“Bianca! Come here! You’ve not finished cooking or cleaning!” my mother called from the diminutive ‘kitchen’ in the corner of our house. I sighed. I never had a minute to myself.
“You did not have to scream. I am right over here,” I said.
“Bianca, I’m going to the market. And you have to finish all your chores before I come back, okay?” my mother told me. Chores!
“Okay,” I replied as she walked out of the one room house. I started cooking a bit of rice and a bowl of soup. “Ahhh!” Not again! I had burnt my finger again. And now it looked like a dull pink cherry with no stem. I thought about my dad who was away in Texas to earn enough money for the family. My brother, Arthur, was at school. I loathed the fact that I could not go to school. “We are twins, so why can’t I go?” I thought. We were living in a miniscule hut with one room. The floor made with strong stone and mud used like cement. It might seem small, but it was luxurious compared to the people who were homeless. We were more fortunate than them.
Living in San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador was hard. In the past few years many gangs attacked our neighbourhood and the attacks were becoming more and more frequent. Our town was caught in war between two rival gangs. The gangs dealt with a lot of illegal stuff, like drugs, kidnappings, and extortions. Just last month, a group of men, called M-18, had entered our house. They had said that my mother would have to pay them three-fourth of the money she earned, or else they would recruit Arthur to join the gang. She had no choice but to do so. They were really powerful.
Many of my friends had run away to North America. But, I can’t imagine me doing that. My family needs me here and I need them. BANG! BANG! I yelped. Outside our tiny house, hordes of men were shooting innocent people with guns the size of my brother’s schoolwork desk. My scream had made the gang realize that there was only one house that they did not harm in the neighborhood yet. Ours.
What should I do? What should I do? Thoughts were running through my head. I quickly hid behind our tiny table. Bullets flew over my head from the windows. I panicked and swiftly ran to the closest window that they were not shooting from and scrambled out. I had escaped! I hid behind a tree, and hoped no one had noticed me. Thankfully nobody did. After a few minutes, the men left and I was free to go home.
“Bianca! Are you home?” My mother’s voice rang through my brain. She was safe! Relief poured through me.
“Mom! Are you okay? Do you need anything? Do you think Arthur is fine?” I pestered her with questions. She smiled, but there was a shaky and sad look in her eyes. “I’m fine, and so is your brother. Don’t worry. We should go to church. Jesus Christ will help us. We will feel safe. We must have hope.”
“Okay,” after all, we need to have hope during these challenging times.
After coming home, I went to my friend’s house. When I knocked on the grainy door, Aria opened it. “Bianca! You are alive! I saw the men; they were heading to your house…” my friend trailed off.
“I’m fine. May I come in? I have to talk to you,” I said as she allowed me in. “I think we have to run away. We can’t go on living like this.” Aria stared at me too shocked to reply. I suddenly got scared too. If she did not come with me I definitely couldn’t run away. “Have you even thought about it? If we get caught, we would be sent back. And, our parents would have to pay a fine. How will we travel? Where would we travel to?” She suddenly said after a long pause.
“Paying a fine or dying? Which is worse? And yes, I have thought about it. If you come, we could try to earn money to get on for La Bestia and go reach Monterrey, Mexico. Then we’ll go to Texas an find my dad.” I said. I looked at her with the most hopeful look I could muster.
“Okay, but how will we get the money?” asked Aria. I never thought that Aria would be so easy to convince.
“I guess we could sell some of our things,” I say, sadly. “Our families aren’t rich no money to ‘borrow’ from our parents. I could sell my chain,” I added when I saw the sorrow look on her face. Aria gapes at me. She knows that is my most precious item. “No! You can’t! It’s too important to you.”
“We have no choice.” I replied. “Aria” I asked, “what would happen to our families? Our mothers? Our brothers?”
“I don’t know… But we have to have to have hope.”
Why is everyone telling me to have hope? I know it’s important, but it is really difficult now.
“Okay, but where in Texas? Aren’t there many cities?” Aria questioned. I’m not good at remembering things but this is one thing I remember. “He lives in Laredo. He said he’d be near to the river as he is a fisherman.” I reply, glad to recall something.
At around 10:00 pm Aria and I met at the railway station. It was late and it was time robbers haunted the unoccupied streets. Anything could have happened to us, but we made it to the railway station safe. Still, I felt a chill down my spine.
As planned, we slid into a freight train carrying rice bags. Feeling scared and alone, we scrambled into a big bags were carrying and hoped no one would notice us. From our small hole, we saw another girl. She looked older than us, and she was squeezing into a small bag. Aria and I caught each other’s eyes. We had to be friends with her. Without help there was no chance that we could make it North. We rolled in the bag causing us to move towards her. We banged ‘her’ bag once and it got her attention. She peeked out of her bag after the train started moving. We learned a lot about her, she was 18 years old, four years older than Aria and me. She wants to go to Laredo, like us. Her name was Liz, and she lived a few houses away from our house. It was surprising that I’ve never seen her before seen her before. “Liz? Aria and I do not know when to exit. Can you help us?” I asked hoping that she knew and did not randomly come like us.
“Of course. Since we want to go to the same place, we should stick to each other like a barnacle to a boat. We have to wait till the seventh station, at Guatemala, and then creep out before anyone else leaves. Then, we climb aboard La Bestia. I know a few people at Guatemala who will help us after we reach,” she replied.
After we reached Guatemala, we trailed Liz to the Beast. She told us to follow the man with an orange t-shirt and shorts. “He is the man who will find a way to let us in,” Liz whispered to us. We kept an eye on him because we did not want to lose him. He was dressed like everyone else was. He sneaked us in from the back and told us to climb up the ladder and not to make a noise. We obeyed his orders and went up. It was very crowed. Kids, mothers, fathers, they all were there. Looking at them made me homesick. I missed my mother and Arthur a lot and I hoped they were okay.
The journey to Mexico was long and sweltering. The weather was humid and we were running out of water and food. Many people were tired and dehydrated. But after what felt like months, we reached. The hardest part of the journey was yet to come. Crossing the Mexican desert was the most challenging. In San Salvador it was heard that many had died trying to cross the desert.
During the journey through the blistering sands, we saw many bodies hidden in dry bushes. And the saddest part was, that there where people of different ages even kids, and the smell of decaying human bodies attacked me. Aria, Liz and I shivered in fear. We could taste the sand in our lungs. What would happen to us? Surprisingly, and fortunately, we survived the journey. Next, we had to pass the border patrol. The border patrols are men that guard the border. They make sure no one gets to the United States illegally, like us.
While we climbed the towering, wire fence that separates Mexico and Texas, a van stopped, with the words Patrulla fronteriza (Border Patrol) on it. A man with police uniform on exited the car, looking at the girls. “Come with me! You have some explaining to do!” the man called up the fence. We jumped down and he took us in the van. My teeth chattered and I did not know what to do. “Sir? What will happen to us?” Liz asked. Let’s not tell him about my father. They will send my father back too. Then there will be no money for the family.” I whispered this to my companions, and my friends nodded.
The man shrugged and said, “Depends. If you get amnesty you will be allowed to stay if you don’t… you probably will be sent back. There’ll be a judge who decides what your future is. Maybe you’ll stay, maybe you won’t.”
“Okay. Thank you for the information,” Aria told him. I was very worried. I hoped that we could stay. I thought. Otherwise this journey was for no reason. We all had to be thinking the same thing. Our expressions were worried and depressed. After all, we had no inkling what would happen to us. But this was my journey, and I would persevere and have hope through out it.