Translation-Chapter 11

Wednesday, May 12, 2010 8:40 PM By crosswaysnet , In


Chapter 11 (Sunday, 9:30AM - La Grange, TX)

After a makeshift breakfast, Mitch parts ways with the immigrants. He finds himself walking along another desolate stretch of highway. Dialogues with himself about what has been happening to him. Prays for understanding.

The road blends into the heartland Texas town of La Grand. Mitch steps into a Black pentecostal church for the service. The preaching is from Acts 8 and the story of Philip's 'translation' to meet the Eunuch along the Gaza road. The sermon convinces Mitch he's not crazy but he still feels lost.



"Él está durmiendo. Éste es el mejor que podemos hacer. Debemos ir."
"Pero él ahorró a nuestro hijo. Debemos hacer más."
Mitch heard voices in the hollow back corners of his mind. They were talking about him... in Spanish. Something about "saving a son," and "needing to do more." He looked up through a slit in one eye to see the soft face of a young Mexican girl staring back at him. Her eyes were filled with tears. The grey light of morning hid most of her features, but he could clearly see the glistening mahogany circles of her eyes. It reminded him of someone...
"Ángel, debemos ir." Angel, we have to go...
The girl looked to her left and slowly nodded. She stood and turned to go. Mitch decided not to rouse himself to stop her. After one step, she reached into the pocket of her tattered nylon coat. She pulled out something wrapped in foil and placed it next to Mitch's shoulder. She left quietly.
Mitch waited until he was sure the others had left. He wasn't sure why he'd pretended to sleep, but those eyes had haunted him. He rolled slowly onto his elbow and pushed up. Something crinkled loudly around him. He looked down and saw a large sheet of foil covering him. At least it looked like foil. Mitch recognized it a moment later as one of those emergency blankets made of Mylar. These strangers had covered him up during the night. I look like a wrapped burrito,he thought. I feel like one, too.
With a groan, Mitch sat up and took stock. He was sitting on the same patch of grass where he had collapsed - the river twenty yards away. Soon, the sun would rise, though it was hard to tell exactly when. Everything was still overcast and gray. A few birds were calling, but most creatures were sleeping in after the storm. Everything smelled wet and verdant. The spot below him was dry but all around was covered with the leftover rain and dew. Mitch was sure the temperature would climb quickly and the Rio Grande river basin would become a steam bath. It was time to get moving while the going was pleasant. His eye caught the little package the woman had left and he picked it up, unwrapping the tattered foil. Inside he found a hard-boiled egg and a small breakfast burrito. He re-wrapped the treasure and stuffed it into his pants pocket.
Mitch's joints protested the effort, but he wasted no time standing. It was then he felt the weight of his clothes, still saturated and clinging to him. This would not be a pleasant hike...
The deer path leading away from the river pushed into thick brush. Mitch saw the tread of recent footprints. He followed them. After ten minutes he came to a slight rise and climbed out of the ancient flood plain. The water never reached this high any more, now that Lake Amistad controlled the bigger flow up river. Flash floods no longer scoured the highest river banks and the thick brambles were working hard to reclaim them.
At the crest, Mitch could see ahead to rich farmland and a road, probably a mile off. The trail in front of him branched evenly to the left and the right. There was higher ground to the right, with a broadcast tower mounted at its summit. He chose that direction.
It was clearly day, though still gray and dreary, when Mitch reached the service road to the tower. He sat down on the gravel bank to survey the main route below him. An early morning delivery truck was working its way northwest - the only vehicle Mitch could see. Its lights were still on. He watched it till it crested the rise and disappeared.
Mitch started to turn the other direction when something caught his eye in the same spot. Four people, one after the other, crossed the road quickly. The last two were a man and a child, holding hands. He recognized the group. In his heart he wished them well, dreading the perils ahead of them. He longed to know their story and what desperation drove them to this.
Mitch felt the low rumble of a truck motor before he heard it. Turning to his right, Mitch saw another vehicle - a panel van with unmistakeable red and black stripes. It drove the same stretch, but much slower, like it was looking for something. It flashed its brights and came to a stop. The driver quickly moved to the back of the truck and threw up the pull-down door. From Mitch's side of the road, two men darted from the brush carrying two duffle bags and jumped in. From their gate and stature, Mitch had no doubt who the two were. His blood ran cold. The driver jumped back into the cab and pulled a U-turn, heading back southeast. A stylized "M" and "R" were stamped on the side, with some other text below. Mitch couldn't read it. He felt he should do something, but had no idea what. These characters were clearly up to no good but Mitch was at a loss for an appropriate action.
He rubbed the back of his neck and immediately winced. There's a hole in your neck, you idiot, Mitch reminded himself. He gingerly felt around the front of his shoulder, just above the collar bone. The front puncture had torn a little, but it was closed and scabbed over. He lifted his left shoulder slowly to see how far it would travel without more pain. Not much, and it started to twitch into a cramp. Enough of this.
Mitch stood and started walking down the service road. It was all he could think to do. And he tried to just think. But that wasn't working so well, either. Every time he blinked, the rushing waters of last night's flood played on the back of his eyelids. He could hear the little boy's cries for help and the panicked voices upstream - and the pitiable moan of the man he did not save. A knot grew in Mitch's stomach.
The scene played over and over in his mind and wouldn't let up. Mitch began to wish he didn't have to blink. But the more it repeated, the boy's cry began to sound more like his own. He had saved one person from the flood, but the crushing guilt of losing another was beginning to set in. Mitch was sure the man was dead. He was also convinced the man was a criminal. Be he had still let him die. Unable to stop it, a moan welled up from deep in his gut. Mitch fell to his knees and sobbed.
Why do I feel like I'm still caught in the torrent? Like there's a flood drowning me? A rushing force I can't see? That I'm caught in impossible situations, with impossible decisions?
Mitch felt that no matter how far he tried to turn around to face the danger, or horror, or whatever it was, it would always be just out of sight. No matter how hard he ran, it would be right at his heels. It was becoming a maddening nuisance, but Mitch wasn't angry so much as broken. He was spent - empty - used up, shaky and rattling like the tin man. He felt like a completely shattered man, and it had only taken a few days. Mitch didn't know who he was, or more importantly, why he was anymore. He was just stumbling from one new crisis to the next, never really understanding what was going on or why he was involved. You were so close to getting your life back together, Mitch. Then you just had to "go out in the wilderness" and spend a week taking stock of your life. Where has it gotten you? He began to wonder again if it was all real or an illusion. He decided he desperately needed more sleep.
You need rest.
The voice again. Mitch sighed and groaned at the same time.
"I know - I was just deciding that very thing."
You need rest more than sleep.
Mitch was too exhausted to sort that out. But his guilt was rising up again.
"But I killed a man - I don't deserve to rest."
He chose death.
Mitch was silent for a few moments. He wasn't sure if he was supposed to feel better about it. His thoughts were at a dead end. As little as he cared at the moment, he still knew it was time to get moving.
"Where to next?" Mitch said, with a quiet kind of dread and trepidation.
Stand up and walk.
Mitch stumbled back up to his feet and looked around. The gray was starting to lift and the air beginning to move. The ground underneath felt solid enough. The gravel crunched around under his left shoe as he swiveled it. Mitch brushed some more of it out of his right knee. Everything around him appeared completely normal, but he still felt like he was standing in a house of mirrors. One step and it would all change. For a moment, Mitch was very satisfied with the prospect of becoming completely 'one' with the gravel under him and the air around him. He didn't know if he could stand another rip in the universe. He was tired of it, and tired of stepping through them.
You need rest.
Now Mitch was beginning to get angry at the voice. "Well, duh," his daughter might have said. He sucked in a long breath and took a step. Nothing unusual happened. He took another. He finished his half-mile walk to the highway and tried to decide which way to go. There was still no traffic.
Make a choice.
What? Was the voice on a schedule? "Fine, then!" Mitch said, impetuously. He turned right and stepped onto the pavement.


***




The sound of the truck's horn spun Mitch around. The semi missed him by less than four feet. The vortex of wind sucked his hair forward as the rig passed. That was close - where did he come from? Two cars were coming from the other direction, one looking to pass the slowpoke ahead of him. Mitch stepped off the side of the pavement and shook his head. Looking back up and across the road, he saw a mutt of a dog studying him through a chainlink fence. What? There's only brush country and farmland out here... Mitch looked back up the road and saw a row of oak trees outlining a well-kept lawn and a crossroads with a blinking light. More traffic was turning his way. Mitch lowered his head and sighed. Here we go again...
Mitch stuffed his hands in his pockets, almost breaking the wrapped egg he still hadn't eaten. He set himself in the direction of the traffic light ahead. What next? Mitch asked the voice. It wasted no time in replying.
Complete what is left undone.
What have I not done? Mitch asked himself. He continued his way, coming to the parking lot of a strip mall five minutes later. He reviewed everything he could remember of the past few days. What am I missing?
Then it jumped out to him like a name returning to an amnesiac. He walked quickly to the payphone standing to the left of a Five and Dime store, rehearsing the phone number in his head. He grabbed the receiver as soon as he reached it and listened for the dial tone. Good, this one works. Out of habit he fumbled for change in his pocket. He had none. He was afraid he'd forget the number again and dialed it anyway. A polite, congested female voice asked him for $1.35 to complete the call. Mitch glanced every direction and saw no one about to ask for help. He stuck his finger in the change slot - and pulled out five quarters and a dime. He stuffed the coins into the top slot during the third request. The phone range four times before a gravelly voice answered.


***


The man sipped the hot, black coffee and stared to the south through the wall of glass. The wall of gray that owned the horizon was beginning to break apart. Patches of blue, scrubbed clean by the night's storm, began to appear in the west. A burst of sunlight appeared through a crack on the other horizon, traveling across the expanse of pasture between. A billion drops of rain still hanging on the leaves of new grass glistened like crystal. Large islands of wildflowers - bluebonnets mostly - were erupting everywhere. It would be an exceptional Spring show. For the next couple of weeks anyway...
The longhorns were already at work, foraging the thousand acres closest to the mansion. While the blue fought for dominion in the sky, thunderheads still poured out their displeasure on the Balcones Escarpment, undoubtedly swelling the rivers and re-carving the streambeds with a fury. Somewhere beyond the weather, not so far to the south, lay Old Mexico. The civilized country.
Everything within him leaned toward his homeland. I should be home already, thought the man. This land was once civilized, too. And it was Mexico, then. He touched the glass with his right hand. This far south, the man's back was turned on most of the United States. In more ways than one. He followed the dark clouds with his eyes as they drifted between two worlds, headed for oblivion in the Gulf. He was one of those dark clouds.
A soft knock came at the door to the library. The man walked to his desk and pressed the button, discretely hidden under the lip of his desktop. A chiseled and tense young man entered in a tense manner.
"Is there word yet?" asked the senior man in a calm, authoritative voice. He reserved his menace only for needful occasions. The young man shifted a bit. His boss simply waited, erect and still.
"Yes," said the young man, clearing his throat. "The package has been received..." He shifted again.
"Go on." The man's voice had lowered a step.
"Umm... a certain percentage of the package... has been lost, sir."
The man glared at his underling. "What 'percentage' Rodrigo?"
"One third, jefe."
"And I am to assume that this part of the 'package' is not retrievable?"
"No, sir." The young man looked down.
The jefe exhaled through his nose and lifted his black coffee to his lips. He gazed through the steam at the retreating storm clouds. There were bound to be further storms today, weather or no weather.
"Have operations prepare the report. I will have to handle this personally. That will be all." He reached for the button and the door softly clicked open. The young man wasted no time in retreating.


***


"Yes," came the sleepy response.
"Is this Freddie?" Mitch asked. "Raul asked me to call." There was a rumbling, shuffling and a grunt on the other end of the line. Freddie was suddenly awake.
"Who is this? Where's Raul? Eva's worried sick. We've been up most of the night trying to find him."
"I know, I know... I was with Raul last night. He told me to call you as soon as possible."
"Who are you?" Freddie sounded suspicious and accusing.
"My name's Mitch. We're... friends. Met at the warehouse. Listen, I don't have much time, and he's in danger. So are the family. He needs your help, and right now. Can I trust you to listen close and do exactly as I say?"
"It depends..."
"I'm not messing around here, Freddie. You're going to know all about me real soon and I'm going to help you save Eva and the baby, but you've got to trust me."
"Just a second..." The receiver on the other end crunched around and went still for more than a minute. Mitch thought he could hear muffled voices in the background, like another phone call.
Mitch was shifting nervously when the stuffy female voice returned. "You have one more minute of call time, if you'd like to extend this call, please add another fifty five cents please."
Come on, come on, come on...
"Yeah, I'm back."
"I don't have much time here Freddie. Are you going to help or not?"
"Eva says yes. What do you want me to do?"
"First get Eva and baby and hit the road. No stopping to pack - none of that. Just move. Then see if you can find Raul. He's along the interstate somewhere north of San Antonio. Probably not to Austin. At a rest stop. He'll be looking for a ride."
"Describe it to me - I used to work for highway maintenance."
Mitch did, then quickly told him where to find his cabin as a hideout.
"You have fifteen seconds. To extend the call, please deposit fifty five cents, please."
Mitch raised his voice over the interruption to finish his directions.
"I'm sorry, this call will now be terminated." The line went dead. Mitch stared at the receiver, hoping. He placed the receiver back in the cradle and leaned his head on his forearm.
Please save these ones...
He looked up and asked himself, "Now where am I?"
There was a liquor store at the corner of the strip mall, and all the others were closed. Mitch could read the clock inside a check-cashing store: 8:25.
"Yeah, but what day is it? Sunday morning? No wonder it's quiet."
Traffic wasn't exactly busy through town. The closest open store seemed to be the Walmart on the other side of the highway, beyond another eighth mile of parking lot. Mitch set out again, crossed Highway 71 and a couple hundred empty parking spaces. He spied an attendant at the Racetrack gas station and changed direction straight for her. She looked up from her paperback to register the approaching stranger and immediately retreated to the closed office closet.
Strange, thought Mitch. He didn't feel like trying to get her attention by pounding on the glass, so he continued on to the Walmart entrance. He didn't encounter anyone until he approached the main entrance. An elderly lady gave him a wide berth as he stepped into the downpour of forced air at the threshold.
"Excuse me," Mitch said to the lady. She hurried by without making eye contact. Mitch hesitated for a moment before continuing to the service desk. A lame, fill-the-time conversation came to a halt as he approached the middle-aged hispanic woman at the first counter. She didn't look the pleasant type as she cocked her head slightly and pursed her lips. She didn't say anything, much less the expected, cheerful "Good morning! How may I help you."
What kind of rude town is this?
"Uh, good morning," began Mitch. "Could you tell me where I am?"
Miss Friendly's hoop earring wiggled as she rolled her head along with her eyes. She gave an "oh brother" look at her friend in the local dialect.
"If you can't figure that out, you need more help than I have to give." She reached under the counter with one hand without looking down.
"Excuse me, but I'm asking a simple question." Mitch's blood was heating up. "Is it so difficult to answer? I'm not familiar with this... route and I just want to know what the name of the town is."
Mitch caught the sound of keys jangling behind him. He looked around. A large black man in uniform was stepping up. The nametag read "Security - Williams." True lineman size. Military bearing. Extremely short afro, almost shaved. He hesitated a step when Mitch faced him. He looked past to the woman behind the counter.
"Do we have a problem, Minerva?"
"Si. This man seems to be lost. Would you like to help him find where he's going?"
Her accent became more pronounced.
The man's large lips protruded a bit as he pulled a deep breath into his flared nostrils. His voice was as big as his shoulders. Menacing, even.
"Lost, are we? Well we'll start by showing you to the door."
He stepped to one side and indicated with his meaty left hand which direction the entrance could be found.
Mitch narrowed his eyes a little and didn't budge. What is wrong with these people?
"Mister... Williams. I just asked this nice young lady a simple question. She doesn't seem inclined to answer." Mitch glared at Miss Friendly, whose arms were now crossed. She just pointed her pink and white lip gloss at him. "All I need to know is what town this is... And maybe find out if I could make a call to New Castle."
The big man responded like Mitch had just demanded the unthinkable. He, apparently, wasn't open to conversation, either, and made that clear with his expression alone.
"Whatever you think you need, mister, you ain't gonna find in here. This is you leaving - now."
Mr. Williams reached for Mitch's shoulder to point him in the right direction. His grip landed right on both sides of the ragged mesquite puncture.
"Hey, watch it!"
Mitch instinctively jumped back, out of the man's grasp. A split-second later that huge hand was back, firmly clamped on the back of Mitch's neck. By the time that registered, Mitch's left wrist was jerked up behind his back so hard his feet almost left the floor.
"Enough, already! Are you out of your mind?? Put me down!"
Mr. Williams wasn't inclined to further conversation. Mitch quickly passed through the front doors leaning forward and awkwardly dancing on his toes. Mr. Williams released him roughly and Mitch rolled over on the sidewalk. His left shoulder now ached from the overextension.
"You best be on your way, mister. Don't let me catch you here again."
Mitch saw the over-stuffed polyester blue trousers retreat to the cool interior of the store. The doors slid shut.
Unbelievable, thought Mitch, rubbing his left wrist. Un-stinking-believable. What have I done to offend these people?
Then Mitch caught his reflection in the glass of the door. He looked like a crumpled, bloody wreck. He stumbled up to the door and checked himself over in the dark reflection. His clothes were all torn and bloodied. His face looked dark and bruised in places. His hair was pointing every direction. He looked down at bruised, cut and blistered hands.
Mitch sighed. He was suddenly self-conscious. No wonder - they think I'm a drunk, a bum or both. He thought about returning to the service desk to apologize. He decided he probably wouldn't get the chance. What to do?
Mitch just walked.




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