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“Benny, Benny” my grandfather spoke in an old shaky voice. “You must leave.” The other gypsies nodded in agreement. “You are filled with maharime up here.” He tapped his forehead as did each woman. “Who are you?” I asked, although I knew she was my grandfather in gypsy dress. Another gypsy with skin the color of burnt charcoal answered, “Chavo, she is your Baba, we are all your Baba. It is with God we found you and it is with God that we will leave you. Give us some bread, give us some herbs, we are your finger casters.” She drew her hands out to me and on each tattooed finger were the devilish symbols of owls, snakes, ravens and goats.
Another woman, very heavy, whose silver teeth sparkled in the early light said, “Give us your paper, so that that we may bless you, Chavo. We will remove the Prikaza that darkens your spirit. Give us your paper.” I looked around and saw a football card with the picture of Rafael Marquez, the Mexican soccer star, on the table beside my bed. It still smelled like the loaf of Bimbo bread I had taken it from yesterday at breakfast. I gave it to my gypsy grandfather.
All the gypsies seemed pleased, except for the one whom the others called Chivani. The oldest looking, she wore many beaded necklaces around her neck and thin brown leather straps around her wrists. The Chivani was silent until given the card. She looked at it in disgust, with the wrinkles in her nose bunching together and her brow tightening in concentration. She spoke two words ‘kocsis sándor’ before handing the card to another. Shortly thereafter, I heard the braying of horses and the ringing of many small bells. This was their cue to leave and so they left.
After the gypsies left, I lay in bed watching my world unwind. Shadows lengthened and shrank outside my room. A crab spider spun a web across my tiny window frame. In our small courtyard, my mother worked making tortillas. Her hands making the pat-pat-pat sound that was as familiar to me as her long mournful sighs. My tiny world was taking shape as it always does, moving slowly, going to those same places that end in my mother‘s reproachful, faraway looks, in my numerous headaches that clamor and roar, in a feeling that makes me less solid, less durable each day.
I hear a voice telling me, “Go to the other side.” It’s not my voice I hear, and it’s not a gypsy, or my mother‘s. It’s my grandfather’s voice, sounding like thunder tearing down a mountainside.
I hear a voice insist I leave. I comply. I must.
The day of my decision, the earth shook violently, knocking me out of bed to the floor where I found a 20 peso note. A good omen, I thought. But more importantly a reminder about money needed for the journey. Later that day, after the earth rumblings had quieted, I went to Timoteo Mendoza’s grocery store to borrow cash. The debt business is a good one for the Mendoza clan, since most migrants lack resources for the trip. After some nonsense about Jesus as my master and savior, Timoteo handed over an envelope, saying, “God wants you to take care of your debts, for if you don’t He will find you. He always finds what belongs to him.”
Returning home, I tell my mother of my plans. She objects. She grabs my elbow with her hand, disturbing my already strange moods. She then asks if I’m well. I’m unsure how to respond. It angers me, her question. So I let it go and step away. I’m leaving I say again. This time my voices trembles like a frightened child endlessly seeking adult approval My mother demands I stay and care of her but makes no move to stop me. How could she? I am a man.
Although the oldest, I’m also the last of her five children to go. We, my brothers and sisters, have all left, crossing to the other side. My father went first, long ago, leaving behind only a dusty wedding picture in a gilded frame, hanging crookedly on a cracked bedroom wall, to be taken down at my mother’s death, according to her wishes. I tell her I’ll send money. She begins to weep the saltiest of tears, saying over again, “May God go with you.”
“I’ll come back with money. I’ll take care of you.” I plead, just wanting her to stop her mournful expressions of not quite pity, not quite guilt.
The Other Side continues...