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Voy andando


La Bestia, Central American migrants aboard the train to El Norte. Photo by Isabel Munoz at http://huff.to/1zU7jw5.

The man was alone, and slight. His clothes were dark and his hood was pulled up over his head as the chill of the night still had not been warmed up by morning. He carried a small bundle under his arm, a jacket or maybe a small blanket it seemed, nothing more. He had a lightness about him that showed he was a young man, and sober – not one of the older drunks with bloated faces who sleep in the park regularly.
He crossed over the pedestrian walkway that circles Parque Mexico on Avenida Amsterdam, the path of a once-great horsetrack in a younger Mexico City. Now it is lined by towers of hip sidewalk bistros and towering apartment buildings, the tree-lined pathway now traced like a clockface each morning by earphone-wearing runners and dog owners following their French bulldogs, carefully groomed labs, or some tiny, trendy breed. He was alone, and dark, and carried a bundle under his arm. That was enough for a passing police car to slow to a crawl as the shotgun-riding officer gave him a lookover.
I sat on our marble stoop with Alex, waiting in the dark for the school bus to come. I saw the man and watched the police cruiser watching him. He didn’t look at us directly, but I knew he saw us and I could feel him approaching us, or thinking of approaching us, and I was glad to know that I was there to watch over my son, glad that the police cruiser was watching the man, glad to know that Miguel, our doorman, was just on the other side of the one-way glass, watching over us.
The cruiser rolled on and the man crossed the street, walking lightly toward us.
I sipped on my mug of warm water with lemon and honey. Alex sat still and silent. It’s not unusual for one of the men from the park to pass by during our morning routine. Though not common, there have been a few times where one is bold enough to approach us, to ask for a few coins or a cigarette. I never carry my wallet downstairs for the bus-wait, so as I saw him approach, my thoughts already recited my response – sorry, I don’t have anything.
He walked without a sound, almost floating. He came up close, looking at me and asking something while holding a scrap of lined paper in his hand. It wasn’t what I’d expected to hear, so I had to ask him to repeat it. He realized the toes of his worn running shoes had bumped up against Alex’s feet and he apologized, glancing just so slightly at Alex, keeping his direction on me. “Excuse me,” he said. “Do you think you could possibly help me find this address?”
I reached for the scrap of paper. There were about three lines of handwritten script in black ink. I never carry my glasses on me for the bus-wait either, and I was unable to read the letters. I could hear the glass door shake lightly behind me and I knew Miguel was standing alert, ready to intervene should anything happen. I looked back at the door and called to him as he opened the door at the same time. I explained to the young man that I couldn’t read without my glasses on.
The school bus arrived and as Miguel looked at the paper, Alex stood, much larger than the young man, and slipped past toward his bus. “Bye, baby.”
“This address is very far. Not at all around here. It’s in Mexico state, outside of the city,” Miguel said.
I finally looked at the man’s face. It was completely smooth, with skin that looked like it’d been made from ash-colored earth, a color neither gray nor brown. His hair was black, as were his eyes. His face was more angular than the indigenous Mexicans I often see asking for coins in the neighborhood. I could tell he was not from anywhere near.
He looked at Miguel in silence, an absence of response that prompted Miguel to continue. “The only way to get there is to take the Metro. Go to the Metro Chilpancingo and look at the map, that will be the best way for you to get there.”
The young man looked at me and spoke in his soft voice. “And, how could I get there?”
“No,” Miguel said. “It’s very far. Walking, no. You need to take the Metro. Take the Metro Chilpancingo and take it all the way to La Lecheria. From there, take a bus and then walk maybe an hour or two.”
I asked Miguel where the address was. “The Centro de Migrantes,” he said. The migrant center.
I looked back at the man and wondered how far he’d come. He had a calmness about him. He did not seem to be asking for anything more than directions. There was no pleading in his eyes, no desperation in his voice, no tiredness in his posture. He didn’t say “I don’t have money for the Metro.” He didn’t say anything more than “Voy andando,” meaning “I am going” literally, and more specifically, “I am going on foot.”
Miguel insisted, “No. Take the Metro. On foot you’ll get there neither today nor tomorrow.”
Still, he did not say that he had no money for the Metro. He looked at Miguel and repeated, “Voy andando.” Then, he gave all the explanation needed: “Vengo de La Bestia.” I come from the Beast.
La Bestia is the name of the cargo train that runs north from the border with Guatemala. It is called The Beast because of the terrible danger it represents. Migrants who already have made tremendous journeys out of Central America, cross a river into Mexico and then make their way to bends in the rail line where the train is known to slow down enough for them to hop on board. By the dozens and hundreds, they climb onto the tops of the train cars, or ride holding onto the metal ladders, or perched onto the couplings. Some are thrown off, either by the bumping ride, tree branches or by the gangs that menace riders, forcing them to hand over anything of value. Mexico has bowed to U.S. pressure to discourage migrants by raiding the trains, arresting migrants and forcing them to take even greater risks on the road north.
Miguel had run out of ideas to help the young man. “Oh, he’s coming from La Bestia,” he said to me, adding nothing more.
I still could not place him. His ashen skin color was so unlike the indigenous Mexicans familiar to me. His features more delicate than the Guatemalan Indians I knew. His accent was not any I recognized. He reminded me of a holy man from India. I finally asked, “where are you coming from?”
I wanted to have coins in my pocket. I wanted to ask Miguel to loan me a few coins to give the man. But, I didn’t. I wanted to give him breakfast. I considered inviting him in to my kitchen, but I knew this would be considered unwise by Miguel, whom I could already feel was reproaching me for having begun this interaction. I sensed Miguel would find some reason to keep the man from entering the building. I also thought of the knife I’d left on the kitchen table from when I’d cut lemon slices. I thought of my young boys still sleeping warmly in their bunkbeds.
“I have a map. Wait here,” I said.
“Oh, she has a map,” Miguel said, relieved I had a solution, a way to end the conversation.
I went up to my apartment to find Robbie there, standing at my desk in his bare feet and pyjamas. I hugged him and still felt the warmth of his cozy bed on his skin. “What are you doing mama?”
“Oh, there’s a man downstairs who needs help. I’m going to give him my map.” He saw me opening my wallet. “Are you giving him money?” Yes, I explained. He doesn’t have any. “He doesn’t have any money?” No, I said. “Well, doesn’t he have an account at the bank?” No, darling. Some people have so much nothing, they don’t have anything at all.
I rushed back downstairs to find the lobby completely empty. No Miguel in sight. The young man was there, sitting out of view on the far edge of the marble step. I handed him the map and showed him how to figure out the Metro line. I pulled out a few shiny coins and a folded 100-peso bill and handed it to him. His eyes opened wide, astonished. “Here,” I said.
I asked him his name, which sounded something like Ismael. I told him my name and handed him a few snacks I’d grabbed quickly from inside, a couple of protein bars and a package of cheese and crackers. He was quiet, but looked at me and said thank you, although I don’t know whether he said it with words or only his expression.
I reached out my hand to shake his. He held up his hand, showing it to me, and asked, “it doesn’t matter if its dirty?” No, I said. I shook it. I wished him luck. His eyes seemed moved, but it was my eyes that began to tear up. I told him to be careful.
“Where are you going?” I asked. “El Norte,” he said.
“Yes, but where? What city? Do you have relatives waiting for you?”
“No, he said. “I’ll see.”
Voy andando.

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