That it is ridiculous to speak of joy
that “the promised land” does not exist
that our rage will find no calm.
All this I know.
Yes, I introduced them, but that was all. Everything that happened afterward, what they said, I swear it’s not true, sugar. Úrsula was on the other side of the tracks when I met Tomás, so it was me he saw first. He looked at me and said, Going North? We became traveling companions, and—this is just between you and me—I fell in love with him. He made me feel like his wife, like he was my protector. He was so sweet, my Tommy.
I knew Úrsula wanted Tommy, but we have a code, a kind of unbreakable code. Wait and see, sugar, if you take a liking to my man, keep it to yourself, but if my man comes after you, then we share. That’s the way it is.
We escaped from El Danubio. Well, you know the reputation that alley has, right? We fled like dogs with our tails between our legs, and during that journey I learned a lot about life, honey, learned that sometimes it’s just trying to make things tough for you. We’d had it up to the back teeth with Genaro—the pimp in the bar where we worked. For months we’d been talking about leaving, about getting out of that rat’s nest. But you see, it took Úrsula a while to persuade me because at first, in comparison with my hometown of San Pedro, El Danubio was a paradise. Well, anywhere’s a paradise in comparison with San Pedro, right? Some nights I came away with more dough than I’d have earned in a month there. But, like everything else, I finally started to take it for granted, and when Úrsula told me about the possibilities here, well . . . What can I say? My little heart was beating fast. But we ran away from there like thieves, like vermin.
Tommy was so strong. And he had those really short, Chinese sort of eyelashes, and coffee-colored eyes that made you think of a puppy dog or well-polished wood. He was a candy you wanted to pop in your mouth and suck real slow. When we first met—word of honor, honey—I believed him, and when he said I was so good-looking, I felt like everything was just churning up inside me. He looked me straight in the eye, cupping my chin in his hand, as if I really was the most beautiful girl in the world. He told me I was like Penélope Cruz and I—talk about dumb—fell for it. That, dearest, is the way we are: they find our weak points and we’re lost.
Úrsula came with us. The three of us traveled together, and we made a good team. While one of us was gathering the gossip or getting the best tips, the other rested, and Tommy went for water, or so he said. I didn’t want to think too much about who he was, though of course I realized he was different from the rest of us. It was as if he had hope. Do you understand that, honey? I do, because a Mexican I met on the tracks said so, he said that those of us crossing through had need written on our faces. Hunger doesn’t lie, honey, it oozes out through every pore in your skin. Those other people, traveling in their cars, staring at us, they look for that hunger in your face, sniff it out, before unfolding their fists like some disgusting flower and showing the green stuff. Maybe they saw something in Tommy’s face that made them tighten their fists and not even let go of a single peso. Well, it’s like I said, honey. I wanted to believe Tommy’s story. Wouldn’t you do the same if someone made you feel so close to what you’ve always dreamed of?
The glow began to wear off when we were passing through Sinaloa. And listen, honey, if I hadn’t seen what was underneath with my own two eyes, I’d definitely be with Úrsula over there—wherever she is—right now. Something began to smell rotten to me, really rotten, so bad not even I could go on fooling myself, however much in love I was. All those dreams of marrying him, all that believing he loved me and feeling I was beautiful went straight down the drain. But I prefer being alive and ugly to dying with an illusion of love.
Here are the mistakes he made: lying to me about not having a telephone with him, hiding himself away to talk in a loud voice on his phone, and—this is really important—telling whoever was on the other end of the line my name and Úrsula’s. What frightened me most, honey, is that he used our other names, the ones on the official ID. Just when and how had he gotten into our things? Why was he saying our names to that person? Something inside me began to break apart little by little, and I can tell you it hurt to think the worst of my Tommy, but the idiot began to get nervous—if there’s one thing I recognize, it’s nerves—and the nearer we got to the border—up there on La Bestia, moving like a worm through the hills and deserts— and the stronger the scent of freedom and money in the air, the weirder that rat got. Then in Tijuana, looking at anything but me, he said:
“You’re getting off with me here, and we’re going to El Paso.”
“But we’re heading for Nogales, Pop.” His eyes were empty, like a crow’s. I felt a stabbing in my heart: the warning this guy was seriously dangerous.
And right then I stopped being a victim.
“Change of plan. You’re getting off with me in Tijuana, and we’re going to El Paso.”
“No, Pop. You don’t get it. We’re going the other way.”
“And what about me, honey? Aren’t you going to take me with you?” That was Úrsula. She was watching the ending of our love affair, and didn’t want to miss her chance.
“We’ll go wherever you want,” said Tommy, but talking like a pre-recorded message. You know the way, with no truth in his voice, and I could hear the lies, but my dumbass Úrsula couldn’t. And I realized that was just how I’d looked when Tommy told me that stuff about Penélope Cruz. But there was nothing I could do to wipe that enchanted-child expression from her face, especially when that Tommy began saying she looked like Sofía Vergara.
“Hey girl, you’re breaking my heart. Stick with me,” I pleaded with Úrsula, but it was a waste of breath. Even so, I tugged her away to where Tommy couldn’t overhear us, and said what had to be said.
“There’s something not right about that guy. I overheard him talking to someone, sugar. I’ve got a hunch.”
“No way, babe. Tommy only wants to help us.”
“Come down from the clouds. He’s got something up his sleeve.”
“What he’s got is that lovely little butt that makes me want to eat it by the spoonful.”
“But we’re almost there.”
“And what if I go with him for a few days, and then meet up with you in Nogales?”
“And what if he does something to you?”
“What would he do? Come on, babe, you’ve had your taste, it’s my turn now.”
My heart was beating so loud, I thought my chest would burst, and I could feel the blood pounding in my brain.
There was no power in heaven or on earth that could stop my precious. Tommy promised the three of us would see each other real soon in Nogales. And I said good-bye to my Úrsula there in the street, in Tijuana. When they were walking away, just like a real couple, and I was ready to start screaming, Úrsula turned and handed me a scrap of paper with a telephone number and address: “Talk to my cousin Ezequiel.” I hugged her, kissed her, breathed in the scent of her neck, a smell like sweat and dust mixed with the rosewater she used. I gave her the little Virgin I always carried with me—it had belonged to my grandmother. All that time, Tommy was smoking, one foot resting against a streetlight. Úrsula shouldered her backpack and went back to him. I watched them walking away from me, until they became two tiny figures at the far end of the dusty street.
Some time later, when I’d already been working a while at Adam & Eve (I was a big hit in that club, honey), Ezequiel turned up waving a newspaper. I swear I haven’t read another since that day. I told him straight out not to come around showing me sob stories, or any of that dumb stuff. I said I preferred the society pages, because you can see wedding photos there and read about those romances I love. Or magazines where the movie stars look so gorgeous with those stunning curves.
I’d been fearing it for months, but now I knew for sure: Tommy was trafficking trannies, and any other kind of trans. Of course, his name wasn’t Tomás, nothing like it; he was, according to the newspaper, Luis Guillermo (Memo) Reyes, member of one of those kidnapping gangs. I didn’t read much because there, a little further down, I saw Úrsula’s face among some others. It was her passport photo, and she looked all stiff, with her hair gelled back, and the shirt she’d had to wear for the shot, but it was her, her round eyes, her almost black ears, her wide, thin-lipped mouth, those high cheekbones that made her so good-looking.
I don’t remember much about what happened that night. Just that I got drunker than ever before on the bottle of tequila I was keeping for the celebration when Úrsula arrived from Nogales. And I danced to that Paquita song my soul sister loved, the one about life being a carnival, and you have to enjoy it, dance your troubles away. You know the one?
That night I fell asleep in an armchair, and later, when the sky began to turn gray, and then got brighter and brighter, it was like someone was smashing the skull of the fucked-up fucker I felt I was. The whole apartment smelled of something like sulfur. Then I heard someone knocking on the door. The bell didn’t ring, it was three loud raps. Through a crack in the door, I could just see two police officers. One was tall and thin, the other burly, with a square jaw. The lanky one was clasping his hands in front of him, the other one was standing arms akimbo. I didn’t want to open up, I wanted them to stay out there, but it was too late. They knew I was inside. It would have been stupid to run, there’d be others waiting in the street. What I had to do was open the door and let them in.
“Good morning, sir. Rough night?” said the tall lanky one.
“Perhaps he prefers to be called Miss,” said the other with a sort of giggle, twisting his mouth.
“Miss, yes. What can I do for you gentlemen?” I answered in my lousy accent.
“We’re on a case. May we sit down?”
“Please, yes, yes. Coffee?” I was trying to keep my calm, but noticed my hands were beginning to shake.
“Well . . . why not? Coffee would be fine,” said the burly one.
I put water on to boil. Then I looked at the open window and got the urge to run, to talk to Ezequiel, ask him for help. Instead, I poured two cups of coffee and took them to the living room.
They were walking around, looking at my stuff.
I sat on one of the armchairs and crossed my legs, but then caught the lanky one looking at me. I was still wearing the previous night’s clothes, so I explained,
“I dress for work.”
“What kind of job do you have, miss?”
I hated that question, and hated having to answer it even more.
“I work in a bar.”
“Is this a special kind of bar?” asked the burly one.
“Yes, sir. It is that I love my work. I do it with love.”
I don’t know why I said that, but they were looking so hard at me, nothing else came into my head. And then I was real edgy. I think anyone would be, talking to the police.
They were silent for a moment, and my ears began to buzz, coz I guessed what they were going to say would be ugly.
“Do you know this man?” asked Lanky, taking a photo from a folder.
“Yes, I do. I know him in Mexico.”
“Do you know his real name?”
“I read in the paper, yes. I read his name is not Tommy. I read the news. He said he was going to marry me, you know? He said we could get married here, but I had a feeling. You understand?”
“Hold it, miss. We ask the questions, you answer. That clear? What about this young man?” he said, showing me a photo of Úrsula, dead. They’d cut her hair, the brutes, and she looked everything she wasn’t, but I knew it was her by the eyebrows. I always thought she had great eyebrows.
I felt as if a balloon was going to burst in my belly.
“Bathroom,” I managed to say. I vomited into the toilet bowl, pure bile, sweetheart. When I returned to the living room, they were both on their feet.
“Miss, Eddy? Is that your real name?” asked Burly.
“Yes,” I replied, feeling like my throat was on fire.
“Can I see your green card and passport?” asked Lanky.
“I think you’re fucked,” said Burly with a little smile.
You know the rest.
Have you ever seen iguanas standing so still on stones? They’re like creatures from another world, and they look at you with those eyes and seem to know everything. They’re like birds, but from down here, not from the sky. That’s the way the eyes of those people who judge me are, the ones who look at me as if I were the pits. But they can’t fuck with me, they can’t reach me. And I’m free inside, sweetheart, and I know exactly what I did, and what I didn’t do. I know I met Tommy by chance, that life set him in my path so I’d experience true love, if only for a short while. And I know no one will take my Úrsula from me.
They said so many things, honey, said I just passed myself off as a tranny to make contact with others and then exploit them. They said Tommy was my sidekick, that I just used him (he’s in the slammer too, but he’s been charged, poor wretch). Luckily that cat-eyed attorney they sent me put up a good defense and they dropped the charges. I was only accused of being an illegal, and that’s why they sent me here, with you. But who’s going to believe me? It puts me all on edge to imagine having to make my way back through those hills, in men’s clothes, walking, never stopping. I know I’ll get the urge to turn around and say something to my Úrsula, to tell her a joke, to chat, but I know too that when I do turn, there’ll be no one there, just the hills, the air, and me. And it’s really cold out there. But like I said, they can’t fuck with me, those people with their lost eyes. Hey, I can tell you one thing, honey: everything in this life is provisional. Everything passes, just the way these sticky grits will pass through my guts. Ah, well, what’s past is past. Tell me about yourself.
“Miss Eddy” © Milena Solot. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2017 by Christina MacSweeney. All rights reserved.