Broken English

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Chapter 7

A round logo adorned the pocket of a black and grey golf shirt. Chuck recalled seeing it on the left side of the man’s chest. He also observed it on the papers strewn across his messy linoleum kitchen counter. It marked the shiny black folders on top of the overturned milk crates, the coffee mug the man raised to his thin, dehydrated lips and even on the little black pen he clutched with his bony fingers to sign all the papers. The tiny, cluttered mobile home stunk of cigarettes, stale coffee and some rancid sweet smell that he later learned - as he eventually reached his teenaged years - to be fresh marijuana.

The memories faded in and out of his mind as he lay curled in a fetal position in some unknown dark abode. He recalled the yellow and browned teeth of the man’s smile and the sickly, greenish, golden hue of his skin with his three-day stubble and his unkempt hair flailing about his piercing blackish eyes.

His earliest memory of the curvy, silver trailer stretched back to his youngest days when his parents first escorted him to see the vile man who lived in the claustrophobic metal hull next to the Nueces river in the nowhere town of Las Colonias, Texas.

Chuck knew nothing of the man, except that they drove nearly an hour to visit him, and they usually made him pose like he did for school photos to snap his picture soon after they arrived there. But, beyond that, it seemed like a meaningless exercise of driving half across the state to visit a sickly man in a dark, musty mobile home for less than 20-minutes and then driving back home again.

“You don’t tell no one about Uncle Alias,” his father told him. “He don’t exist. You understand Chuckie? You tell no one; never.”

In all his youth, he rarely heard his parents speak Spanish, despite their thick accents and their obvious native tongue. They didn’t speak of any life before coming to America and they never called him by his birth name, which he only learned later to be Carlos.

“You’re American now, baby,” his mother told him one day after visiting the silver trailer. “You don’t speak no Spanish and you don’t have no Mexican name. You have a good life as regular American boy. You grow up. You get yourself a good wife and family. You make a success.”

So, Chuck grew up with about as gringo a name as they come; “Chuckie”. This made it all the more confusing for Chuck when they visited Uncle Alias and his parents rattled on in lightning-fast, fluent Spanish with the scary man who must have been a brother or cousin of some sort to one of his parents. Even more discombobulating was the fact that this uncle of his only referred to him as Carlos, despite all the paperwork he gave him stating his name as Charles Peter Domo.

Chuck’s eyelids parsed negligibly, streaming a burst of light into his retina that seemed to burn his brain. He squeezed his eyes tightly and twitched his head in reaction to the shock.

He heard a voice, a sweet female tone, and words he couldn’t understand.

“Mata la luz,” she whispered.

The light in the room extinguished, replaced by the silver of the moon that emitted much softer illumination through the window overhead.

He felt silky, warm hands rubbing a cool, smooth cream on his arms. The sensation nearly overloaded his senses and made him flinch. A tiny hand with skinny fingers slipped into his and lifted his arm to reach under and apply the cream to the red blotched fire ant bites up and down his forearms and biceps.

The cream smelled of vanilla and aloe. The touch of a friendly hand settled Chuck’s mind and helped him reach a more contented sleep.

In Chuck’s haze, he recalled driving to the little patch of land in Los Colonias by the winding Nueces River to visit Uncle Alias by himself as a teenager. Tall weeds and grass surrounded the base of the trailer. The ragged man with the rotting teeth and thinned hair reeked worse and worse of weed each time he recalled encountering him.

“You don’t tell nobody about Uncle Alias,” the old man wheezed.

Chuck could feel himself flinch at the stale breath that invaded his nose as the thin, wrinkled fingers of his deathly kin handed him a freshly printed State of Texas driver’s license and a crisp new passport with his McAllen address and his American name spelled out beneath his smiling picture.

“You do,” his uncle whispered in his ear, while lightly fingering a butcher knife that rested at the edge of his kitchen counter. “I hurt you pretty little mama and my stupid putano cousin. You got that, boy. I do it. You tell nobody, ever about me.”

Chuck ventured to open his eyes again. He saw little other than the blur of the moon and two light brown orbs floating above his head.

The orbs revealed smaller, darker brown dots before blurring into the shapes of two human faces peering over him.

Chuck blinked and tried to move, but his body still hurt from the beatings he had received since arriving in Reynosa.

“Hola señor,” the female voice spoke to him like music without the melody. “¿Estas bien?”

Chuck squinted and shook his head. He tried to formulate words, but didn’t understand the Spanish questions that had been asked of him.

“Where am I?” he asked, not expecting an understandable answer.

“You’re in the house of my mamá and me,” the male voice responded in thick accented English. “We found you on the road. You been pretty beat up.”

Chuck tried to roll to his side to alleviate tension on his back. The effort tired him and he returned to his prone position on the bed. His mind still wandered and, in his half-asleep state, he forgot about his mangled arm, wincing in pain before slumping back into the bed with his mind spinning in semi-consciousness.

He took his first deep look at his surroundings, which consisted of a ten-by-ten-foot square room, constructed of unfinished grey cinder blocks. A Mexican flag covered one entire wall. Another wall had slanted four-foot long posters of baseball players. Wrinkled shirts and underwear covered the floor and khaki pants and shorts piled sloppily on a chair in the corner.

Barely any light shed further illumination across the room beyond the orangy book light on the desk across from the bed. Several hand carved wooden animal figurines lined a shelf above the back of the desk. Books with titles written in Spanish cluttered the little wooden piece of furniture. One book caught Chuck’s eyes, titled; “Learning Basic English”.

“Can you speak?” the male voice asked.

Chuck brought his hand to his face as if brushing away his slumber and took in the sights of his two Samaritans. The boy, about 15 and strappingly muscular sat at the end of the bed with a curious smile on his face. The female, maybe in her mid-30s, thin, but curvy, stood by the crack of the bedroom door with her hand placed cautiously across her stomach and a thin, expressionless look on her strikingly beautiful face. Her mocha skin reflected the moonlight from the small window above the Mexican flag. Her dark eyes seemed to absorb the fiery light in the room like black holes.

“Pedro,” she snapped, beckoning him to join her on the other side of the room, “Pregunta su nombre.”

“Un momento Mamá,” the boy snapped back before turning to Chuck with his soft eyes and empathetic smile. “Are you ok, señor? Can you speak. Can you tell us, do you have a name?”

Chuck summoned what strength he could in his abdomen and responded.

“Chuck,” he said, instantly wondering if he should have gone with Carlos instead.

“¿Es un Americano?” the woman asked Pedro.

“Are you from America?” Pedro translated. “Did you get deported here by the Americans? Are you Mexicano? You no speak Spanish?”

“Hablo Español ... un poco,” Chuck replied in a poorly constructed Spanish response. “Hablo un poco Español. Cuando es chico. Only when I was little.”

“This is my mamá,” said Pedro, pointing at the petite, long, straight, black-haired woman with the weary expression in the doorway to his bedroom. “I don’t got no papi. But my mamá takes good care of me. She don’t speak much English. Just me. She speaks a little bit maybe.”

Chuck met her eyes and nodded in humble appreciation. Her lips curled upward in the making of a smile and then returned to their neutral state.

“Vamos al medico,” she said to her son.

“We’re taking you to the medic, uh the doctor, in the town,” he said. “Can you get on your feet? We have to take the bus. It comes soon.”

“Vamonos,” Pedro’s mother said as she turned into the next room and grabbed a shoulder purse. “Rapido.”

Chuck flexed his sore stomach muscles. Pain shot through his arm. Pedro assisted him to a sitting position on the bed.

“Está viniendo,” his mother called from the other room. “Yo lo veo.”

“The bus is coming,” Pedro translated. “My mamá can see it coming. We have to hurry. It only comes every hour.”

Pedro slung Chuck’s good arm over his shoulder and braced him to his feet as Chuck cradled his hurt arm against his chest. With great effort, they staggered together through another room about twice the size of the bedroom that served as a combined kitchen, dining room and television room. Chuck observed another bedroom, more neatly kept on the other wall across from Pedro’s room.

“I have no money to give you,” Chuck said to Pedro’s mother. “Lo siento, señora. No dinero.”

The woman didn’t respond, instead, exiting the house to flag the bus as it approached.

“It’s ok,” Pedro replied on her behalf. “The doctor comes to our church and offers his service for a free. He’s there now. We go see him and you get your arm fixed. We used to have the shelter near where the bus from America drops off the people they deport. But they closed it.”

“Thank you … gracias,” Chuck said to Pedro, then called out to his mother before again whispering to Pedro. “What’s your mother’s name?”

“She’s named Mirabella,” Pedro replied. “We live here.”

“Mirabella,” Chuck repeated. “And where is here?”

“We live on the, uh, how do you say the outside part, uh, the outskirt?” Pedro said. “We live at the edge of the city of Reynosa.”

Pedro paused and then added a closing thought.

“That’s why they closed the shelter,” he added. “It was near the Puebo de Chicos, the Boys Town, where you can get killed if you look the wrong way. You got to be careful here. Sometimes you don’t really live in Reynosa. You just survive.”

They sat, quietly on the bus. Chuck stared out the window at the dusty rolling hills, the short lush trees and the foothills in the distance. The moon overhead reminded him of the view out his bedroom window in Pleasanton. He could feel the warm radiance of his cozy sleigh bed and the fluffy down quilt he and Stephanie shared.

The image of the room with its yellow, orange and red décor and the mahogany chest that sat beneath the far window under the silver reflection of the moon occupied his mind and helped him forget his plight as a deported American with no money, phone or identification.

He tried to conjure the image of his cheerful curly-haired wife. But he couldn’t quite formulate her face in his recall. How many hours or days later and he already felt so far away from her that her memory faded like the late evening Mexican sun that set into the dusty horizon.

“Just tired,” Chuck thought to himself. “Or maybe just from being a whole world away.”

The road widened and Chuck could see the moonlight reflecting off the metal roofs of several buildings aligned in chaotic order along the side of the road. One, after the other, they whooshed past the bus, their drab grey sides covered in cheap, wavy sheet metal, brownish, rusty trim and a glaring lack of windows.

“Plantas de fabricación,” Pedro said to him as Chuck rested his head against the thin glass of the little yellow bus window. “Uh, the factories. We have many factories. Most people in Reynosa work in the plantas.”

The scenery reminded him of the extended drive from McAllen to visit Uncle Alias. Chuck’s mind, which fluttered to reconstruct Stephanie’s sweet smile, returned more easily to the last time he recalled seeing the vile man. As the bus window rattled and the glass vibrated against his forehead, Chuck shivered at the memory of the man in the tiny trailer.

By then, Uncle Alias had moved to some tiny ghost town deeper in the south of Texas near Mexico and Chuck had to take an entire day off from work, unbeknownst to Stephanie, to drive out there to get his license renewed.

A young family had just emerged from the cabin with their three children, thanking him profusely for his services. They brushed past Chuck’s Honda Pilot as they giddily returned to their beat-up Chevy and filled the air with arid southwestern sand, peeling away into the oblivion.

Chuck recalled pushing the door aside and the loud, piercing squeak that chilled his spine. Uncle Alias, openly toking pot in the trailer, aimlessly blew the smoke about the confined space with reckless abandon. Upon returning home, Chuck had to remove all his clothes and soak them in the bathtub while he took a long shower to scrub the stench from his hands, off his skin and out of his hair.

“Little Carlos,” Uncle Alias flashed his brown and yellow rotten teeth. “Ten years already?”

“Let’s get this over with,” Chuck said.

“I reprint your passport,” said Uncle Alias. “I scrub the number from the federal database to make sure you can’t be traced to no dead Mexicano.”

Chuck nodded, hoping to quickly conclude their business and leave Uncle Alias behind for another decade.

“You got a nice wife,” his uncle said to him with a mischievous sneer. “I see the family on the Facebook.”

Chuck ignored the comment as he tucked the new license in his wallet. He noted that the man wore the same black golf shirt, faded and discolored in the blazing southwestern sun, as he had ten years earlier. The distinctive shirt still bore the embroidered letters “ALIAS” encircled in white stitching but had soiled to grey and brown.

“Very bonita; hermoso; sexy,” his uncle continued. “And you three beautiful little girls; teenagers, no?”

“Leave my family out of this,” Chuck snapped.

“You keep you mouth shut about this shit,” Uncle Alias snapped right back, flashing a handgun resting loosely against the elastic of his worn track pants. “You want them stay safe. You don’t tell nobody. No cops. No feds. Nobody. You understand? I don’t care if they come for you.

“You and me, we got the same Dominguez blood, you dig? You don’t tell nobody about me. You stay nice and quiet like a little mouse. Nobody in your family get hurt or killed.”

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