Boarding the bus headed north: ‘Go while you can still afford it, go while your spirit is still intact’
Diego arrived at the bus station nearly an hour before the scheduled 5 a.m. departure. He was too nervous to sleep. His entire family joined him, but only as far as the floodlit parking lot, and only long enough to offer words of encouragement to sustain him. He alone held the ticket that would launch a Voyage of Discovery, a journey that would take him far from his ancestral home and into the mysterious terrain of his destiny.
When the bus reached its destination, he joined a cluster of other pioneers walking across the border — an intermediate scar characterized by instability and danger. A cheerless soldier checked his identification papers; he presented a ticket to a bus driver, who then ferried him to the next border. This went on for days.
It was mid-afternoon when the last bus disembarked the last passengers. This is where they imagined their future would begin – the end of the line. Gathering heat and humidity shimmered along the horizon, deceiving some of the voyagers to glimpse an oasis in the distance — others saw only an undulating mirage that separated reality from a vaporous future. Lightning stabbed the horizon; a hard rain was going to fall.
By mid-evening the cluster of weary travelers surrendered the rain-furrowed pathway to seek shelter under whatever vegetation would have them. The relentless rain drenched the fortunate ones last, those who had been stripped only of their wealth and dignity. Yet after a while, even the best prepared pilgrims could no longer bear the weight of falling water and weariness. It was here that they surrendered their tears of exhaustion and unquiet anxiety. But, it was the children who sobbed. They mourned their shattered childhood that fell before them like mirror shards piercing swirls of darkness.
When Diego was a young boy, he would join his extended family celebrating saint’s days, birthdays, and holidays by picnicking in the local park after Sunday mass. His was an impoverished clan who found great comfort in sharing steaming bowls of chicken soup in deep-fried tortillas, and a bottomless trough of lukewarm Coke while playing friendly futbol matches or lazing about in the shade gossiping about the neighbors. The presence of family was presents enough.
Diego’s meals at home were dependent on working in consort with the land. Everyone took part in providing for each other; someone fed the chickens and collected eggs, someone milked the cow and churned butter, and someone else cultivated the garden. Grocery store rice, purchased by ‘the breadwinner,’ was served with every meal.
During the course of interviewing Diego for this story, he spoke of a recurring dream he had as a child. He soft-heartedly mentioned that the fume of that dream lingers still during the earliest moments of his waking: “I was seven, shopping in a fancy grocery store like you see on television. I was with my mother. The two of us were filling a cart right to the brim with food…right to the brim.”
He knows that his lingering dream is a common dream shared by hungry children everywhere. He knows, too, that children need to be fulfilled.
Diego smiled as he recalled taking long walks with those he shared confidences, the substance of which he now barely remembers other than his desire for fine clothes and his dream to one day fall in love and have a family of his own.
But, he mostly lamented the auburn rust of corruption that rotted the core of his homeland, grinding whole families into fine dust. His family, devout, dependent, and despairing, would survive on a diet of brittle rhetoric and a scrap pile of broken dreams if he did not help them. His mission was pre-ordained.
He said this: “Once the decision to leave your life behind is made, you must do so quickly so as to not draw attention to yourself — or to those perhaps more vulnerable than you who will be left behind. This is imperative. Go while you can still afford it, go when you are still allowed to, and go while you still have your spirit intact.”
Being in the public eye appealed to Diego; his agility on the futbol pitch made him a standout in his community, prompting him at an early age to recognize the yoke and sparkle of minor fame. But all that is behind him now, he is content to have any level of work because, although he is many miles from a homeland he may never see again, he has obligations that must be met to best serve his distant family.
He prays that he made the right decision and that this land will embrace him. He is aware that he wears his nationality like an emblem that is not of his own design and that some will disregard him as an interloper or worse. Still, he has faith that dogged hard work will allow him to prevail and find a level of acceptance and recognition. He understands that working twelve hours a day, seven days a week, and juggling several jobs has become his new standard.
Diego is 27 years old. He imagines he has 50 years of productivity left.
He has embraced the resolution that his life is no longer his own; he forfeited that the moment he boarded the bus carrying him on the torturous journey from being one of ‘self’ to becoming the conduit for his family’s survival nearly half a world away. He patiently spoke of the obstacles he faced and of his unrelenting determination to persevere. He spoke eloquently of the “understanding of purpose” that he has chosen for this life … and the next.
He is among the settlers who understand the cost of freedom.
The flag he carries is colorless.