The first time Luna heard about it, she told her brother León that it was a terrible idea to work as a coyote—if that activity could be considered a job—and now everything indicated that the idiot was missing somewhere in Mexico. The last time he communicated with her was a month ago, too long ago. Luna and León had never spent so much time without a word for each other. When things in Luna’s life were complicated, and she needed to talk to him to let off steam or when she realized that they had too many days without speaking he showed up all the time as though he was reading her thoughts or her emotions from the distance. By that same quality that she could not explain or define in any way, she knew that her brother was in trouble. Her guts told her. It was something that had always happened since they left their mother’s womb on a March night split into two days. She was born at eleven fifty-seven P.M. on March the nineteenth, and he followed her five minutes later on the twentieth. When people asked them about their birth date, they always had to explain that they were twins born on different dates, under different moon signs too.
Luna was convinced that León had gotten into a very big problem, there was no doubt about it. Her little brother—a euphemism given the six feet of his high against her five feet four inches—was in trouble and it was her duty to get him out of it.
Her brother was her complete opposite since they were little children. Their mom told them so, their aunties and even their grandma always stressed how different their personalities were. Where she had the powerful need to live a structured life with boring schedules and long-term relationships, León needed the thrill of the unknown, to live every day as the last one and get involved with women who were transactional in his life, not a single one with “keeper” material on her personality. He led an upper-middle-class lifestyle and, as Luna could tell, no office job could give him the money he was accustomed to, the money that came from helping immigrants crossing the Rio Grande or the Arizona desert, depending on the case.
“Have you lost your damn mind?!” Luna said when he told her about his new gig on one day he came to New Jersey to spend a week with his sister. He smiled and shrugged, as he always did when she told him something he disagreed with. She knew what to expect out of that smile: he didn’t feel like entering into a debate to defend what he was doing. She asked him how the hell he had gotten into that and he replied that through a friend’s friend. “All that money you’d make is not worth the risks you’d run,” Luna said. León laughed with his most casual laughter, the one he used to play the charming guy to get girls at the clubs, a laughter that even worked with his sister. “It’s not only illegal,” she said, “it’s also dangerous.”
“The whole world is a dangerous place,” he said. For León, the illegal activities he was involved with lacked real consequences. To him they were as harmless as the mischiefs he did as a child when the worst thing he faced was the confiscation of his video game console for a week or a month as a punishment from his father. If he had finally grown up for once and for all, she wouldn’t have to worry about the idiot all the damn time.
The words “The whole world is a dangerous place” continued to resonate in Luna’s mind when the plane bound for San Antonio was taking height in the airspace of New Jersey. The night she decided to travel to Mexico, she only informed her boss of her decision, but only because she needed him to give her the week off. She told her boyfriend she had to travel down to Texas to visit her mother. He offered to accompany her, but she replied that she wouldn’t be there too many days, she must get back to New Jersey as soon as possible; he needed to save his PTOs for a more important occasion.
Once at the San Antonio International Airport she rented a truck to travel all the way to the border with Piedras Negras, driving through I-35 S. The last thing she knew about León was that he was in that town near the river where he would have to cross eight Honduran immigrants to the other side, but that task could take several days to complete. Sometimes crossing the river was something that could be a matter of one night or up to a month—depending on who was on duty in the Border Patrol. The last time they spoke, León himself told Luna that he didn’t like that assignment, something felt wrong about it. By that time he had been already stranded in Piedras Negras for two weeks—with a group of people who showed signs of exasperation and fatigue—waiting for his boss to give him to green light to pass those people through the river. At the time of the conversation, Luna didn’t give greater importance to the matter, she was taking for granted that the monotony of the days had already done some work in her brother.
On her way along the interstate, Luna was surprised by all the activity she saw from the Border Patrol. The last time she was in the south, and specifically in southern Texas, she didn’t remember seeing such a deployment by law enforcement on the different roads and side streets she was traveling through. It was as though she was moving through the security ring of an army waiting for an attack. The state of Texas always managed to make her body feel wrong, and although she was born and raised in Dallas, Luna couldn’t understand how she had lived there most of her life. Ever since she moved to New Jersey, she found it difficult to return to her hometown—even to visit her parents and brother—because of the discomfort that settled in her stomach from the moment she crossed the limits of the state.
In the city of Piedras Negras, a hellish heat greeted her; a heavy and bitter vibe forced her to park the truck to vomit on the cobbled street. It was a few meters away from the Viewpoint, the place from which people could see the river, the golf course on the other side, and the two bridges that linked both countries.
The vomit at her feet had a green and vicious tone, like that of the bile ejected by a drunk when his stomach is already empty on a three-day-long night of revelry and misery. With watery eyes on a blushed face, Luna took a glance at the vomit and saw a worm as white as the plaster moving among the remains of her breakfast. Her heart skipped a beat with such a vision; she stood up, stumbling, and locked herself in the car, and tried to recover. The truck’s air conditioner was at its full capacity to cool, but Luna was sweating as if she were under the high-noon sun in the desert. She tied her curly hair in a ponytail and dried the cinnamon skin of her forehead, neck and arms with a hand towel. She waited two minutes; she counted second after second aloud to recover her serenity. Once the tremor in her hands disappeared, she took three deep inspirations and turned on the car engine.
Luna couldn’t find an explanation on how León could put his feet in a place with the corrosive vibe, and the heavy air of Piedras Negras, Coahuila. Was it just a city thing or was it the entire country? Something told her she would feel the same anywhere south of the American border. Since her brother left her the day he informed her about his new line of business, Luna dedicated herself to learn everything about the socio-political situation of the Mexican country—something she would never have done under other circumstances because as the American child of immigrants she only worried about the things that directly affected her, and Mexico was not one of them until her brother decided otherwise. Luna liked nothing she read about Mexico, and the more she read the more it seemed an awful idea that León spent so much time in a place like that. Especially chilling was what she read about the borders: kidnappings, murders, human trafficking, drug trafficking. It made sense that her hypersensitive body would react that way in a place like that, dedicated to the devastation and destruction of the soul. “Mexico is a special place, but not in a good way,” León said a few months later, in one of his last visits to New Jersey, after having been several times south of the border. “It is a strange country. I wouldn’t say they are pagans in the classical sense of the word, but they’re close. If you think about it, their religion is something that doesn’t exist in other parts of the world, they are not old-fashion Catholics, they have their own deity. They don’t pray to God, not even to Jesus Christ. They pray to the Virgin Mary. It is the only country in the world where I have seen such a thing. In the churches the statues of the virgin are larger than the cross of Jesus himself. Don’t you think that’s amazing?”
“With everything I’ve read about Mexico, that’s what worries me the least,” said Luna. “You read absolutely nothing good about that country.”
“Nothing good is written about the United States, either, but it’s the best country in the world.” León gave his sister a hug. “You always put a lot of mind on things you don’t like. There are horrible things everywhere, but nothing can be done about them.”
“It turns out that my brother is not doing crazy things in the rest of the world, but in the most violent country in the world. I’m not the one saying it, all the organizations working with human rights do.”
“Oh, sis,” León said, laughing. “Never change, please.”
That was the last time they met. Luna couldn’t help but feeling that she had been right all along, and that put her in a poor mood, not because she hated being right—she loved it—but because she hated being right about bad things. Now her stupid brother was missing—at best—and it was up to her to find him—if that was still possible.
Luna parked in front of a hotel named Plaza Central, and it was everything she could expect from an establishment in a place such as that city where the transit of immigrants made possible the existence of those businesses. The place was a cliché, everything bad that could be seen in movies set in distant towns in Mexico; the paint on the facade was peeling (patches of the concrete bricks under it were on plain sight), maybe an eternity had passed since the last time they put a coat of paint on the hotel sign, and the windowpanes were opaque as though nobody had ever cleaned them.
She stepped out of the car and entered the hotel. In the lobby a short middle-aged man with a prominent bald, pearled in sweat, was fighting the heat with the breeze of a fan, he half-wore a sleeved shirt open to the navel, revealing a chest adorned by curly gray hair in which the sweat came down with fine drops that got lost in the pants line. Old faded pictures adorned the yellowish white walls, and a set of broken plastic chairs around a scratched wood table formed what in a different place someone would take for a lobby waiting area. The place was discouraging, but Luna didn’t have the energy or the courage to go back to her car and drive around in search for a better place to spend the night in. Her instinct told her it would be a waste of time.
She went straight to the point, and the man seemed to thank her for it. She paid for the most expensive room in the place because it was the only one with a functional air conditioning. She booked the room for three days, the time she believed was enough to find out her brother’s whereabouts.
When she opened the room, the stench of confinement and dust hit her on the nose. The room was located on the second floor and the dust film seated on the furniture helped her to determine that a long time had passed since the last tenant or guest paid the price requested for that room.
“Is there a way I can get clean sheets for my bed?” Luna asked the receptionist.
He stared at her with a blank expression that slowly turned into an annoying one. “The ones in the room are clean.”
She took a deep exasperate breath. “Can I get them change?”
“We change them every morning,” the man said, with the same monotonous tone.
She knew that was a lost battle.
“I’m going out to run some errands,” she said. “What is the latest that I can come back to my room?”
“We close doors at nine,” the man said.
Luna nodded and walked out of the place; her mind set in her only reason to be in that place: find information regarding her brother.
Without a clue of what to do or where to start, she went looking for a restaurant where she could eat and clear her ideas. The place she found had outdoor tables. Luna sat at one, took the time to read the menu on a wall to then ordered some tacos and one beer. The owner of the place was also the cook and when asking for Luna’s order the woman asked her what was wrong. “Did you have a fight with your boyfriend, honey?”
“Ya quisiera,” Luna said in Spanish. “I’m looking for my brother, and I have no idea where to find him.”
“Was he in the city?” said the woman. Luna nodded. “Is he a foreigner?”
“He’s an immigrant,” Luna said with a sudden desire that led her to lie. “My mom paid a coyote to help him cross the border and take him to Dallas, but we haven’t heard from them in over two weeks. The last thing we knew was that they were in this city, waiting for the right time to cross the river.”
“What I can recommend you, mija, is that you go to the migrant homes and shelters, and talk to those in charge and ask for your brother or his coyote. I would start there.”
And so she did. Luna only found negatives in the first shelter she visited. From the first minute, the nuns who handled the place received her with reservations. Luna told them about her brother, and in return they let her talk to people who had the longest time coming and going around the place. She spoke with five people, but had no luck. Before leaving the place, the nuns gave her the address of the other places where she could find León and warned her it was best to continue her search the next day. It was a dangerous thing for a pretty girl like her to walk around places like that with no one’s company, especially if the day was about to end as it was the case. There was no scenario in which things could go well if she ran into Cartel Nueva Generación or Fuerza Coahuila. She made use of her good common sense and returned to the hotel.
Lune parked her car on the street under her bedroom, to keep an eye on it all the possible time. Upon entering the room, she closed the door behind her and locked it, then looked around the furniture and pushed the heavy desk next to the bed to block the door. She felt safer that way.
Luna was sound asleep when her brain registered the noises in the distance. Someone somewhere was about to knock a door down, and other people shouted things that her sleeping mind couldn’t process. The scandal was on the rise when she remembered that she was in the bed of a cheap hotel in the city of Piedras Negras. She had just had an unpleasant dream, but couldn’t remember what was it about. Her t-shirt was soaked in sweat, the air conditioner was turned off even though she had left it on at a temperature of sixty degrees. The atmosphere felt as though she was inside of a boiler. Luna reached for the lamp switch on the bedside table. The click that followed the movement of her fingers was deaf. There was no power. Total darkness surrounded her. Luna got out of bed and groped to the window that overlooked the parking lot where her car was; she opened it and saw the entire block in shadows projected by the full moon. Down on the street the lampposts were dead as well and the only existing light was that of the cigarette that two men seemed to be sharing on the back of a truck.
Behind her, the doorknob moved. Luna’s sensitive ear heard it. She moved away from the window—which was left open to relieve the atmosphere of the room—with growing panic. Her heart jumped so hard it almost popped out of her chest. Whoever was trying to enter wanted to force the knob. Luna stood in front of the desk blocking the door—with her eyes adapted to the darkness—watching stunned as the knob moved a little to the left, and then a little to the right, froze on her feet with the certainty that the heavy desk was the only thing separating her from a thief or possibly something worse. The thought alone brought her out of the shock dominating her. Without wasting another second, she threw herself against the door and pressed her body against it, while her right hand clung to the knob. On the other side, she heard two male voices whispering, both stressed because they couldn’t open the fucking door. A dry knock, full of irritation, shook the wood of the door, with no results. A new blow caused a shout on the other side. The hairs on Luna’s arms bristled. She felt the sweat running down her back and her forehead; her eyes stung from the sweat that got into them, and her ears rumbled with the hammering of her throbbing heart.
The last blow had a different resonance, as when someone punches the door to release the tension of the moment, tension that had not diminished even one degree, as Luna continued to hear the uproar on the other side of the wall. She didn’t know if it was something happening throughout the hotel or if it was something that came down to that floor she was in. In any case, she didn’t care in the least as long as she could see the sun shining in the morning.
Luna never left the door. She stayed still with her body pressed against it, still in tension and with all her senses in permanent alert. She hoped everything was about to end, but she was wrong if she thought things would be that easy. On the other side of the wall to her right, the people in the neighboring room screamed. Amid the uproar that reached Luna, the unmistakable thunder of two shots and more desperate screams were heard. People in other rooms shouted things incomprehensible to her.
When the men finished whatever they were doing, they ran off with heavy footsteps. Someone was shouting “llamen a la policía” in the loudest voice Luna had ever heard.
The reigning darkness was broken by the blue, white and red lights on top of the federal police cars parking outside the hotel. With a tremor in her whole-body Luna finally broke the contact she had kept with the door, took a few backwards steps away from it without losing sight of the doorknob, and rest her body against the frame of the open window.
Before leaving the room in the morning Luna thought she would found chaos at her path, but instead she found smiling faces from the other rooms’ neighbors, and kids playing around on the yard downstairs. Once outside, she looked at the door of the neighbor to her right, and saw that the door had suffered no damage. There was no evidence of violence at all, no one could have been killed in that place last night. There was no yellow police tape sealing doors, forbidding people from stepping inside. Luna took insecure steps to the door and tested the knob. She opened it. Inside everything seemed to be in an impeccable state; there was no trace of blood, or broken things. Luna didn’t dare to step inside. It was as though nothing had happened. She closed the door and stood before it for a few seconds, unable to make sense of anything at all, and wondering if it was a good idea to even try.
The migrant’s house was a few blocks away from the viewpoint. Luna arrived at it before noon. An evangelical pastor—who was missing two fingers of his right hand—welcomed her. She explained the reason for her visit, and the pastor smiled when she showed him a picture of León.
“I knew I found your face familiar the minute I saw you,” said the man. “I had no idea Leo had a sister.”
“So you know my brother.”
“Do you know where I can find him?”
“I would like to help you, but I have less information than yourself. The last time I saw him was two or three months ago.”
“Do you know who I can talk to in order to know something about him?”
“If I were you,” he said, displaying a serious expression, “I wouldn’t do such a thing, I mean, go around asking about him. León has a difficult temper, and a big mouth, and that has made him a few enemies around here.”
What Luna had feared. “People from the cartels?”
The man nodded. “Everyone here works for them, even the police.”
“Do you know what happened to León?”
The pastor shrugged. “He became infatuated with a woman, a Venezuelan, who was sleeping with a guy who is only good at causing trouble. As I understand it, one day they had a fight over her in a canteen and León had to run away. I heard he took the Venezuelan with him.”
Luna sighed. “Yeah, that sounds like something he would do.”
“Well, in his defense I can say that any man in his right mind would lose his head for a woman like her.”
“No,” the man said, and smiled with some bitterness. “It’s been a long time since I lost my mind. I recovered it thanks to a fantastic woman that God put in my way.” The man looked at his three-fingered hand. “It took me two fingers to regain my good judgment.” Luna had her eyes lost on that incomplete hand, abstracted by the stumps at the end of the back of the hand and how it seemed to have healed long ago. “When I met my wife, I was a member of the organized crime. She made me know God and made me want to get out of that life. When I realized that it was with her I wanted to spend the rest of my life, I knew immediately that I no longer wanted to continue on the path I was on. Thank God I wasn’t someone important within the organization, so when I went to talk to the boss about the matter he just told me I already knew what the price was.” The man caressed the scars with the other hand, while Luna didn’t lose detail of the traces left by age and the traumatic experiences that she was sure that man kept well inside his heart. “I don’t want to scare you,” said the man to break the silence about to become tense, “but if you know nothing about your brother, that can only mean that he is already dead. The best thing you can do is return to your country, with your family and return to your daily routine. It is best for you to forget the matter. The more time you spend in this city, the more dangerous it will be for you.”
Luna shook her head. “It may be true what you say, but I can’t leave without even trying to find him. I need to know at least what happened to him.”
“I see.” They both stared into each other’s eyes, gazing at each other silently. “Okay,” he said. “I understand that León was going to try an alternative route to cross with the last group he was in charge of. He was going to cross the river in a town named Jiménez, which is about thirty minutes from here in the direction to Acuña. Be careful, it’s a very dangerous place.”
“The world is a dangerous place,” she said, paraphrasing her brother.
The flora—or the lack of it—in northern Mexico was exactly the same as in southern Texas in the same way as two drops of water are identical regardless of their source of origin. The houses also looked like Texan houses, and the cars roaming the area were mostly trucks with Texas license plates. Jiménez had no sign by which a foreigner could be guided. According to the map on her phone, Luna had reached the town, but there was nothing in sight to help her confirm it. She stopped in front of a supermarket placed a few feet away from a crossroads where the street she came from met with the one coming from Acuña and a street going into a desert like town. She turned the steering wheel to the right, into the town, taking a street that looked like a side street, but which turned out to be the main street. Luna knew the town was on the banks of the river, and she wanted to check it out before deciding to do anything. Luna didn’t like what she saw; wherever her eyes looked, she found herself with the desolation of a ghost town, and the vibe breathed in the air was also consistent to the general feeling she had since she crossed the border. The only sign of life appreciated was that of the trucks that appeared out of nowhere in secondary roads. The park—where some kind of activity should have to be found—was as dead as a cemetery. In the absence of a better idea, Luna returned on her steps and parked in front of the supermarket. Like all the commercial buildings she saw on her way, this one had a deteriorated facade, the paint was discolored and the sign with the name of the supermarket had a blue color so pale that it was one rain away from becoming white.
Luna entered the establishment, went straight to the back for a bottle of water and when she arrived at the cashier, the cashier asked if she would pay with pesos or dollars. Luna paid with a dollar and asked the girl if there was a hotel in town. She replied that the closest thing to a hotel that had existed in the town were the rooms across the street. At first sight such a building looked like an abandoned house; the grass on the front had grown so much that it could be considered weeds.
“Can I talk to the owner to rent the room for one night?”
“I don’t think that’s the kind of place you would like to spend the night in,” said the girl.
“I will determine that.”
“Okay,” said the girl, “you won’t need to talk to the owner. The room costs five hundred pesos the night.”
Luna nodded, paid the amount, and walked away with the room key in her possession.
The room was in worse condition than expected. The place was decorated with cobweb and a film of dust that covered the walls, the bed, and the rest of objects inside the room. The only positive thing was the air conditioning. Luna turned it on, and left the room to return to the supermarket where she asked the girl for a broom, a dust remover and a mop. She needed to stay busy with something and clean that room was the perfect excuse because whatever she needed to do in that town she would need to do it at night.
During the summer months in northern Mexico the sun sets almost at ten P.M. In towns like Jiménez, people take advantage of this condition to do business with goods from Texas. When Luna finished cleaning the room, she sat on the bed and stared from her window at the little activity created by a group of five people sitting next to a pick-up truck parked in front of her room with second-hand clothes for sale.
After a while lying in the bed with nothing to do with her time, she fell asleep. Outside, the sun still illuminated the treetops with a faint orange light.
The room was in complete darkness when she opened her eyes. A feeling of deep sadness invaded Luna’s heart. At her side she felt the weight of a body, but she didn’t get upset, nor panic; from the way the body occupied the bed, she could tell that it was her twin brother, the one who was born five minutes after her on a different day, in a long distant night of March.
“Hello, Lunatica,” said León’s voice in the dark. He was the only person in the world who called her that.
“Gato feo,” she said, trying to hold back the tears. Luna sat up on the bed and settled down to face her brother. Her hands searched for him in the middle of nowhere; she first found his chest and then felt the contact of León’s hands on hers. She raised her hands over his clothes in search of her brother’s face, but he stopped her, preventing her from touching his face. “What happened to you, León?”
“Isn’t it obvious, flaca?”
She started to sob and the tears to run down her cheeks.
He caressed Luna’s curly hair. “I don’t want you to suffer for this, there’s nothing you or anyone can do about it. What happened to me… well, I kind of had it coming. You know I was always a stubborn asshole with a big mouth. You kept all the common sense for yourself when we were born.”
“I came here, looking for you to take you home,” Luna said with tears burning her cheeks, “and I swear that I will, even if it’s just what is left of you. Just tell me where to find you.”
“The only thing you will achieve is to get into trouble, something will happen to you and my soul would suffer forever. Please go home.” He took her hands between his; they were cold.
“I can’t do that.”
“If you don’t want to do it for yourself, do it for me.”
“I can’t leave like that, empty-handed,” Luna said, and sobbed.
“Luna, don’t be stupid. That is exactly what led me to the place where I am.”
“Look, asshole, I’m not leaving without even knowing where your body is. I need you to give me something, I can’t go back like this. What will I tell mom?”
“There’s nothing to tell her. Let things take their natural course.” León caressed his sister’s cheeks once more. “I need you to go home because I can’t protect you from the things that can happen to you here. And believe me, you have no idea how dangerous things can be in this place.” León took his sister’s cheeks and gave her a cold kiss on the forehead. “I love you. Never forget that.”
Luna cried like a little girl when she woke up in the dark room. It was over midnight. She stepped out of the bed, her body trembling from head to toe, and left the room. The atmosphere in it was unbearable, and the need to fill her lungs with fresh air became irresistible. She was still crying when she fell to her knees in the undergrowth, sobbing uncontrollably, because she would never see her brother again, he had been taken away from her. She had to get out of that place, but something inside herself held her back and made her want to do the opposite, to go into the town and get to the river, no matter what.
She walked into the insignificant town, hiding in the shade of the trees under the faint light of the full moon or behind the few lampposts that could be counted on her path. Two blocks inside the town, she saw a truck coming in her direction, casting substantial shadows with the highlights. Luna turned right at the first corner she saw in front of her and crouched down next to a fallen tree with which she hid until the car passed by. When her heart lowered with the intensity of her heartbeat, she told herself she was as crazy as a goddamn goat, but didn’t back down. She continued walking northward, toward the river, along a side-street where the foliage of the adjoining trees prevented the moonlight from leaking to illuminate her path. Her senses were sharpened to the fullest. Her ear was especially sensitive, making her listen to all the noises of the night, from the barking of the dogs that smelled her fear, through the croaking of the toads to the hoot of the owls that surely watched her walk cautiously with their night eyes.
Twice she was about to be discovered by the locals. The first time was when a dog ran and jumped at her, and Luna screamed of dread by the surprise. She was lucky the dog was tied to a chain of thick links, but Luna knew that if it had the chance, the dog would destroy her bite by bite. She was still lying on the ground, sitting in an awkward posture, when a man opened a door and left a hunched shadow silhouetted in the doorway. The shadow carried a rifle in his hand. When Luna saw him, she curled up and waited for the man to come out and shoot her. The man took a few steps, talked to the dog and took a glance around the darkness. In the presence of its master the dog calmed down, but gave anxious looks in Luna’s direction. The man sighed, put the gun down and walked again into the house. The second time other people almost discovered her; it was across the last street she had to walk by. Some men drinking and talking in whispers heard her walking. Luna heard when one man told the others he had seen a shadow move near them in the dark. The others laughed. “That must be a sorrow soul wondering around,” one of them said in mockery. Luna’s heart almost skips a beat when she heard the men move, the car doors closed, and an engine starting. The next thing she knew, she was running in long strides with her long legs across a path in which by day she would surely have bent or broken an ankle.
Luna stopped when she found herself almost face to face with a white horse bathed in the silver light of the moon, looking like a ghostly figure. The horse raised its head from the grass it was eating and stared at her with indifferent eyes. Not far from there the current of the river broke against the stones and Luna could hear it. The horse whinnied, shook its head and tail before turning around and into the bushes along a small path that led to the river. After taking a few steps, the horse stopped and turned its neck to give Luna a new look. She followed it at close range.
She was treading with all the care in the world, trying not to step on a snake or lose a foot in a hole. The horse was leaving her behind with the ease of someone who knows his paths even with the eyes closed. Luna watched it go through a deformation. She went after it without thinking it twice.
The horse had disappeared when Luna reached the riverbank. She approached the water of the current and bent down to better appreciate that force of nature that had claimed so many lives. She stepped back two steps, lost her footing and fell, sitting on the wet ground. The hand with which she leaned touched something that did not seem to belong to that place. Her curiosity led her to delve into the dirt with her nails. Buried in the river’s sand was a leather wallet. Luna took her cell phone out of her pocket, turned the light of it on and illuminated the wallet. When she opened it, the first thing she saw was a photograph in which she and León appeared when they were five years old and looked alike, as two drops of water. A cry full of pain—that made her scream until she was exhausted—followed the instant smile that formed on her lips. All León’s documents were in the wallet along with another photograph in which both appeared as adults, the resemblance between them was undeniable, but the differences were more noticeable. Luna took both photos to her lips and kissed her brother on both, both as a child and as an adult. She would no longer have to return home empty-handed.
Luna was driving on the interstate on her way to San Antonio when her cell phone vibrated in the coaster. It was her mother.
“Hello, baby,” said the mother, a woman of Honduran nationality who had spent most of her life living in the United States, alternating their homes between Florida and Texas. “I call you for something quickly. Look, I’ve been looking for two pictures in which you appeared with Leo. I can’t find them anywhere and I need them for a video I’m preparing with help from your cousin Michel; it’s something I’m doing for your dad’s birthday party next month.”
Luna listened carefully, trying not to cry with all her might. After all that she had cried in the early morning, she thought she had run out of tears, but now she realized she was far from it.
“Anyway,” her mother continued, “I thought your brother had those pictures, I was convinced, but last night I dreamed about him and today I woke up convinced that you had them.”
Luna was silent for a moment, trying to control herself. Her mother on the other side of the line thought the reception was bad because she could not listen to her daughter. “Yes, mom,” Luna said in a broken voice. “I have them.”
“What’s wrong, baby?”
“Nothing. Something gave me an allergy and I have a stuffy nose. I have to leave you, Mom, because I’m driving and I don’t want to get a ticket. I’ll call you later.” Luna cut the phone call and wiped her tears on her cheeks. She thought about how the hell she could give her mother the terrible news. What was the best way to break her heart? She had to get the matter out of her chest. She had no choice, she thought as she drove a rented truck to the San Antonio International Airport. At her side, a border patrol van—una perrera, as they were known down south—was running at fifty miles per hour, loaded with people showing sad faces inside. The sun was high in the sky when the van took an exit. Luna’s eyes followed it all the way up the ramp until it disappeared from her view, and soon from her mind.