December 12, 11:28 PM Mountain
Lupita threw the dirty diaper under a creosote bush and rubbed her hands in the sandy soil to clean them. Tomaso, the guide her husband had paid to lead them across the border, had called a halt to rest in an arroyo, and she took the opportunity to give the children something to eat and to change the baby. There was no moon to light the cold desert night, but the clear sky was lit up with millions of stars, and she could make out the faces of the twenty or so other people who were making the journey north. They were bunched up in small groups, mainly families, but there were also several men making the journey north to seek work.
Juan, her brother-in-law, passed over a container of water, which she brought to her lips with a murmured thanks. Tomaso had told them to keep quiet, especially the children, and every time the baby whimpered, he hissed at her to shut him up.
“How much longer?” she whispered to Juan. He had made the trip several times before, and was the one who had convinced her husband that she and the little ones could make the journey to join him at his job in Arkansas.
“We’re over the border,” he answered, “It’s a few more hours into the mountains, and then we’ll rest for the day. Tomorrow night, we’ll be in Tucson.”
“Thank the Virgin Mother,” Lupita said, crossing herself, “We’ll be together for Christmas.”
The weariness of walking across the wide valley in fits and starts, all while making sure she didn’t lose one of the children, was taking its toll on her. She looked to the north and saw the bulk of the mountains blocking out the stars. Even though the thin mountain air was chilly in the December night, Lupita felt hot under the thin coating of sweat running between her shoulder blades and down her chest. The baby was heavy, and the work it took to keep the other two children moving fast enough to not get left behind was draining her.
Up into those? she thought, picking the baby up and offering it her breast, You never said anything about mountains, Juan. Lupita felt the infant latch on, then closed her eyes and drifted off to sleep.
A few minutes later, Tomaso stood up and looked to the south. Lupita followed his gaze down the path they had followed up from the border, but saw nothing. The coyote shook his head and hissed, “OK, let’s get moving. Keep quiet, for God’s sake!” He watched as his charges got up and started straggling back into line, then started toward the mountains.
Lupita took up the nylon cord she and Juan had tied around the children’s middles and started walking. Little Carlos took his sister by the hand as they followed their mother up the slope of the first hills.
The incline got gradually steeper as the line of migrants straggled along in the dim starlight, and Lupita and her children were soon the last in the column again. Even Juan left them a few yards behind as they climbed into the rolling foothills of the Chiracahuas.
Every so often, Lupita thought she could hear a clink or the heavy fall of a foot tripping over a rock behind her, but when she paused to gaze back down the path, she could see nothing. Every time, she would shrug, give the rope connecting her to her son a tug, and continue trudging uphill.
Finally, they crested the first ridge of the mountains, and Tomaso led them down into a small valley with stunted trees and bushes. Lupita almost fell as she sank to her knees when the rest of the group stopped to rest. Carlos lay down and immediately fell asleep next to her, while Sofia stood at his side, her thumb firmly planted in her mouth. Lupita took her hand from the sleeping form of the infant and ran it down her daughter’s long, dark hair.
“Just a little further tonight,” she whispered, “then we can stop and rest.”
From the hillside they had just descended, she heard a series of clinks, then thought she saw dim lights bobbing in the darkness. Juan heard it too, and hissed to Tomaso. The guide stood up, drawing the gun he carried in a holster on his wide leather belt.
“Who’s that?” he demanded loudly, pulling back the hammer on the big revolver.
Lupita clasped her children to her and turned her back as she heard several metallic clicks coming from the hillside.