Alejandra’s hands trembled. She pulled out a scrapped polyethylene cruet and held it by the mouth. Francisco snatched it and threw it on the sand.
“Don’t drink that…I beg of you.”He shrieked.
She looked at him. Anxiety and suffering shown clearly in his slanted eyes.
She closed hers. Drops of fluid fell onto the hot sand on which she lay lifeless. Her body burned with the heat of the sand, her eyes with the acrid tears and her throat with the intense thirst. She hadn’t had pure drinking water for days. Only infected fluids that made her sick.
She thought of her village and her home, and the good days she’d spent. In the darkness of her closed eyes, she pictured the splendid beauty of the Lake Atitlan and the turquoise waterfalls tucked away in the densely forested mountains of Alta Verapaz that offered clean water. Two years ago, she had travelled the land on horse backs with her father and family! They had forged for grueling hours and had found the most beautiful water spot. Her father had held her like a baby in the cradle of his hands and dropped her into the fresh waters. She’d laughed and screamed in excitement and all others had held their stomachs.
That was the only trip they had made in years. They never had the means and the finances to do so. So most of the time, Alejandra would work in fields or play with her friends. But her favourite amongst them was Zoe, the land lord’s daughter.
Unlike Alejandra, Zoe went to the nearby school. She would read her stories of imaginary characters doing imaginary deeds and make her wonder. At times, she would talk at length about the wild horse races at her native place, the abundance of food during the festivals, and the variety of firecrackers. Occasionally, she would invite Alejandra on her terrace and serve her mouth watering dishes.
Just a year ago on Dia de todos los Santos, Zoe had taken her to Santiago. Alec had helped her make a giant kite on a circular frame made of bamboo and paper. She had adorned it with a nice patch work of colorful leftover cloths and embroidery. When the festival began, the cornflower blue sky got filled with flamboyant giant kites embodying the millennia old tradition.
She saw them going far beyond her vision but some spun round and round like a UFO landing on the earth.
“These kites convey our messages to our ancestors” her grandfather had said on her return. “Years ago, this was done by Pakal the great. He was an astronaut with many space odysseys on his well designed space craft. “
Alejandra would look at him with astonishment and he would say “I’ll take you to the famous city of Palenque and show you the sarcophagus.”
“Why don’t we make space craft’s?” Alejandra asked inquisitively. “They can reach speedily.”
“We can’t.” Grandfather replied.
“Because they require money and technology.”
“Does that mean our ancestors were better than us?”
“So who has the means to make a space craft?” Alejandra asked.
“America has it.”
“I’ll go to America and become learned and, and ……I”
“No my dear. You are still a little girl of seven. And America is a big country.”
“I’ll go with papuchi and we’ll earn lots of dinero.”
Alejandra had seen her father doing temporary jobs for the past three years. The cattle ranch her grandfather once owned had been replaced by palm plantations leaving only a tiny strip of field to grow corn and other staple. The family had survived from subsistence agriculture, from which they made about $90 every six months. They would sell the part of the corn harvest left over after feeding the family.
A handful of the Guatemalan palm oil and banana companies that had sprung up in the fertile valley sometimes provided health services. But the region was mostly neglected even by the government. Nobody in the neighborhood had a strong concrete house. They all lived in small huts with only bare necessities available.
This had caused major migrations into the US. Over the past three months, an overwhelming majority of Q’eqchi’ families had quietly fled to join the US bound exodus of Guatemalans.
And so had Alejandra. Tugging her little suitcase with a few clothes, a plate, a torch and a quilt, she had set out on foot with her father. With dreams of owning a beautiful house someday, she had left behind the tiny wooden house with the straw roof, the dirt floors, a few bed sheets and a fire pit her mother used for cooking, Her brothers were barefoot, their feet caked with mud; their clothes in tatters. But Alejandra had worn the first pair of shoes her grandfather had gifted her when they celebrated her seventh birthday.
She knew she would win and had told everyone in San Antonio Secortez about the new life she and her father were going to live.
As she walked with her father, miles and miles through the Mexican desert, she found only red sand and dirt. The terrain was dotted with colonies of cactus plants and spiky leaves. The nights were below freezing and the temperature shot during the day. They had exhausted the little food they had bought and the odyssey offered only a tiny water spot of muddy water. Francisco bore the hunger and the thirst, but after a point Alejandra couldn’t. All she wanted was to reach the US. She didn’t bother if it was clean water or polluted one as long as it quenched her thirst.
But as she grew weak day by day, her father became concerned about her health. He had carried her on his neck for couple of miles and they were both drenched in sweat.
The sun was ready to slide below the horizon and cooler air had begun to blow. Alejandra felt a little better. She had spent her seventh birthday on a trip she was overjoyed to take. She had jumped with joy when she learnt they were migrating. And now, after a week without food and water the misery had finally ended. Within days, she would go from an impoverished life where she’d never owned a toy — to one where she hoped she’d learn to read and write, and, eventually, join her father in making money to send to their family back home.
She opened her eyes. Her father stood talking to a handful of migrants about the next move.
“Just one last stretch on foot along the dirt road through high desert” one of the migrant said, “And we would all cross into the United States. End of a 2,000 mile journey.”
One of them looked at Alejandra and handed a bottle of clean water to Francisco.
“Drink this Alec” he whispered. “Just a couple of hours after dark and we’ll be a part of a larger group.”
Soon after in the silvery moonlight, dozens of unaccompanied children with almost a hundred plus people made it to the Antelope Wells, New Mexico. This was considered the most remote spot along America’s entire southern border. It was December, yet in those early hours of the morning, the entire area was sun-baked. It was a forbidden place with only four buildings, the border agency’s port of entry, two houses and a trailer.
Francisco spotted a patrolling agent, slid behind a bush trying to camouflage, and instructed the others to do the same. But the binoculars of one of the guards caught them.
“There they are!” Shouted the one with the binoculars and within second’s four patrolling agents pounced towards them. Everybody hassled to hide and run but the agents succeeded in their mission.
All of them were detained. In the camp, they had periodic access to food and water, but Alejandra grew increasingly ill. Francisco informed the immigration officials about her deteriorating condition, and they decided to transfer her by bus to a border facility.
“My daughter is vomiting sir” Francisco noted to the agents after he made Alejandra sit on a vacant seat.
“I warn you take care of her and call me soon.” He said as the bus left.
During the 90-minute bus ride, Alejandra felt worse. Her breath rate accelerated, her skin grew sweaty and her body shivered. She was too weak to speak, but would occasionally open her tired eyes and sense her energy sinking rapidly. The nurse on the bus put her on intra-venous glucose, but a body that had not eaten or consumed water for several days, couldn’t respond to the emergency measures.
Gradually, her drowsiness increased and she was no more conscious to the external world. A helicopter flew her to the Providence Children’s Hospital in ElPaso. In her illusionary world however, she saw herself as a learned women of the US. She was seated in a luxurious car that was driving her to a space shuttle launching site where huge number of spectators had gathered to see her ascending into the outer space.
Hours and minutes ticked down to the launch. It was T-minus9minutes, and the ground teams was performing he final checks before giving the final “go.”
It were the last few minutes before the vehicle would roar into the sky. There was an air of excitement and anticipation. Alejandra felt happy to go into the outer space like Pakal the great. She was happy to have designed this special space craft just the way he had years and years ago. A broad smile spread across her face. It was T-minus 7 minutes, 30 seconds: The orbiter access arm was retracted. At T-minus 5 minutes, Alejandra, the commander of the shuttle started the orbiter’s auxiliary power units. She ordered her crewmates to close the visors of their launch and entry suits. Each of the three main engines got ignited and roared to life.
Bright xenon lights flared. The bolts that secured the shuttle to the ground explosively released. And Alejandra rocket into the sky. She had an unusual, unexplained feeling and she vomited. But as the vehicle went farer from the earth, the lighter and lighter she felt. She could no longer feel her body….she was like a feather.
And then it was all peaceful and silent. All dark. Absolutely nothing for miles and miles. And then she saw the silver cord as shining as a star. She saw herself walking on the cord towards a place that was so bright…..full of lights…. Heaven! She exclaimed.
Just a week later, a heart-shaped sign, was constructed out of wood and wrapped in plastic with the name Alejandra Rosemary Maquin at her family house in Guatemala.
The news papers read, ‘7-year-old Guatemalan girl died in custody at US border. The autopsy report concludes sepsis shock and cardiac arrest.’
Photo By: Bruno Kelzer