young people helping those who are less fortunate.” James’ mom beamed.
“Will dad be home soon?” James asked
“Nope, he’s pulling J.B’s shift with the Minutemen. Kind man, J.B’s helping his mother move into Nazareth Hall. Oh and don’t worry, I’ll pick up your tux for Saturday on my way back.” His mom fumbled for her keys.
“Thanks. Wouldn’t want Casey to get worried that I wasn’t ready for prom. See you later. Can you take the ‘burban? I hate driving that tank.”
“Fine. The keys to the truck are on the table. See you hun. Have fun tonight!”
As the tail lights of the suburban dissolved into fading light, James Finn grabbed a New York strip and a Coke out of the fridge and crashed onto the sofa. “I don’t have to be at youth group party till 9; Plenty of time to relax and watch SportsCenter.” He mused as the latest game results flashed across the screen. Thirty minutes later, “Stairway to Heaven” emanated from his back pocket.
“JIMMAY! How’s it going man?” His best friend drawled.
“Trent! I’m good man. What’s up?”
“Well I just got a text from Emi. Like no one showed up to help set up for the party tonight and she was wondering if we could bail her out…again.” Trent snickered.
“Yet again? Gees. How many times is that now?”
“’Bout eight time. So can you make it early?”
“Yeah ok. I’ll get there as soon as I can.” “M’kay man. See ya.”
Flipping his phone shut, James sniffed his shirt, breathed into his cupped hand and decided that he was fragrantly acceptable. Clambering up behind the wheel, he threw his jacket into the back seat next to the dog’s blanket, punched in the address of the party into the GPS and keyed the F-150 to life.
Fifteen minutes later he was flying past downtown out towards a converted cattle ranch in the desert. The high beams parted the shroud of the dark freeway, as the onboard VHF radio crackled in the background. He always drove with it on to see what was happening with the Minutemen. A disembodied female voice instructed him to turn right to merge in 400 yards. Soon the well maintained freeway dissolved into a scraggly two way road. The lights of town faded into the distance like a setting sun on the horizon. The only source of light now was from his truck. James rolled down the window, flooding the cabin with the cool, dry desert air. As James scratched his back comfortably against the seat back, the beams of his headlights picked out a low, red figure. As it neared, James toed the breaks. A lifeless body lay by the wayside, dressed in red t-shirt. Small slivers of headlamps and deep screech marks fanned across the road.
“It must have been a hit and run.” His heart clamored against his ribs. “Do…do I leave him? What do I do? Is he dead? I’ve never seen a dead body” James’ mind raced and his veins bulged as his heart pumped in panic.
“Are you OK? (Of course not!)” he berated himself as soon as he asked the question.
“Aaargh…Dios mio. Que paso? Donde estoy?“ A boy, no older than himself supported himself weakly on his elbow and got now further. James’ relief that the boy was not a corpse was short lived as blood oozed from his broken nose, busted lip and slashed forehead. He began muttering to himself in Spanish, nestling his right arm. James wished he had paid more attention in Mrs. Guterierez’s class. “Hola, me llamo James. Como estas?“ The boy’s eyes widened in surprize, as if to say, “How do you think?” but managed to reply with, “Victor” as he fumbled for a worn scrap of paper in his back pack.
“I…I’m going to take you to the hospital OK. You understand?” James stammered. He opened the back door of the truck and motioned for the boy to get inside. “No, no hospital, no medico. Mi madre está aquí.” His face clouded with fear as he thrust the paper with an address on it in James’ direction. “Manéjeme aquí.” Victor again thrust the piece of paper forward, blood masking his face, blending into his shirt. “NO! Por favor! No hospital. AQUI! AQUI!”
As James stood between Victor and the truck, paralyzed with fear and indecision, the dashboard VHF crackled to life. “ALL MINUTEMEN UNITS – BE ON THE LOOKOUT FOR A SUSPECTED COYOTE IN THE AREA. A YOUNG MEXICAN MALE, WEARING A RED T-SHIRT. THE SUBJECT IS AN ILLEGAL ALIEN AND IS WANTED BY THE CBP.” Both boys jumped and James felt his mouth desiccate. James’ father’s voice boomed over the VHF. Victor’s red shirt was illuminated by the cabin light of the truck. “This…this is who their looking for…” James panicked. “What should I do?” Victor reached pleadingly towards James, while the VHF repeated its message and James made his decision.
As they drove off, James’ mind was racing. “What am I doing? Oh my God…I have an illegal immigrant…in the back of my truck…streaming blood…with a broken arm. I’m gonna go to prison! Oh my God, my God my GOD!” James screamed “Who are you? Why are they looking for you? What did you do?!”. “Ok ok amigo…calm down…I speak English. I tell you. Just please help me. I came from a small town in the desert. My parents said we had to leave for a better life on the other side. My brother is marine for America in Iraq. He find place to live. My family apply for Visa, but take so long. Things get worse in my town, you know. Con las drogas. My mother worry so much and we all scared. My father found a coyote.”
“Those are the guys who sneak people over the border right?” James remembered how his father referred to them and how their activity was increasing. “Exacto. You have to pay a lot of money. We no have enough but he said we could pay him back later. We are half way to the border and he stop the van and sat he need the rest of his money. He want me to work for him. My parents refused. He said just one job. My dad is shouting. Mi Mama is crying and crying. I tell her not to worry. I say I will see her at my brother’s. So I went.”
James’ mind is racing with his fear and with imagining what he would do in the same situation.
“After the job, I got ready to go and he held me back, saying I didn’t work enough. For three years, I have to be his coyote, taking people across the border. I almost got shot four times. Horroroso. Today was another job. Twelve people. I had never done that many before. But they see us.” Those must have been the Minutemen, James thought. “They start chasing us. We try to lose them, but the CBP come. I drive to some bushes and tell everyone to get out. We all jump out and run away. I think some get caught, but I just keep running and running. I don’t know what happen. Then you come.”
James was dumbstruck. Here was a kid his age, who, on the outside was no different, but had been through a nightmare just because of where he was born. He just wanted to get back to his family. Everything his father had told him screamed that what he was doing was wrong; that by doing this he was bringing down the country. He could go to h*ll for helping an immigrant. James reached out for the piece of paper. It was pretty close, only an hour away. He began to tremble, knowing his decision would be permanent. He held his breath
"Well, all right then, I'll go to h*ll" and he keyed the address into the GPS.
James checked the display. Only thirty minutes to go. The outskirts of a town appeared in the distance. Victor was groaning softly in the back seat. His face had stopped gushing, but his arm was turning black from the pooled blood. His condition only increased James’ tension. “I need to get him help soon.” A police siren approached from the distance. He froze, pulse pounding. “They’re not coming for me. They’re not coming for me.” His mantra did nothing to ease his nerves. His back stuck to the seat, crunching like muffled Velcro. His eyes were peeled and bulging, darting for any signs of trouble. DING DING DING. He jumped. “Oh great, low gas. That’s the last thing I need.” Searching through the GPS, he found a gas station five miles away. “We can make it. We can make it.”
Several tense minutes later, the illuminated “GAS” sign emerged. “James, you have to hide me. They look for a Mexican boy in a red shirt.” After a second’s pause, James had a solution. “Quick, swap T-shirts with me and hide under that blanket back there. No one will see you under there.” Slowing down just enough to exchange shirts, they finally pulled into the station. James winced at the clammy stickiness of the blood soaked shirt.
The sound of rushing gas soon broke the silence of the deserted station. James paced nervously. Then in the distance, the sound of crunching gravel signaled an approaching vehicle. James leaned against the passenger door and rubbed the back of his neck, trying to look relaxed. The new vehicle was stuffed with all sorts of furniture. “Well hey there buddy! What chu doin’ way out here?” It was J.B., Dad’s slovenly Red Neck friend from the Minutemen “Well I was…a…heading to the youth group party, you know the one for African Missionary Group?” James stammered a bit. “Oh sure. Sounds like a good time. But that’s miles away isn’t?” James froze “Yeah…I uhh…kinda forgot to fill up before I left.” “Awww buddy, you aught to know better than that! Ya never head out inter the desert without fillin up. What would yer Dad say? Well ya won’t do it again will ya? So, you lookin pretty nervous there buddy.” James’ eyes widened. “Ah yeah you got prom tomorrow right?” James wished J.B. would just leave. “Well that’s good. Ya know somethin’.” All emotion left J.B’s face as he leaned forward. “You aught to be arrested.” James couldn’t breath. “…For breaking so many girls hearts.” J.B. guffawed at his own brilliant wit. Just then the radio in the truck crackled with the same announcement as earlier. “MAN, of all the nights I take off, I miss the one with some serious action goin’ on. Don’t worry though, if there’s anyone who can catch this coyote fella, its got to be yer Dad. No one escapes him.” J.B.’s attention quickly shifted. “Hey, nice red shirt…you know they’re looking for you! HAHAHHE Oh man…say can I borrow some tie downs from you? My mom’s cat bed is about to fly off the back.” “Yeah yea sure, there are some in the back seat” “Thanks” As J.B. moved toward the backseat, James remembered Victor. “Hey I can get those for you.” “Nah, its no problem, I can do it.” James frantically tried to draw J.B. away as he pawed at the door handle. “I’ll meet you at your truck. You start fixing the bed.” J.B. turned around. “Alright buddy. Meet you there.” James clambered inside and extracted the red ties from under Victor. “How you doing?” His only response was a muffled groan. James handed the ties to J.B. who was smothered in feline paraphernalia. Suddenly, there was a thump behind him and James wheeled around in fright. The gas had finally stopped. “Hey J.B. I’ve got to run. I’m already late. You can give these back to my Dad next time you’re on watch”.
“Ok buddy, take care.” James tried not to run back to his truck. Within a couple of minutes both he and Victor were back on their way.
They soon came to the outskirts of the next town. Small apartment complexes and run down shopping centers littered the landscape. “Please turn… right at…Mira Costa Avenue…in 1.3 miles” “Almost there Victor.” The swelling in his arm had increased, but seeing that they were almost there brightened his mood and he started looking around expectantly. After making the turn, they arrived along a row of two story apartments. “My brother said the place had a Mexican and a Marine flag out front.” And there, at the end of the block, waving like sun burnt arms, were the flags. “Here we are.” Victor was at a loss for words until they reached the front step. “I never think I get here.” Faint yellow lights could be seen through the glass at the top of the door. As the doorbell resonated through the night, muffled sound of a TV could be heard inside. The steps neared the door. A man froze in the doorway “V…Victor?...Eres tu? Que te pasó con el brazo?” A woman’s voice screamed his name from the kitchen. Within minutes the rest of Victor’s family had rushed to the door and encircled him. His mom was sobbing in Spanish, while his sister clung to him, beside herself. Victor faced James. “Muchas gracias hermano. I have my family again. I have life now.” That was the first time James saw him smile that evening. The tension that had been building up all evening had finally released. James felt oddly exhausted and out of place. He made his way back to the truck and flipped open his phone as he got behind the wheel. 15 missed calls. He must have hit sound off.
Pulling into the driveway after two hours, the green dashboard clock read 2:35. He knew he was grounded. Prom was probably a no go. James winched at the thought of how Casey would react to the news. Before he got even half way to the front door, he could hear his father’s voice. “WHATINTHEH*LLDOYOUTHINKYOU’REDOING? YOU WORRIED YOUR MOTHER SICK. DO YOU KNOW HOW MANY TIMES WE TRIED TO CALL YOU? WE EVEN CALLED THE MINISTER AND HE SAID YOU NEVER SHOWED UP TO YOUTH GROUP! WHERE THE H*LL DID YOUYOU’RE YOUR MOTHER HAS BEEN CRYING FOR HOURS. CAN YOU IMAGINE WHAT WE WOULD DO IF WE LOST YOU?” Normally James would have cowered like a dog with its tail between its legs, but considering what he had just done that evening, he couldn’t see anything wrong with what he had done. He could see his parents’ silhouettes in the doorway. James’ father stormed towards the steps “I HOPE YOU’RE PROUD OF YOURSELF!!!” His parents stopped and their eyes widened as they saw him. James smiled as he tugged at his new red shirt.
“You know what? I think I am.”