Pedro Andrade is a stand up comedian and writer living in Portland Oregon. He was born in Michoacan Mexico and has lived in California and Washington State. This is his first published work.
“A SI SE DICE?”
“Llévate a Jose, y pregunta por el bas.”
“The lady said we would hear.”
“Diles que no hablo inglés.”
“It won’t matter. All the buses are late, they’ll announce them.”
“Entonces para que te sirve el inglés Rodrigo? Que te lleves a tu hermano. ¡No te vuelvo a decir!”
Rodrigo calculated a way through the chaotic station that suddenly looked like the images he saw in history books of soldiers waiting for deployment and hippies at Woodstock. Travelers leaning on walls like middle schoolers at their first dance. Men manspreading on benches and on the floor, faces feeding on the menu of crime and sports in whatever issue of The LA Times was left behind. He noticed a group of Christians at the terminal’s entrance, warning everyone like an unpaid light bill that the end was near. He’d seen that before but not people hustling, shoving, damn near fighting, to unload a van for a few dollars.
Rodrigo stood, rubbed his palms over his jeans and called his brother, “Let’s go.”
“Apa, can we have money for chips please?” he asked.
“Y con qué dinero!?”
The boys found a line and waited while the man at the counter repeated himself between coughs and sips of vending machine coffee.
"The drivers are on strike, buses are running late.”
Two weeks ago, the boys sat with their mother waiting her turn to see a palm reader. A couple and a young man joined them along with a San Martin De Porres statue, candles like baseball bats, Jesus crucifixes of various races, and the smell of incense. Next door their father and a Korean shoe-store owner negotiated the price of a social security card. The psychic’s voice carried like a semi-truck through the Virgen-print curtain up for privacy. Rodrigo had fun listening to the psychic give customers the same reading.
“You’re a good soul. However, I’m sensing an evil.”
"Someone in your family will fall into some money soon.”
It’s almost tax season!
“Someone wants to take it.”
“I can help!”
What if the landlord gets help too?
“But it’s going to cost.”
“That, I knew.”
The boy warned his mother. She pulled one of his ears and reminded him he was there to help, not chismiar.
The psychic's gold bracelets giggled as she examined Rodrigo’s mom’s hands like a farmer checking for bruised fruit. A black shawl covered her head and a turquoise-colored dress went down to her flip-flops. Purple fingernails looked like paintbrushes when she talked with her hands. The psychic decided on the left, and moments later the boys and their mother were back on the street left to imagine how their lives would have turned out if they would’ve had the hundred dollars the psychic charged for a limpia, or he’d been old enough to accept the job she playfully offered Rodrigo.
The man behind the counter told Rodrigo what he already knew and the boys returned to their father with a shrug.
“Que nos esperemos.”
A defeated Lupe fished his jean pocket for change. Imitation Vans screech toward the snack machines. Four cups of coffee, a half a pack of GPC’s, and the reality of his family leaving California with what they could fit in a few gym bags and a prayer rested in his stomach. He swore under his breath and heaven that if Socorro was there to watch the boys and he spoke better English, he'd tell them to give him the keys. He’d drive the fucking bus himself.
Lupe surveyed the terminal. The permanent scowl on his brown face made him look as approachable as a rusty nail. His face relaxed when he noticed a cholo squatted by the snack machines, khakis, and white shirt neatly pressed, sunglasses as shiny as his Stacy Adams. The brown paper bag resting by the cholos' feet like an unleashed puppy reminded Lupe of the promise he made, so he pulled a copy of El Libro Vaquero from one of the gym bags and tried reading but gave up two pages in. While his sons argued over who was going to shot call the bag of chips, Lupe reached in his pockets and fed the coin operated television. He turned the dial, looking for something familiar, and stopped on an episode of Gilligan’s Island.
Socorro and Doña Maria prepared breakfast. The smell of chilaquiles, coffee, tobacco, and her husband's over-the-rainbow stories of how well things were going for his sobrino in America ushered in the day.
Out of all her husband’s vices, Socorro disliked smoking the most. She didn't see anything wrong with an occasional cigarette but what was the point of blowing smoke in and out of your mouth all day? She imagined a smoker's insides looked like hot coals.
Socorro swatted away smoke, covering a cough, which Lupe knew meant to put out his cigarette. She was taller than Lupe and it secretly made him self-conscious and that’s why in most family pictures he’s carrying one of his sons. She set a plate in front of him and pushed his hand away when he pulled at her mandil.
Socorro listened to the rain crashing on their roof. It made her think of the time she raced Gloria after school to prove who was really the maestro's favorite reader. Gloria had had enough of Socorro being asked to read out loud in class. Not that Gloria was jealous of Socorro’s reading, she could’ve had a future in audiobooks. She had a crush on the teacher and didn’t like sharing the stage.
When telling her schoolmates Socorro was just a show-off didn’t make Gloria feel any better, her only option left was to challenge her rival to a foot race. Socorro was indifferent about the teacher, Sports, and winning, but growing up with three brothers, she didn’t bully easily and she knew Gloria’s brother Guadalupe would be there to watch the race too.
Gloria's pre-victory celebration included telling kids she was going to put that show-off, Socorro, in her place. Socorro prepared with a sign of the cross, asking her nephew Rica to hold her books, and pretending she didn’t notice Lupe smoking among a group of his future compadres. On Rica’s count of three the girls would race from school to Don Rafa’s store.
“TRES!” And they were off.
Socorro closed her eyes as raindrops crashed on her light brown skin, hair braid swinging behind her. She heard Lupe cheering and opened them.
“CÓRRELE QUE TE ALCANZAN!”
Gloria ran like there was an engine under her green dress. Cheers grew louder and rain fell harder. Socorro ran confident as a fish until her muddy shoe hit a rock sending her knee first into a puddle.
After the laughing died down, Lupe scolded his sister for boasting, then offered to walk Socorro and her bloody knees home. Socorro liked showing the scar on her knee after telling the story like an uncle warning you what happens when you go looking for trouble. While Socorro spent her summers with family in the capital, working as a nanny for a Russian family, Lupe and his brother Eduardo hopped trains to the tomato harvest in Nayarit.
They shared a passion for danzón and in the fall, made regular appearances at bailes. The smell of sulfur shifted Socorro’s attention from teenage love back to breakfast. Doña Maria joined her son at the table. Smoke danced at the end of her cigarette like ghosts and Socorro quietly pleaded with God for her sons never to touch cigarettes.
As usual, her mother-in-law was being frugal with her words, saving them for prayer and screaming at luchadores when wrestling came to town. Socorro was more like her own mother who preferred conversation with her coffee in the morning. That morning Socorro borrowed from both of them with questions and silent pleas as she prepared plates.
“Y con qué dinero vas a andar tu por aya?”
“Vendo una vaca y con lo que me preste Rica.”
“Y tus hijos que?”
“Pos voy a trabajar. ¿Qué más? Ahorro y mando por ustedes.”
Over the years, the rancho had made its way to California. Sobrinos and sobrinas there spoke two languages, celebrated Halloween and quinceañeras, played baseball and soccer. Imagining her sons in a Chivas jersey, kicking, and screaming words she didn't understand, Socorro realized she hadn’t heard her sons fighting. Just then her father-in-law shuffled into the Kitchen, shirt untucked, an unlit cigarette between his fingers.
“Vayan a ver dónde andan aquellos canijos.”
Outside, Jose sat on the ground, his muddy face chewing on a concha, while a muddy Rodrigo chased Chamuco, Don Rafa’s dog, with a stick. Their mother’s screams flew out of the kitchen window as Lupe rushed out unbuckling his belt.
Don Rafa showed his forearm, recounting the size of the last catfish he netted, mouthwatering in anticipation of the delicious fish caldo his wife was preparing. If the phone hadn’t interrupted them, Lupe would’ve used a calf to exaggerate the size of his latest catch. While the soup-craving store owner struggled with the knotted phone cord, Lupe moved closer to the machine. Don Rafa and Rica exchanged saludos and then it was Lupe’s turn to untangle the cord.
Don Rafa settled behind the register, the top of his bald head peaked out from behind the comic book he pretended to read. Five years earlier, his wife warned him about putting a telephone in the store prophesying that it would wake them up in the middle of the night. Don Rafael argued the phone could be turned off, and having a phone in the rancho meant people wouldn’t have to drive to town. The phone was installed and soon the store became the heartbeat of rancho chisme.
Don Rafa knew Juan Curiel got deported for selling drugs and was in Tijuana waiting to cross again. Chuy Vazques and his wife, a Chicana, planned on visiting the rancho in December for the fiestas with their kids. Only one of them is Chuy’s. Arturo Andrade made it to Arizona safely and is sending money for a coyote so his wife can join him soon. Don Rafa hadn’t considered that some calls were going to be harder to eavesdrop on than others until the day his sister received a message saying her daughter was in a car accident in some American city they couldn’t pronounce and would never eat or shit again without help.
Back on the phone, Lupe could tell Rica was anxious for him to get to California and Rica knew his uncle’s pride wouldn't let him ask, so he offered him a loan for a coyote. There were no promises of wealth. Striking it rich only happens in lottery drawings and novelas. They both knew that.
The plan was for the boys to learn English so they could get good jobs when they returned to Michoacan. Why keep coming back and forth from Nayarit when he could work surrounded by primos and earn more than he could hope for in Mexico and spend weekends pistiando? Lupe could save to build a house, buy his wife a nice dress, and take her dancing once in a while.
With a beer buzz softening his heart, Lupe accepted Rica’s offer. Hanging up the phone, Lupe studied the calendar with an image of Saint Jude on the wall. As many times as he’d seen it, he’d never noticed the size of the gold Jesus medallion hanging around Saint Jude’s neck. Lupe shook his head, thinking if the saint would’ve just sold the jewel, maybe he wouldn’t have felt so hopeless. He asked Don Rafa for another beer.
Lupe made his way to California, worked, and repaid Rica. One year later, Socorro and the boys arrived in Tijuana accompanied by her father- in-law. If she harbored any fear now that it would be her turn to make the journey with two children, she hid it like a secret identity. There were no signs of it waiting in a tiny hotel room, along with a couple from Zacatecas, for the coyote. No signs of it when the man turned out to be the same age as her nephew, and they followed him blindly onboard a bus, and then got off to wait for their next ride, outside a grocery store. No signs of it when a van pulled up and the kid told them to get in, or when they ended up hiking a few miles and had to run for cover from a small plane. No signs of fear when they found themselves on the side of a highway and were picked up by a woman who drove them to Los Angeles. She didn't let it show when they got dropped off at a house and were separated from the couple. Sensing her calm, and anxious to see their father again, her sons were obedient as boy scouts during the crossing. When Jose fussed halfway through, a candy bar from the coyote helped. It was dawn when they arrived at Rica’s.
Lupe and his wife are sitting outside of a small stucco house waiting for their sons to come home. He knows he’s at the end of a dream. Instead of hills and blue skies, there are tall, dark buildings. Socorro’s brown arms hide under a black rebozo covering her shoulders. Lupe stares out again expecting to see a valley, then back to his wife, but she’s gone. A dog barks in the distance. The barking becomes louder, violent as if running towards him, but he doesn’t see the animal, only buildings, and in a panic wakes up.
Working under the sun was not like working under the son of a gringo. A habit of welcoming criticism with a “chingada madre!” and broken equipment forced Welch Food Inc. and Lupe to part ways. He hung on for almost three years after Rica got him the job.
With the threat of an immigration ambush separating his family, Lupe looked for jobs until he found one cleaning one of the buildings he'd often walked past. Loading a cart with toilet seat covers and soaps on his first day, Philip, his partner, acquainted him with the job.
“The land is made of milk and honey. It's going to get messy. Someone has to clean it,” he explained.
“You can buy new tits here, but they can’t imagine why anyone would risk their lives coming here? Descendants of people that built pyramids still standing today, outsmarted by a man-made border? Imagine. I bet you never saw yourself cleaning bathrooms when you decided to come here, huh? My wife says she shit outside until she was fifteen. She was a lawyer in Honduras. Kept people out of jail. She’s learning English now and who knows, one day she might be a lawyer here too! Then again, maybe we’re all fucked and don’t know it yet. You might as well meet this wreck of a life head-on and hope the impact kills you instantly, right? Aren’t most Latinos Catholic? You're hunted like animals here. Madre de Dios! The city is named after the Mother of God! You climb out of one hole, only to find out there’s a bigger hole. I didn’t know you smoked. Spare one? Thanks! Like I was saying, we get paid once a week. We take breaks when we can. The workers don’t like us talking to them. Just do what I do and you’ll be fine. It’s still early. Are you hungry? Let’s clean the break room. It was someone's birthday yesterday.
Sometimes there’s extra food, so sometimes I mop the floor so nobody can get in and see what I can find. Vámonos amigo!”
The family found an apartment at the Brae Hotel. Cheap and they didn’t ask for proof of income or ask questions like, “Is this social security card that looks like it was printed on the back of a Chinese restaurant menu, valid?” Stack fifty dollars over six hundred and you could rent a studio on the top floor that came with a hot plate, that’s it. Clothes hung to dry on the windows overlooking the open-air drug sales and routine police raids happening on the block like a prototype for a police drama.
Socorro stayed home with Jose while Rodrigo went to school or played in the graffiti-covered halls welcoming the hopeless. Children ran up and down fire escapes playing cops and robbers. The team jerseys they wore said Raiders and Rams, not Chivas. The English their sons learned made the couple proud and suspicious. The gulf widened every time Lupe drank and listened to rancheras at full volume, in part so his sons would know that no matter how much they listened to “esa música de Negros, nomás hable y hable,” they came from a rancho.
When the first earthquake hit, Abuelo, the pot- bellied, eternally-shirtless Cuban landlord, reassured tenants at the Brae Hotel that they were safe. As comforting as Abuelos’ name was, images of bodies being pulled from rubble in Mexico City years earlier were still fresh in tenants' memories. Rumors ran throughout the city like marathons. Another earthquake was coming. The big one. Half of California would sink into the ocean. The other half, God help them. The tenants of the Brae Hotel agreed that if the world was ending, it was safer to camp on the sidewalk while it happened, or until Jorge Ramos and Maria Elena Salinas reassured them it was safe to go back inside.
The earth trembled again and each time tenants ended up back on the sidewalk or in McArthur Park. Years later, if anyone asked Rodrigo if he’d ever been camping, he’d say yes.
A box of Red Delicious apples arrived in the mail with enough packing fiber to fuel a daycare center for a month. When he wasn't gutting sturgeon, bass, or catfish, Lupe’s brother, Eduardo, worked on a farm up north in a place with a name like the Spanish word for long ears, orejón. A postcard with an image of a man fishing on a frozen river invited Lupe to long ears. He taped the postcard to the front door like an out-of-order sign. Lupe couldn’t leave Socorro alone with the boys this time. A short prayer promised sobriety in exchange for a miracle.
The apples were slowly consumed and the box they arrived in morphed into Socorro's knitting container and a canvas Rodrigo used to practice writing his name in the style he saw names like Lefty, Negrito and Boxer written in the hallways he played in during school breaks. Rica had become a magician with a car engine and a case of beer. That was his rate, and on any given Saturday, cars would be seen pulling out of his driveway feeling like new. His passion for cars was so strong that it wouldn’t allow him to give up on one, even during a carjacking. Rica had been waiting for his son’s pregnant girlfriend to finish her shift, when two men pointing guns approached him demanding his Cutlass Supreme. One tried to physically remove the defiant Rica through the driver's side window. Seeing his partner struggling with the stocky Rica, and knowing they only needed the rims, the other fired and Rica’s insides decorated the car's interior. When it was over, Rica, who came to America in search of a new life, died in a Wendy’s parking lot, protecting a used car.
Socorro wore black for weeks after the funeral. She carried Rica when he was a baby, witnessed him grow into a man and a father. Rica was one of the few people that made her laugh although his mouth got him into trouble. More than once, Socorro had needed to stop an older boy from kicking his ass. She would be mad at him, he would do an impression of Don Rafa or Gloria, and all would be forgiven. Rica was the reason her family came to America. Now he would be the first buried here.
On the day of the funeral, Lupe removed his brother’s postcard from the door, folded it, and began carrying it in his wallet like its scent would attract good fortune.
A scream and moments later. Jose and Rodrigo’s head popped out of a window like the ice cream man was rounding the corner. A woman's body lay naked on the sidewalk. Socorro warned her sons about staring out the window like chismosos while their father sat by the window alternating between the tragedy and an episode of Star Trek. Captain Kirk trapped on some planet again.
When paramedics arrived hours later, the sun was up and the neighborhood had covered the body, and set up a candle vigil.
Socorro muttered a padre nuestro crumbling queso over beans and wiped her hands on a watermelon-print apron resting over some dishes on top of a mini fridge. She sat by the window to rest before Lupe and the boys came back from the store. Police combed the street and the building after the coroner picked up the body. She stared out at the sky littered with smog and buildings, imagined the clouds that covered the rancho, closed her eyes, and continued to pray.
Serial killers are horrible for society, good for gun sales. A small surplus inspired Lupe’s job to raffle a nine millimeter a week before some paisas took a break from a sidewalk oil change to welcome Richard Ramirez back to Los Angeles with a beat down. Not usually a gambler, or given to vigilantism, Lupe spent the five dollars on a ticket and won. He thanked God and La Virgen for giving him something to protect his family. With the money Abuelo gave him for the gun, he bought one-way bus tickets to Oregon.
Lupe and the boys walked back from the gas station. Lupe’s appetite returned by the time the bus reached Redding. Cigarette smoke escaped from picketers huddled by the idling buses. The acronyms on the signs they carried reminded Lupe of the ones he saw on posters in the breakrooms he cleaned. He worked on a gas station hamburger, while the boys dipped their hands in a bag of pan dulce and made imaginary bets on how soon they would start seeing snow. If they saw some by the next stop, Rodrigo owed Jose a hundred dollars.
Lupe thought it would be a good idea for Jose to use the station bathroom instead of the one on the bus that smelled like shit and chemicals, and sent Rodrigo ahead while he took Jose to the bathroom.
Sitting in the seat next to the driver was the closest Rodrigo would come to feeling like he was driving the bus. They finally left Los Angeles at midnight. His father and brother sat in the back. The tired filled the front of the bus.
Laughter broke out in the back like a neighbor watching a sitcom with the front door open. Rodrigo stood to catch what everyone was laughing at. A young woman sat in the row next to his, knees propped up holding a book. She had black hair and Rodrigo thought she looked like Rosie from La Bamba, but what really grabbed his attention were her purple fingernails. The bus hit a dip and drew the young woman’s attention. She noticed him and feeling self-conscious, Rodrigo sat down, opening his notebook like an idea had suddenly came to him.
“Are you writing a book?”
He turned. Rosie offered a reassuring smile.
“No. Just things I see.”
“That's a good habit. ”
“A teacher said I should.”
“It's good to listen to teachers. I never did.”
“I never went to class. You’re not alone, are you?”
“My dad and my brother are sitting in the back.”
“Where’s your mom?”
“She stayed in Los Angeles to help my tía. She’ll come later.”
“Where are you guys going?”
“That’s where I’m from. Eugene.”
“Your name is Eugene?”
“No. I’m from a city called Eugene.”
“Are you going there?”
“I’m going to San Jose.”
“Are you Mexican?”
“You look Mexican.”
“That’s funny. Are YOU Mexican?”
“YOU look Indian. My boyfriend is Mexican. He got sent back.”
“To jail. What’s your name?”
“That’s a cool name.”
She stood and studied the cover of his notebook.
“Who’s Bug with a capital Z?”
The vulnerability made him uncomfortable; he could feel his palms begin to sweat.
“Nobody. It’s what some friends call me.”
“BugZ, huh? Well, it's nice to meet you, Rodrigo, I'm Elena.”
“It’s nice meeting you.”
“I have a nickname too.’
“What is it?”
“My boyfriend gave it to me. Can I write it in your book?’
Rodrigo gave her a shrug, pretending indifference to hide his nervousness, then reached across the aisle with the notebook.
“You’re going to Oregon, huh? It’ll probably be snowing when you get there. You ever seen snow?” Elena asked as she wrote.
“Well, have fun playing in it when you do. I loved making snow angels when I was a kid.” She handed the supplies back.
“Yeah. You lay on the snow like a log, then you move your arms and legs like you're swimming on clouds. When you stand up, there’s a snow angel. I think I’m going to try and sleep. Keep listening to your teachers, Rodrigo.”
Elena turned the dome light off. Rodrigo left his dome light on and opened the notebook.
She wrote Cielito Lindo. He thought about asking how she got it, but decided it would be rude now. She had nice handwriting like his teachers. He imagined her boyfriend was Luis Aguilar serenading Elena outside of her bedroom window like in those old Mexican movies his parents loved.
He thought about his parents and couldn’t remember a time he saw them dance, kiss, or embrace. Not even at his tío Rica’s funeral. Maybe they used to.
Then he saw the faces of kids at his school and wondered if their parents had nicknames for each other like Elena and her galán. It was Wednesday morning. Normally, he would be getting ready for school and the thought of not seeing his friends again made him miss them. He pictured Elena and the psychic’s fingernails, opened his notebook to a blank page, and began an outline. He wrote Purple in large bubble letters.
Lupe and Jose walked out of the terminal to picketers screaming “SCAB!. Some were even trying to physically stop the bus.
“¡NO TE MUEVAS!”
Lupe released Jose’s hand and ran towards the melee and joined the picketers banging on the bus. A man in front of him banged his sign violently against the bus screaming cuss words Lupe recognized and inspired him to throw some broken ones in the fire. Everything except the bus came to a sudden stop when the man tripped and fell under the wheels. Blood ran from the man’s nose and ears onto the pavement. Picketers gathered around the body as the bus drove away. Jose waited for his father to reappear from the crowd. A woman’s voice was heard.
“Don’t touch him.”
Windshield wipers cleaned off egg-shells and yoke. The driver maneuvered the bus out of the terminal to cheers and whistles from passengers. Rodrigo rushed out of the bus bathroom as they sped away.
“My dad and brother left.”
“What?” the driver replied.
“I mean, my little brother and my dad didn’t get on the bus.”
“Shit! Are you sure?
“Yeah, they were in the bathroom.”
“Shit. There’s a bathroom on the bus. I can’t just turn around. Are you sure? Let me call and see what they can do.”
The bus was on the highway when it was pulled over. The driver got off and shook hands with the officers. One of the cops offered him a cigarette. Rodrigo noticed the driver's hands trembling as he lit it.
A cop boarded the bus and explained there was an accident at the station, they would need to transfer to a different bus. She said interpreters were on the way. The mood on the bus turned as gray as the clouds floating over Northern California that morning. Rodrigo felt something familiar in the pit of his stomach. The same feeling as when police were at the door and he’d have to lie and say everything was fine to protect his father, while his mother hid her bruised face in the bathroom.
A different officer boarded the bus. Rodrigo noticed the name tag, Mendoza. He raised a hand and was acknowledged with a nod.
“Sir. My dad and my brother are still at the bus station.”
“Where’s your mom?”
“She didn’t come with us.”
“What’s your dad’s name?”
It was Mendoza’s grandfather's name too. Tata Arturo always hated his first name because, “Guadalupe is a woman’s name.”
So when Guadalupe became a citizen, he dropped it and kept his middle name Arturo.
Mendoza took in the brown faces staring at him. They would expect him to speak Spanish and he would try even though it always turned out to be poorer than their English. It was easy when it was just one or two Mexicans driving with no license.
“This is a damn village," he thought.
An insecurity came over Mendoza he hadn't felt since high school. There he was on stage, half a panic attack in stumbling over lines to the uproarious laughter of the rowdy student audience. He was Lennie in Of Mice and Men. He wasn’t good at all and figured he’d gotten the part because of his size. When the play’s month-long run ended, he retired from the stage and decided that from then on, he’d stick to reading Steinbeck.
His radio chirped and his attention came back to Rodrigo. He took a deep breath.