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The Spirit of a Lion
My final week in Belize flew by; neighbors, relatives, and friends brought me hugs and items of ‘good luck’ for my journey. My Abuelito came into the house on my last day and brought his lucky broach. It twinkled in the sun and was carved into his favorite animal, a mockingbird. He fastened it on the inside of my overcoat, gave me a kiss on the cheek, wished me all the happiness and success I deserved, then walked out of the little house. Then came my Abuelita. Her body looked more and more like the thin hay out in the field every day. She was about to hit eighty-five years of life next month, but her face looked double that with the years and years in the sun. She had wrinkles that were embedded deep into her skin and piercing eyes that allowed her not to speak. She shuffled her way up to me and held my hand as she slipped a cutout into it and embraced me in a long final hug. There was nothing else to say. I held a photo of the American flag as I tightly hugged my Abuelita. She had told me tales during my childhood of moving to the Unites States and the opportunities that lived there. She used to say “America is the small blind mouse, and you, Arion, are the strong cat, waiting to devour it whole.” It sounds weird, yes. But, it means a lot to me. A better future, education, a life I would not be able to achieve in my tiny village in Belize. As we broke our embrace, she looked deep into my soul and shuffled out of the tiny house for the final time.
As dusk began to approach, I got everything I needed. I stuffed two canteens of water, a lightweight blanket, several family photos, six hundred dollars, a jacket, and an extra pair of clothes into my flimsy duffle bag. I threw it over my shoulder and cautiously made sure my mockingbird was still on the inside of my jacket. The spirit of a lion raged inside me, and the light evening wind began to pick my long dark hair up and out off my face. The wind whipped my bare skin as I stood on the porch overlooking everything I had ever known. The endless sapodilla trees, heliconia flowers, jungle bushes, and hundreds of different shades of green covered the horizon. A scarlet macaw landed regally on a fire-bush on my left, and a tear cascaded down my cheek. The fear breached like a whale in my stomach, and I skipped down the front steps, never looking back.
The seemingly endless dirt road, which connected my home to the village, felt interminable. The fear bubbled deep in my stomach. I knew I could turn around and run back into my Abuelita’s arms, however, I kept walking. My feet pushed me farther down the three-mile path to my future and as the wind died, the sticky heat swaddled the earth like a mother would her infant child.
As the moon winked at me through the clouds above, I approached a man, who I assumed was Felix my coyote. Abuelita made the arrangements and I was supposed to meet Felix behind the church as the stars began to dance in the moonlit sky. The moon glowed especially bright that evening, and the mosquitos played hide and seek with the light bulbs behind the church. The hot humid air stuck to my body like mud and I looked cautiously at my traveling partners.
Felix had two other companions. A towering man veiled in gang tattoos named Ricardo, and Louis, a skinny guy, probably around my age who had eyes like a rabbit. He reminded me much of Abuelita because of the way his eyes sunk into his head, and his skin was a dark golden brown.
Standing in the shadows, behind Felix, four figures caught my eye. The tallest man had a powerful build, furrowed eyebrows, eyelids swollen with tears, and a protruding chin. He stood with an elegant woman with a delicate face and jet-black hair. And on either side stood two handsome young boys with strong frames, prominent cheekbones, and unblinking, wide eyes.
They all resembled each other and made me wish I could go to America with my family, instead of traveling alone.
My eyes left the family, and I cautiously handed Felix my six-hundred dollars. He nodded as he flipped through the money. He gracefully lit a cigarette and took a cavernous breath and exhaled it as he continued to count. He bobbed his head in agreement and began to walk down the dirt road with his two eerie goons trailing.
I followed him as I walked with the family, and I learned the father was a doctor whose name was Miguel, his wife’s name was Josefina, and their sons’ names were Jose and Juan. They said they were trying to go to Oregon, where they were going to work on a family’s ranch. Once the road ended, Felix ushered us soundlessly through the saturated jungle.
Typically I would have thought the floral and fauna was breathtaking, but Felix told us to hang low in the shadows. We meticulously took each step and even the dirt dared to take only a small soundless breath. Five fingered tropical ferns created a cave and millions of different critters thrived in it. Even through the darkness, I could sense the presence of other people hiding in the gloom. So, I made sure to stay close to Felix as I held onto the straps of my backpack. The deeper into the jungle we went, a thick, dense aroma of fresh earth and exotic flowers washed over me. It was overpowering and almost made me forget what I was about to pursue. A fantasy washed over me and it was like I was back with my Abuelito playing hide & seek with my little cousins.
After hours of walking in the silent jungle, a roaring sound made the hairs on the back of my neck stand straight. The ground moaned as hushed, new footsteps came barreling in our direction. The noise dangerously danced in my ears and a new fear fizzed in my stomach.
Felix calmly pulled us deeper in the bush and told us to stay quite. The minutes felt like hours and Josefina held her sons tightly as immense men flew past our hiding spot.
They held monstrous bone-chilling guns and all wore rich dark green clothes. The most substantial man in the front of the pack had war paint and wore a black banana. He had beady eyes like a methodical and ruthless beast. Each muscle was the size of a coconut, and from my hiding spot I could distinguish the gargantuan tattoo’s covering his body. It manifested dates, skulls, and flames, and under his right eye he had seven black tear drops.
His gun scanned the jungle, and I held my hand over my mouth from calling out in fear.
The pistol glared at me from its holster and to my left, a noise filled the still jungle, like an army of soldiers sent to attack. Josefina had let out a small, life changing cough. The noise arose from her throat like a stampede of horses. The leader released a battle cry and galloped towards us guns a-blazing. I pressed my body against the moist earth, and I prayed to God, they would not find us. However, that seemed very unlikely.
The sound of howling bullets ricocheting off the jungle plants made my blood curdle. I did not dare to lift my face from the mossy ground. Selfishness washed over me while screams ripped through the night. As Josefina jumped to protect her sons, a single bullet gracefully flew in her direction. Like an elegant trapeze artist, the bullet found his way nicely in Josefina’s left temple. The thud of her body hitting the floor made my heart cry out. Jose wailed as he watched his mother take her final breaths. Similarly to a broken pipe, a pool of blood quickly surrounded her body.
Josefina’s murderer tromped behind her sons and stood peering down at them. With no regard for human life he raised his automatic handgun from his pocket. The young boys innocently stared at their mother, as she lay lamented on the ground. I heard a terrible heart wrenching howl from Miguel as he cried out for his children to run away. He was being pinned back by Luis and Ricardo, and tears the size of grapes endlessly flowed from his eyes.
The click of the safety switch being turned off rocked my body. The disgusting man laughed, and the gun glimmered as it spit out bullets in a fury of fire. The first round hit Juan once in the neck and several times in his skull. Then, in four quick shots in the chest, Jose fell on top of his mother and brother.
I lay shaking, not daring to make a sound, so my hiding spot would not be given up. Felix appeared behind the ruthless beast and tied a bandana similar to the one he was wearing across his face. He smiled, and even the shadows held their breath. Luis and Ricardo shoved Miguel towards the other men. He cried, shook, and his face was a dark purply-brown.
“Please,” he said. “You have already killed me.”
The man who killed his family approached him stealthily like a hungry snake. He whispered in Miguel's face, “If that’s what you wish for,” and laughed as he swiftly whipped a dagger attached to his right leg and carelessly slit his throat. Miguel dropped to the ground and blood sprayed everywhere.
The man turned to Felix and asked, “Was that everyone?”
Felix laughed as he kicked Miguel’s slain body out of the way. “Well Ignacio, their is one more girl, but we don’t have to worry about her.”
“What! Felix this isn't everyone!” declared Ignacio in a way which could spoil milk.
“We must find her!” He yelled.
I clawed at the dirt, trying to bury myself, so I would not be found. I could hear the other men breathing, and the sound of my heartbeat echoed in my ears. I felt my mockingbird pin and felt a small amount of safety wash over me. I imagined what Abuelita was doing, and I prayed to the fairest stars in all the heaven, that she was alright.
The buzzing of insects and the sickening sound of my fate reared and plunged around me. Shall I compare my fear to a hot summer's day? It was overpowering and nauseating. The smell of testosterone and the sound of guns bumping together made every bird stop chirping. The crunching of boots on the jungle floor reminded me how an evil tree was lurking in the shadows, and I was not safe yet.
Again, Ignacio raised his voice and boomed, “we cannot just leave the girl!”
Luis stepped out of the shadows and rejoined, “Honestly Ignacio, we don't have to worry about her. She's a girl and is feeble. If we don't kill her, some other gang will.” His little rabbit eyes darted around. The other men seemed uneasy and looked at each other. Ignacio sighed and slung his gun around his back. He looked at them and spat, “Fine, but if she sells us out, I will kill you.”
Luis retreated back into the gloom and I took small, quiet breaths. I lay motionless, not daring to move. The sound of their retreating footsteps allowed me to catch my breath. I closed my eyes, and slowly escaped into another world. I dreamt of Abuelita and the lime popsicles she used to make. Different flowers swirled in my dream and Abuelito’s drum playing took me right back home.
The night passed and the first rays of morning tiptoed through the tropical forest. Spoonbills, grebes and the jabiru stork flew regally in the sky’s above. The jungle orchids waltzed in the gentle breeze, and the warm sun beamed down on me from above. A beautiful Toco Toucan chirped on top of a colorful hibiscus bush. Slowly I got up, but the wind howled its mighty objection. The smell of death washed over me, and quickly, I was back to reality.
Blood covered the poinsettias and breadfruit trees which loomed around us. The once striking smell stank like rotting meat with a couple drops of cheap perfume. The corpses of the once hopeful family reeked, and I seized my duffle and ran as fast as I possibly could. As the world blurred around me, Annato shrubs clawed at my ankles and I swatted banana tree palms out of my way. A huge branch moaned as I swung from it. I ran for what felt like an eternity until my legs gave up and I fell. My life came screeching to a halt. Sadness swallowed the earth as I fought to stay afloat. Thorns dug at my knees and gnats buzzed in my ears, but I did not care. I allowed the blood from my knees to slowly drip onto the wilderness floor. Hours passed and as I cried, a new rain came down in long, sharp knitting needles. I let the rain kiss my bare skin, then slowly I got up. I once again grabbed my duffle and began to walk.
“And that is how I ended up here,” I say slowly.
The men sitting across the desk nod, tears in their eyes. “All my Abuelita ever wanted was a better life,” I say quietly. The tall man with red hair on the left nodded, and the Middle Eastern looking man on the right looked away. I clutched the mockingbird pin and the sun winked at me through the little window.
“I walked all the way from the Belizean jungle, through Guatemala, and to Oaxaca, Mexico where I jumped on the back of a train, and rode it all the way here, to Mexico, City,” I say as the men nodded.
“I ask this with all my heart, to the American Embassy and the American people, please allow me to enter your country,” as I say this, I could hear America calling my name. The End