Continued from Torn Mennonite
After a moment of awkward silence, El Guero asked, “Do you like tacos?”
“Yes, I love tacos.”
“Excelente!” he said as he pulled over and continued, “How about we send Valentin, to get us some tacos and then go to La Magdalena to eat them? We don’t have to drive far. It’s just behind Patos here. Have you ever been to La Magdalena?”
“Okay, yeah, I have been there before. It’s a beautiful place.”
“Great!” he said as he turned to Valentin and spoke to him in Spanish.
I couldn’t understand much of the conversation; they spoke so fast I didn’t have a chance to process it. Valentin got out of the pickup and walked across the road to a taco stand. While Valentin was ordering tacos, El Guero seemed uneasy and constantly kept an eye on our surroundings.
He acted exactly like I felt on the inside, extremely worried that someone from the colony might see me sitting in El Guero’s pickup.
I felt the relief that washed away El Guero’s apprehension when Valentin climbed back into the pickup with the tacos. As soon as Valentin closed the door, El Guero stepped on the gas, leaving Patos behind in a cloud of dust.
A couple of minutes later we were parked at the dried-up river at La Magdalena. Valentin got out first, and looked around before opening the door for me. He walked to the back of the pickup, where he briefly spoke to El Guero before opening the tailgate of the pickup. He grabbed a couple of beers from a cooler and handed them to El Guero.
We left Valentin behind at the pickup and walked past an abandoned house that was ruined by Mexico’s harsh weather. I followed El Guero to a tree in the middle of the dried-up river that had big rocks under it. El Guero turned to me and asked, “How about this table?” while he pointed to a smooth rock with a flat surface.
“I want that table. It's perfect,” I replied.
He placed the bag of food and the beers in the center of the rock. “Have a seat,” he said, as he sat down cross-legged on the rock facing me. I climbed on the rock and struggled to get in a comfortable position in my pleated dress.
He sat and patiently waited until I had positioned myself, covered my legs and stopped squirming. He looked at me, smiled, and asked, “Listo? (Ready?)”
“I think so.”
El Guero opened a beer and handed it to me, and then opened one for himself. He held up his beer and said, “Salud… a una comida sin interrupciones con la Guerita más valiente y hermosa que jamás haya conocido. (To an undisturbed meal with the bravest, most beautiful Guerita I have ever met.)”
“Okay,” I replied as he tapped my beer, making a clinking sound that echoed through the dried-up riverbed. We both took a sip of beer. I just watched him as he put down his beer, took the food out of the plastic bag and unwrapped the tinfoil from the square foam plate holding the tacos. He handed me the first plate he unwrapped.
“Thank you,” I said and took the opportunity to quickly sneak in my mealtime prayer quietly in my head while he unwrapped his plate, placed all the little containers of salsa in front of me and placed a plastic spoon into each of them. By the time he placed the napkins down, I had repeated my prayer seven times. I figured it couldn’t hurt, because I had a feeling that any joy I was experiencing was going to come back and haunt me later. When I looked over at Valentin and saw him standing there so wide legged, with a pistol hanging down from his belt, I thought, “Maybe I should have said a few more prayers.”
“Is he waiting for someone?” I asked El Guero.
“No, not really, he's just watching over us.”
“Okay, but why?”
“Well, some people aren't happy that I am here in Patos. Just try to ignore him.”
“I will tell you more about that another time. Remember when you told me how you wish that you could disappear and then come back as Isabell Lopez?”
“Well, this is kind of the same: today I want to forget who I have become, what I do, and just be an average dude who’s lucky enough to be able to enjoy a meal with a beautiful menona.
I just smiled and stared at him as he began eating, admiring his neat and clean eating technique. I didn’t hear a single schlirps or schmaks coming from El Guero, while I was very self-conscious about eating in front of him. The harder I tried to eat a taco and keep it from getting sloppy and all over my dress, the messier it got.
Finally, I just gave up and enjoyed the tacos. After I had used up all my napkins, El Guero smiled and kept handing me the ones he didn’t need.
El Guero’s masculinity became overwhelmingly attractive. I was happy to be a woman in his presence; I forgot all about wishing that I was a man earlier that day.
While El Guero gathered our garbage, I drank the last sip of my beer. I turned around to face the mountains and repositioned myself. El Guero jumped off the rock, tied up the bag of garbage, put it aside and sat down right beside me. My heart began pounding out of my chest. After processing the fact that he was just sitting beside me, I leaned my head on his shoulder and said, “Thank you for the tacos; they were so good.”
“You're welcome!” he replied, putting his arm around me and gently rubbing it up and down.
And just like that, my anxiety returned. I instantly froze. I didn’t dare move or turn my head to look at him. I put all my energy into not acting like an ice sculpture as we sat there in silence, watching the few clouds in the sky change from white to pink and then to orange as the sun slid behind the mountains of Nuevo Ideal.
It was anything but silent in my head as my thoughts repeated, “Don’t freak out! I shouldn’t be here, just breathe, dietschjat he smells good! Just be here, look at those clouds! Breathe, Anna! Breathe!” The whole time, we were sitting on that rock.
When I gave up on shutting down my thoughts, I said, “I should get going. My parents should be home by now, and my uncle probably needs his truck back. And I was supposed to bring him a six-pack. What time does the beer store close?”
El Guero took a deep breath that sounded like a disappointing sigh when he exhaled. I knew it was because, by letting those stupid words out of my mouth, I had ruined a perfect moment that we would never get back.
On top of all the anxiety I carried around about being alone with a man from my past experiences, I had taken on some of the anxiety that people had around the beer store's hours of operation in Canada.
“Oh Anna, the beer store doesn't close, especially not when I am the customer,” he replied and turned to face me. He placed his hands on either side of my face, rubbing my cheeks with his thumbs and said, “Anna, I recognize that you must be experiencing this very differently than I am. So thank you for this.”
I just took a deep breath, and this time kept my thoughts to myself, allowing the sound of his voice to linger in the air as long as possible.
When thing got quiet again, I thought, “My expectations are always bad, and I always let them ruin things.”
“Alright Anna, let's get you home,” he said as he gently squeezed me against him before jumping off the rock. He stepped back and held out his hand for me to hold onto, helping me jump off the rock. He picked up our beer bottles, tossed them into the garbage bag, and walked me back to his pickup. Valentin was still standing as he had been when we left him there. As El Guero tossed the bag of garbage onto the back of the pickup, Valentin opened the door for me, and off we went, back to Patos.
El Guero drove around the back of Nuevo Ideal to the beer store where I had parked Uncle Jake’s pickup. The men were still standing around the pickup, just as they did when we left. They all backed away, giving us space to park and get out. One of the men came to my side to open the door for me, while another opened the door for El Guero.
El Guero spoke briefly to the man who had opened the door for him, and that’s when the look on his face changed. It looked like he had just received bad news that he wasn’t prepared for. El Guero quickly raised his arm, snapped his fingers, pointed to the back of the pickup, and shouted something in Spanish. He walked me around to Uncle Jake’s truck, and by the time he closed the door for me, one of the men had brought a six-pack of Tecate for me to bring to Uncle Jake.
“You should go now, before it gets too dark. Drive safe, and I hope to see you again before you go back to Canada.”
“Okay, thanks,” I replied, as I backed out and drove off, back to the colony.
It all happened so fast. While driving back to the colony, I couldn’t help but wonder what was going on. It seemed as though El Guero and all the men were eager to get me out of there as quickly as possible. But I was more nervous about facing my family than about any reasons I could think of why El Guero and his men couldn’t get me out of Nuevo Ideal fast enough. But when I pulled up to Uncle Jake’s property, all was well in the colony. My parents had company, my little brothers were chasing the last few chickens into the coop with their friends, Uncle Jake had made a bonfire and was barbequing steaks. I was relieved to see my brothers and my cousin Izaak standing in the crowd of men around the fire. I didn’t see Uncle Jake’s Mexa megal friend anywhere in the crowd.
I walked up to Uncle Jake and handed him his keys and the six-pack.
“Thank you, Anna.”
“You’re welcome, and thanks for letting me borrow your truck.”
“Dot es gonz got. (It’s all good.)”
I went and joined Izaak and my brothers by the bonfire. They were all drinking, and having a great time. When Izaak saw me, his face lit up; he opened his arms and received me with a warm and welcoming hug.
“How are you? I haven't seen you much.”
“I’m okay. Trying to make the best out of this trip and enjoy myself as much as I can, which isn’t easy, you know.”
“Aw, it’s pretty easy for me. I am having the best time.”
“Yeah, I’m so jealous of you. It's so much easier for you because you are a man.”
“I know, prima, that’s true,” he replied, while giving me a sympathetic hug and walked me to his car. He mixed me a strong vampiro. Izaak had decided that I needed a strong drink and just handed it to me.
My sister Maria interrupted our conversation to invite me to come and join her on the blanket that she had carefully placed on the ground near the bonfire. I took my drink and followed her. I lay down beside her, exhaled a sigh of relief, looked up at the sparkling, star-filled night sky and thought, “Wow, incredible!”
Everyone was busy visiting. During a quiet moment, I heard a haunting and familiar laugh echoing through the crowd. And just like that, all my anxiety returned, times a thousand. I thought, “NOOOOO! This would have been the perfect ending to this New Year’s day, but NO, not in your stupid life, Anna!”