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Las Colinas, Mexico 1987
The gunshots did not keep up with him. Porro Camorra climbed the brick wall that separated the hacienda from the world he belonged to and jumped. Now that he was on the other side, he wondered if he would ever see Azucena again.
Only an hour earlier, the lines that had separated society since the Spanish conquest of the New World had blended with their tears, blurring all notions of class, place, and etiquette. Overtaken by happiness, he had kissed Azucena openly, in broad view. He had just finished his shift working at her father's agave farm when she came running.
"Porro, I have something important to tell you," she said.
He looked around to make sure nobody was watching.
"What is it, mi amor?" he asked, wiping the sweat from his forehead.
"What?" He thought it odd that she would hesitate.
"I'm pregnant," she blurted out.
A wrecking ball.
"It's not true."
Everything in Porro's field of consciousness turned upside down. The silence between them held unspoken accusations of rape and betrayal, his breath suspended like a kite swiftly disconnected from the string. His senses emerged from the depths of turmoil, doubt, and fear. He weighed the implications this would have in both their lives. Only a moment ago, he was the loyal servant at the Gonzalez Barista estate, the young man who had faithfully served the family since he was thirteen. Only a moment ago, she was one of the heirs to the massive wealth that had blessed the Gonzalez Baristas throughout the generations. Which way would the scales tip this time? Would the force of his love for Azucena prevail over centuries of class and race discrimination?
"I'll talk to your father," he said.
A shadow came over her face. "We'll never be able to marry. My father will never approve!" She burst into tears.
"Don Francisco is a fair man; don't underestimate him. I'll go to my room, take a shower, and dress like a gentleman. I'll go to the main house tonight and ask your father for your hand." Porro managed to smile, his white teeth glistening in the sun against his dark face.
"He'll never go for it, Porro. Not in a million years."
"You'll see. Everything will work out." He gathered his tools and put them away in the shed. "Go to the main house now and wait for me. I'll be back tonight." This could be the beginning of something huge, where the division between classes would blend in the sea of love. Then again, it could indicate the end of life as he had known it. He turned to Azucena once more and kissed her, long and tender, as never before.
Azucena turned around and walked the winding path laced with roses and cactus in bloom. She passed the gazebo with its iron benches and ornate octagonal walls. Two cement eagles guarded the steps that led to the back porch. She tiptoed inside the house.
"I saw that." Cesar came out from behind the curtains in the library. Startled, she stopped. "Wait until I tell Papá what I saw," he said.
"There's nothing to tell." She hoped he was bluffing.
"You kissing Porro? Father's not going to like that."
"I'm not afraid of you. Go ahead! Tell him. Besides, Porro is coming tonight to talk to Papá."
"None of your business."
"It is my business. You are my little sister, and I'm not going to let an Indian get involved with our family."
"Too late for that, Cesar," she sneered.
Cesar came closer to her. "What do you mean?"
She didn't respond. Instead she walked past him to her room. She had to get ready for dinner and the big moment with Porro. Cesar grabbed her by the arm. "Not so fast."
"Let me go! You're hurting me!"
"Cesar!" Their brother, Carlos, walked in, taking off his working gloves and hat. He had been in the stables supervising the new groomer. "Let her go," he said, freeing her from Cesar's grip. "What's all this about, Azucena?"
"She's a tramp!" Cesar yelled.
Sobbing, Azucena stuttered as she tried to say something, but she couldn't.
"You can tell me. I'm your favorite brother, remember?" Carlos said sweetly.
She lifted her eyes to him. "I ..." she began.
"Go on, don't be afraid," Carlos prompted.
"I ... am ... pregnant."
The world stopped turning and dead silence saturated the room, yet everything whirled around like the eye of a hurricane.
"Who's the father?" Carlos mustered.
Azucena shook her head. If anybody had a right to know, it would be her father.
Carlos pulled Azucena to his chest. "It's okay; you don't have to tell me," he said, stroking her hair. "I'll arrange for you to stay with Aunt Sofia in Ciudad Encantada. The air on the coast will be good for you, and you'll stay there until you have the baby. I'll make up some excuse for Papa."
"No way! I'm marrying Porro!" she gasped. The secret was out. "He's coming here tonight to ask for my hand." She pushed him away.
"Azucena! Papa must never know about this. It will kill him," Carlos said.
"Papa is reasonable. He will come around. Porro will prove to all of you how good he is."
"He doesn't belong with us, Azucena. Don't you understand? He can't possibly blend in. Too much mixed blood."
"I'm going to kill that bastard," said Cesar, taking a rifle from the cupboard. He opened the French doors and ran out.
The estate towered above the valley below. It was one of the biggest pieces of land owned by one of the oldest families during the settlement of the Inquisition. It comprised hundreds of acres flanked by a stream that wound around a forest and clear fields of agave. Porro knew his way around, but he realized he was trapped within the walls that surrounded it. He saw Cesar coming out of the main house with a rifle on his shoulder and began to run. In his haste, he failed to go toward the main entrance, veering instead toward the back of the hacienda, which was closed off by walls without gates. As Cesar ran after Porro, Carlos went after his brother to stop him. They kept a close distance from Porro but were unable to get him. It was getting dark quickly, and there was no moon this night.
Suddenly, Porro tripped on a branch, entangling himself in the brush. The brothers gained on him, panting like wild dogs after their prey. As Porro tried to get up, a hand pushed him down.
"We got you!" said Cesar.
"Let me go!" Porro tried to free himself from Cesar's strong grip.
"No way, amigo. You're dead!" Cesar lifted his rifle to his shoulder, focused, and pressed the trigger. Porro covered himself with his hands, waiting for sure death, but Carlos pushed Cesar's arm away from Porro and into the sky. An owl fell from a branch.
"What's the matter with you? Are you crazy?" Carlos said.
"We need to get rid of him."
"Not like this, Cesar. We wouldn't get away with it no matter what we say, and Azucena would never forgive us."
"I don't care about her forgiveness. Look what she's done to our reputation."
Realizing he was still alive, Porro seized the opportunity to spring back up and pounce on Cesar, trying to knock him down. But Cesar was stout and immovable like a statue. He grabbed Porro by the neck and pushed him back down.
"Fucking Indian," Cesar said, kicking him in the shin. "We need to do something fast." He turned to Carlos. "If Papá knows about this, he'll force them to marry."
"Papá will never accept him as his son-in-law. All we have to do," Carlos whispered, "is threaten him so he doesn't come back. We'll tell Papá that he found another job somewhere else. I doubt Porro will have the courage to come back if we threaten him."
Cesar's thirst for revenge rose up like vomit. He started kicking Porro's legs.
"Stop!" Carlos said. Then he turned to Porro and pulled him up.
Porro stood up with difficulty. His legs ached, and he had a cut under his knee. It was bleeding. Carlos looked him in the eye. "Now you listen to me, Porro, and listen well. You must leave and never come back, you hear me?" Porro didn't answer.
"I'm talking to you!" Carlos said. "Did you hear me?"
"I'm not leaving until I talk to Don Francisco," Porro said. "I'm going to propose tonight."
"You're not talking to anybody as long as I'm the eldest brother," said Cesar.
"You can't stop me."
"You lowlife, you need to know your place in the world! You don't belong with us!" Cesar said.
"I love your sister, and I want to marry her."
"You'll never be part of our family, and I'll make sure my father never finds out about this." Carlos became more forceful.
It had always been that way. He'd be stuck in the role that society had assigned to him since birth. No matter how well he behaved or how smart he was, there was no way out. His only hope was Don Francisco, who was a reasonable man. All he needed was a chance to prove to him that he was worthy of his daughter. The fact that he was willing to assume the responsibilities of a father would show, without a doubt, that his love for her was greater than their class differences.
Cesar aimed his rifle at Porro. Confident that he had cornered him, he gloated in the fear that shone in Porro's eyes and delayed the shooting, counting the seconds marked by the quick breaths coming from Porro and Carlos. Suddenly, Azucena snuck out from behind him and jumped on him. Cesar fell forward, the trigger went off, and Carlos fell backward as Porro sprinted out of the way, disappearing into the night.
The room was dark and gloomy despite the bright red and yellow walls. An old sofa sat under the window, partially covered by a white lace curtain. In front of it, a vase with fresh cut sunflowers sat on a pine coffee table adorned with Spanish ceramic tiles in bright shades of green, orange, yellow, and blue. Old newspapers lay neatly stacked in a corner of the room. In the kitchen, a pot of beef stew with jalapeños, onions, and garlic had been simmering all day, infusing the house with a spicy aroma.
"Just like that," Celestina repeated, with her hands on her waist.
"It's not so simple, Mamá. I have to leave," said Porro.
"But you have a job, responsibilities, and obligations. You can't leave like that!"
"You would never understand."
"What I don't understand is why now, why so suddenly. One moment you have a job, and the next you are packing to go to America!"
"Mamá, please, don't make me explain," he sighed.
Celestina looked at him. "What have you done, son?" she asked in a low voice, almost afraid of the answer.
I can't ...
"You are running from the law," she said knowingly.
"It's not the way it seems. I really didn't do anything wrong. You have to believe me, Mamá."
She believed him. He was a man who had been born old, carrying all the streetwise knowledge of somebody who had lived a gruesome life. He had not had a childhood like her other six children, because he had come to this life unexpected, uninvited. There had been no time left for him, for love, or care. He grew like the weeds, wild and everywhere, because of, or despite, the circumstances.
"People die crossing the border," she continued.
"I'll die if I stay."
"So you are running away." She hadn't noticed anything unusual in his behavior lately that could indicate he was in trouble. "Is somebody trying to hurt you, son?"
"It doesn't matter."
"Porro, you need to tell me what's going on."
He did not respond.
"What have you done?" she insisted.
He didn't want to lie to his mother, but how could he explain to her that he had been seeing the daughter of his employer, and got her pregnant at that?
"You'll have to accept this, Mamá." He picked up his backpack from the sofa and headed for the door. Celestina gasped.
"Don't leave, m'hijol Please! I am sure we can find a solution if you would just tell me what happened!" She began to cry.
"Excuse me." He went past her.
She intercepted him. "Don't leave, Porro! I need you! I'll tell you what. Let's go to Father Lozano —"
Porro laughed for the first time that evening, thinking how glad the priest would be if he stopped seeing Azucena. Besides, how would Father Lozano view the fact that she was pregnant?
"No, I can't see Father Lozano," he simply said.
"I still don't see why you have to leave the country. Please, Porro. If not for me, at least do it for Paco —"
"What about Paco? I can't be responsible for my brother. I tried to help whenever I could, but really, it's not my fault he's retarded." A swollen vein, thick and blue, crossed his forehead like lightning. It happened each time he got angry. "You brought him into this world, not me," he went on. He immediately regretted losing his temper, especially when it came to Paco, whom he loved more than life itself.
Celestina dreaded the vein. It'd be better to ignore the comment. Why add to his stress? He had always been considerate with his brother, and he was always reliable. Now if he left, it would all fall on her. Her other children did not help much, having moved on with their lives.
Porro looked at his watch. It was 8:00 p.m. "I must leave now," he said.
"I know." She approached him slowly, the way one approaches a spooked horse, and caressed his cheek. She wished she could take back her words, but his fury was already unleashed. Maybe he would have stayed a little longer. Maybe she would have been able to help.
He limped to the door. The wound in his leg was beginning to swell. As she glanced at him, his skin dipped in chocolate, his hair slick and straight like the feathers of a crow, she thought of his father. Like him, Porro would cross that threshold and never come back. He exuded an animal strength, uncharacteristic for a person who was only five feet tall. He seemed confident, but as his mother, she knew his spirit was trapped in a corner somewhere. He seemed so resolute and yet so vulnerable. He was running away from something fierce, dark, and menacing. What could she do to help him?
She waited for Porro to turn around at the last minute, to have second thoughts, to suddenly realize that he didn't have to leave after all, but he didn't. So she approached him instead.
"Promise me you will take care of yourself. Stay out of trouble, and always pursue the good path. Find a church and a priest to guide you. Will you let me know that you are okay at least?"
"I can't promise you any of that, Mamá. I need to go now."
He opened the front door. The street opened up dark and menacing like the mouth of a monster waiting to engulf him. He had always been afraid of the dark. But now he had no choice.
Taking a deep breath, he put his right foot forward. Facing his biggest fear, he stepped into the night.
The bus ride from Quetzal to Paso de los Valientes took eight hours. He had had to wait a couple of hours for the next available ride. The ride was smooth across the dark countryside dotted with faint, orange lights coming from the windows of the early risers. He was overcome with anxiety mixed with exhaustion. Feelings of sheer happiness for Azucena's pregnancy collided with the more urgent need to stay alive so he could one day reunite with her and marry her. He needed to sleep so he could be fresh and alert for what awaited him, but between being hungry and full of foreboding, he couldn't. The police were probably looking for him already, since Cesar would clearly take this opportunity to enlist the authorities against him, but first they would rush to Carlos's rescue, trying to save his life. By the time the police decided to go after him, he would be long gone. He hoped Carlos was not dead, since he was the nicer of the two brothers. He understood Carlos's position, and he knew that with time, he would earn the approval of Azucena's Spanish family. As far as Cesar, he had been an angry, temperamental man as long as Porro could remember, and he had had his brush with the law. Porro was surprised that Cesar had access to guns, because he knew he was on probation for assaulting a trespasser who turned out to be a contractor.
As soon as he left home, Porro had gone to his friend Alvaro, whom he had known since elementary school. Alvaro was a foreman in a construction company, and he made good money. If anybody could lend him money, it was Alvaro. Porro knew he could count on him for anything, including borrowing the $2,500 it would cost to cross the border. Alvaro put him in touch with a Coyote who was scheduled to guide a group the next day.
"I charge two thousand dollars a head, but you are joining at the last minute, so it will cost you two thousand five hundred," Coyote had said on the telephone.
Although Porro couldn't see the correlation between the two facts, he agreed. He had no choice.
By the time he got to the terminal in Paso de los Valientes, the sun was beginning to rise above the red roofs of the little houses, the dust like a veil of speckles. He could feel the power of the desert already in his veins, beckoning in a sinister, insistent manner. He could almost taste the other side.
Excerpted from "Exchange At The Border"
Copyright © 2015 Alexandra Goodwin.
Excerpted by permission of Everglades Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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