Lying on her back, the ground hard and uncomfortable beneath her, the adobe mud walls were still cool from the night air and radiated a sharp chill back throughout the small, one room hut. Rosalinda leaned over to pull the thin blanket tighter around her infant baby lying beside her. Staring up at the peeling ceiling boards, she silently said to herself, “No more of this life, not for me and not for my new son.”
Her mother, Adalina, lay beside her on a thin straw mat motionless with exhaustive sleep. She had deep furrows in her face and hands, her fingers were cracked at the knuckles. Life was a daily struggle, a constant hard time, it was all they had ever known.
As Rosalinda lie awake on this morning, her mother’s words of advice echoed in her mind. Words that were spoken to her often during her childhood years, given as much for guidance as they were to head off any awkward questions, “You do whatever you have to do,” Adalina would always say, “it is not that hard my cherished daughter. Many times you have no choice in the matter anyway. Such is life.”
Similar words were said whenever they would wake together in yet another strange house, or a dilapidated barn, or a field with high dry, brittle tan grass shielding them from the dusty brown, rural dirt road. Mothers are capable of reading their daughter’s eyes and Rosalinda’s would awaken filled with questions about the day ahead, the night before, the loud men her mother went off with repeatedly.
Sometimes, on that rare occasion when things were going good, her mother would say to her, “In life, there is a rhythm you must find. You will know it when you do, for God smiles and you can feel His warmth no matter which way you turn, no matter which decision you make.”
Her mother’s many pieces of advice were, for her, weighty concepts to ponder, but not for today. She understood what she believed to be her mother’s meaning, the central intent of the words given her, and she appreciated that her mother cared to say them, but her full concentration was now required for this new turn in her life, she would have to reflect more fully on them at another time. For now, yet another of life’s many decisions, made only this very morning, indeed only a few minutes ago, was her new ruler. She was committed totally and would not be persuaded otherwise.
Alone in the starry cool night, carrying her baby tightly, she imagined herself crossing the Big River into a new life. The closer she came to the border, the more often she heard the same story from the old women, “Bring your baby into the States, tell them he was born there, that’s it, he will become a citizen and you are home free. It is so easy.” No more struggle, no more fear for the next dark night, the next strange man, the next unforeseen calamity waiting to appear. She had made up her mind, firmly, and she was sure now.
Her son would have opportunity, a chance to become someone, a person of dignity, not the kind of opportunity available to him here. That is the kind that leads to trouble more often than not, the path being chosen for him before he would even reach maturity. He would surely learn the ways of the street, acting like a furtive creature, wary and suspicious with no respect for himself or others. The thought of this happening to her sweet boy made her weep with sorrow and despair.
She turned onto her side, away from her mother, to hold her baby close to her, to smell deeply his infant innocence. “We will travel to the north today little one, to our freedom, to all things good, fair and just,” she whispered into his little ear. “A place where little boys can grow into strong, proud men, unafraid and confident.”
Rosalinda watched the little boy’s eyes roll under his delicate pale lids as if he understood the words being poured into his subconsciousness, even as he slept, and she hoped with all her being that these words were true.
* * *
After a long and nervous day of preparations, the eastern sky was finally darkening, and it was time for their futures to unfold, to begin anew. With directions to a registrar’s office in the town hall of a small border town, located not far from the opposite river bank, committed to memory, she concentrated to keep her focus. She felt a building pressure from the man whom she had paid with her mother’s last pesos to guide her across tonight. He waited impatiently nearby while she gathered up her few belongings and hugged her mother, Adalina, goodbye. She had no regrets, other than she had wished her mother was coming along, but they both knew that wasn’t possible, she wouldn’t leave, not now, not ever. It was enough to see one of her daughters have a chance at a better life and it brought a wry smile to her face. This was a rare thing to see, this crooked smile. Her mother’s thoughts were not to be shared at this time, and Rosalinda did not ask.
She hugged her mother again, more tightly this time, tears welling up, unable to let go, their cheeks were pressed warmly, lovingly, together. The guide scolded them, “I’m leaving!” he barked at them. With her anxious son squirming in her one arm, she pulled back and looked into her mother’s moist eyes, “Adios mi dulce madre,” she whispered.
Adalina nodded, raised her arm and turned her palm outward towards Rosalinda. And with that, they parted forever.