It happens on a Thursday. The morning offers the usual odors: armpits, assholes, instant coffee, and cheap cigarettes dominate, but, also, Diego’s cologne. We stand in a line, but there is no order. When we get picked, if we get picked, depends on whims we can’t understand. Does lighter skin attract? (probably) Will a mustache repel? (probably not) Should hair be gelled or natural? (unclear) We pretend to have control, pretend we’re something more than muscle attached to brown bodies.
Diego talks nonstop. Legends of the line. He tells anyone who will listen about Chuy Rodriguez. He was picked up by a brunette and before one hedge was trimmed, he was fucking her from behind, fake tits bouncing against the marble kitchen counter. Same every day for a week and took home a grand on Friday, never touched as much as a rake. And there was Rogelio Sanchez. Got picked up to lay some irrigation and saved a girl from a horse or a horse from a girl or some damn thing, and walked away with ten G. Fucking ten G.
But today’s there a new guy. Young, tight shirt, muscles bulging. He reeks of ambition which has no place here. He glares at Diego. “Bullshit. No one’s that lucky.”
Diego talks faster. “Remember Esteban –”
“Shut the fuck up,” the new guy takes a step toward Diego.
One of the older guys, Juan Rivera maybe, speaks up. “Diego, drop it, this guy’s bad news.”
Diego shifts his weight from one foot to another, silent for once. He’s a bad worker, but we don’t care. We like Diego and his crazy stories. He brings us hope – and donuts.
A pick-up truck cruises toward us – work for two? Someone shouts, a blade flashes. Blood flows from a thin line on Diego’s hairless forearm, the new guy dances away with the knife, and tires squeal. It’s a surface wound, but the damage is done.
Our hands are the maps of our lives. Every nick, every scar, every blackened nail, evidence of our labor. Hands that caress shovels, hammers, and trowels but which have forgotten how to touch a woman.
Everything happens so fast in this country. Before the blood has dried on the asphalt, there’s a screaming manager, white face red. And when we hear sirens, we flee, like cockroaches from the light.
There will be no work today and no return here. Too late to go anywhere but home. We will cross the border shamed by our empty pockets and hollow dreams.
Tonight, we will sit together, no meat in our bellies, cigarettes in hand. We will discuss where to go tomorrow. Someone will say there is a new Home Depot we can try. He’s heard the gringos are plentiful there, looking for us, cheap labor. But we worry about what we lost today. The constellation of possibility has gotten smaller. Dreams and legends cannot make this border life sustainable.
We don’t expect to see Diego again. We’ll miss the donuts.