For the two days and two nights he spent wandering, looking for the road that la Migra must have used to capture his companions, David was tormented by thirst. The few tortillas he had in his pack were of no interest to him, without water. He slept in the day short stretches, his hat over his head and face, moving around a boulder when the sun’s blaze on his face woke him, dreaming of water, of swimming, of waterfalls, of rain.
He was a city boy and had no experience of desert of even of countryside, but what he did seemed instinctual. Keep low during the day, suck mosoquelete stems, try to sleep. At night, he blessed the nearly full moon, and walked northwest where the coyote said Tucson lay. He gathered mosoquelete as he walked and stuffed as much as he could in his backpack, for the day.
About an hour before dawn on his second night walking alone, he found a road, a two-lane blacktop. He walked along it toward the north. He was going to take it wherever it led, even if straight to border patrol headquarters. He’d turn himself in, ask for asylum. He’d heard that the US didn’t give asylum to Mexicans no matter the circumstances, but he couldn’t go back.
When the sun came up, he saw that there was no shade of any kind along the road. The asphalt began to heat up, and he walked in the powdery dust at its side. By mid-morning he was hallucinating, stumbling, barely able to keep to the side of the road since there were so many clear sparkling pools of deep water just a few yards away from the road. There were people, too, sitting by the pools, laughing and splashing each other with water. Some of them called to him to come to drink, to swim. He wanted to go, but something kept him to the road, a stubborn part of him that held one small thought; he must keep the black line of the road always in his sight, and when sight would fail, in his touch.
An hour or so before midday, an even more vivid hallucination began to torment him. A silver late model car pulled up beside him, and the elderly white man driving it asked in English “Want a ride?” David leaned against the car hood but couldn’t speak. The car felt real, and it was on the road. The metal was burning him, but it was an illusion anyway.
The man got out of the car and steered David into the passenger seat, then handed him a tall plastic glass filled with water. David made no move to take the water, so the man held it to his lips, and tilted the water into his mouth. Some of it ran out of David’s mouth before he began to drink. David tried to grab the glass, to gulp the water, but the man said, “Steady, amigo, take it slow.” David heard the word amigo – and it struck him, as he lost consciousness, that it was the first thing he understood in this very realistic mirage.
When he woke, he was in a bed with white sheets in a patio, under a clay tile roof. He watched water splashing in a small stone fountain in the center of thep atio, for a long while. He didn’t feel curious about where he was. It was so restful just to lie there. He noticed a needle in his arm attached by a clear tube to a hanging bottle of fluid. He slept; he woke, and slept again. It was dark and light, day and night for a dream-filled week. He mostly saw himself as a child again, on the old truck with his father making deliveries, but now they drove only in the desert, and made their deliveries to swimmers and picnickers lounging by the side of mirage lakes and waterfalls. He and his father swam and picnicked with their customers, too. These dreams were so happy that he mourned their end, when he was well enough to to be given a bus ticket to Seattle, where his cousin awaited him. He was never told who the people were who saved his life.
He started working almost right away as a dishwasher in the restaurant his cousin partially owned. But the conditions were hard, the workers joyless, and the pay not even close to minimum wage. He found another dishwashing job easily, and had the great good fortune to land in a good place, where he worked his way up to prep cook within a year. He discovered a flair for cooking, and loved his work. His wife told him not to risk coming back; the Zetas were stronger than ever, and never forgot anything. She tried to get a visitor’s visa to the US, but failed three times. He told her that he was fine, and he was.
When he was 65, after 10 years in the US, he thought he’d consult with an immigration attorney to see if there was any way he could get legal status. When he heard the news that there was no way, unless Congress passed immigration reform, he was unfazed. “It’s okay,” he said. “I’m happy here. I’ve got my work and I’ve got friends. I have my church, and I know my wife is fine. I send her money, and she bought a house in Puebla, where she’s from. She’s happy too.”
He has no health insurance, and no Medicare or Medicaid, no food stamps, no retirement savings, and no car. His apartment is small and dark, and he walks with a pronounced limp and a stout cane. He has no family in the US, and no legal status, either. Yet he said, as he left the lawyer’s office, “I have never met an American who treated me badly, from my first ride in the desert with the elderly man who gave me water. I’m lucky.” He is a happy man.