CHAPTER 1–NEW BEGINNING (Note: this is only a draft. The final version will be in the published book)
1957—A new life (rev. 2/6/15)
A loud whistle. A rumble on the floor. A high screeching of metals. I awoke. My eyes barely opened to see through the glass window long clouds of steam shooting towards shrubs and fields. Then a crescendo noise of slamming wagons. They started up front, passed our coach, and trailed toward the caboose.
I remembered. Jacobo, Roberto and I were traveling with our older brother Lalo. We were on our way to rejoin with our mother (Maria) and father (DJ). It had been six months since Maria had left Mexicali with Mario and Manolo—the two youngest—to join DJ at his hiding place. It was a small town known as Ixtlán, Nayarit. Six older brothers remained in Mexicali to take care of the house, run the store, and do any construction and carpentry business to survive on their own. As for the other three residing in the USA, they would continue to live there and make it on their own. Ixtlán was where I’d now begin my third grade.
It was a colossus, black train. The inside of our coach looked new. The upholstery was red burgundy with diamond patterns, golden buttons, and a pleasant aroma of fresh leather—we were traveling first-class.
Finally the train stopped, followed by one last ferocious scream. Outside on the open fields, people ran with baskets over their heads. Their baskets covered with white cloths left trails of steam. As they approached the train, a cloud of dust and a chorus of voices began to grow outside. Then, as if they had been resuscitated from death, the passengers rose to their feet and ran to the doors and windows.
“¡Tacos! ¡Taquitos de carneeee!” screamed the merchants as they charged through the crowds with their baskets like a cavalry into a battlefield. A short time later, the commotion died down and passengers returned to their seats with their stomachs warm with tamales and taquitos. Lalo also came back with a small load of food.
Again, the steel wheels began rolling to take passengers to their destinations.
An hour later, we arrived at a place in the desert of the state of Sonora. There, Lalo got us off. Other people came off from the other coaches and the train was soon gone; it left us standing on the dirt next to an old station; through a window we could see two people inside working in silence. It was a lonely place with so much dust around that the color on the walls of the station couldn’t be seen. On second thought, the station resembled a log cabin. The sun was high and close to the zenith and the climate felt like an oven. Another degree higher and the “log cabin” could’ve melted with its two zombies inside. With nothing to see but arid land and a small village nearby, we seemed to have landed on a ghost town, or maybe purgatory.
A lot of the people on the ground had been picked up from town stops on the way; and they looked different. Some were squatting next to the railroad tracks and some were seating on dirt—and remained like that without moving. But what was most peculiar was their luggage, which was nothing more than animals and birds in bamboo cages and chickens with their feet tied up with a strip of cloth. It was surreal.
We walked away from the station, and I began to think how some excitement could be injected to this dull and strange place. I imagined creatures popping out of holes in the ground with long forks in hand. Alas, that woman there breast-feeding her baby wrapped in her shawl is unaware of a half-man-half-goat creature with horns approaching with evil smile. The rest of the people are lost in their own thoughts and don’t see other beasts propagating around. The sky suddenly explodes and a wreath of clouds opens up with blinding light shinning down. Then the Virgen de Guadalupe appears floating on a cloud. She looks at the beasts with scorn, and the people with a Mona Lisa smile. Now, angels appear and begin to descend. The angels fight the beasts with their swords. The beasts spit fire and thrust their forks forward. The angels use their shields for protection. After a fierce battle, the angels win because there is more good than evil in these poor, simple, humble people. The battle, however, will continue at some other place, because anywhere man stands is a battleground.
Now I began to feel melancholic and wished to go home. It felt like an eternity.
Everything was so far, far away. The train station and the families scattered alongside the railroad tracks gave the uncanny appearance of a time at a stand still—a scene unchanged since the Mexican Revolution. Over yonder, amongst the heat waves, railroad tracks merged, twisted, danced, hovered, and faded. And from the open sky, the sun unleashed rays without mercy.
Suddenly, there was a faint wailing from the northeast. People came out of their trance and jumped to their feet. Everybody looked towards the infinite desert. Then, there was a second one, a third one, and it kept getting louder. Far in the stretched out distance appeared a worm crawling on a hot bed of sand.
The ancient train finally announced its presence with a deafening scream. Like thunder, it rolled out of the waves making the ground tremble. An old, corroded, dotted with bullets, mount of black metal passed in front of our eyes. My lungs seemed to burst and my teeth fall out when it blew a final powerful whistle. Then, white steam burst out of the steel wheels as it came to a stop.
The engine of the old locomotive was now at a short distance shooting columns of steam from atop that quickly vanished into the heat.
The first thing I noticed boarding the train was that the plushy seats had disappeared and now there were wooden benches—almost like the ones seen at parks. Also, this time the passengers wore simple shirts, and pants made of Ropa de Manta—white clothes made of a coarse blanket that looked like pajamas tied at the waist. For shoes, they wore huaraches with the soles made from automobile tires. The women wore long, loose cotton dresses gathered at the waist. Some were boarding with chickens hanging from their shoulders with a piece of cloth tied to their feet. Others had birds, animals and chickens in cages.
After all passengers got on board, soldiers appeared going from one wagon to the next. These soldiers, however, were a common sight in the interior of Mexico, for they had free passage to all trains—it was a way the government maintained law and order in the country at the end of the Revolution. They carried rifles on their shoulders and wore dark-green uniforms pressed with so much starch that they shined like salt and could stand on their own without being worn.
I sat on a wooden bench and crossed my arms. Uncertainty and anticipation ran amok. I tried to guess what our destination would be like: Was this the beginning of where I’d be living? Would it be a dry place with lots of cacti, with desert weeds rolling on dirt, people wearing ropa de manta, animals hanging on shoulders or in cages, and soldiers as stiff as their uniforms and carrying rifles?
What was that! A black, hairy creature dashed across the walkway; it jumped over people sleeping on the floor and ran across benches until getting lost in the luggage. It was a rat the size of a cat! Yet, nobody noticed it. I guess having a rat for a passenger was not a big deal. They had more important things to worry about… than to worry about a stinky rat. At least, it seemed that way; they hardly spoke and were lost in their own thoughts.
Hours later, Roberto and Jacobo began running up and down the walkway, until an older man coming out of the restroom stopped them cold. “This train is not a playground for children,” he barked at them. “Go back to your seats and stay there!”
When my turn came to use the restroom, I got a big surprise. I entered a little compartment at the end of the coach and saw a bottomless toilet—in the hole, the railroad cross-brazes were zooming by at great speeds.
AFTER THREE DAYS AND NIGHTS, early in the morning the conductor announced, “Next stop, Ixtlán, Nayarit.”
To my surprise, this place was no desert. On the contrary, the weather was cool, fresh, and misty. The air carried the pleasant aromas of herbs and vegetation. And, unlike Mexicali, June was the beginning of the rainy season. It was peaceful without the noise of automobiles. Instead of cars, there were horses and donkeys in yards and corrals. There were plenty of green trees, and birds chirping on high branches.
As soon as we set foot on the ground, I saw a 63-year-old man looking intensively in our direction. Right away, I recognized his clothing—khaki pants and shirt, Stetson hat, well laced shoes, all light-brown color. His stare was stern and penetrating. Who could forget those so peculiar features?
Mother’s stare was as usual—solemn and fatigued. Her face barely let out a smile.
There were no hugs or kisses—not even a handshake. We grew up that way—our father’s way. DJ never showed affection. Maybe he grew up that way himself, in a place surrounded by violence during the difficult, tumultuous time of the Revolution. After a short exchange of words about the trip, we walked in a northerly direction, passed by a corral with cattle, and continued a narrow trail amidst shrubbery and trees. There were plenty of cornfields and tall hills around. There were trees with fruit I’d never seen before; they looked like oversized string beans and were known as “quelites,” and “tamarindos.” About a hundred yards to our right was a highway, and across from it were a few scattered homes with large open lots on their sides.
After a 2-mile walk, we came up to the edge of the highway. At the other side there were three houses, empty lots by their sides, a large sugarcane plantation behind them, and a sugar refinery at a short southerly direction. Our hut was there, to the right of a blacksmith’s shop.