The man fixed his sombrero and never took his eyes off the road. The sun was setting, and the rolling hills, lightly covered with brush pines, turned from burnt orange on the horizon, to Amarillo, and finally brown where the shadow of his stand met the ground. I am so tired, he thought. But I must stay awake; I must stay alert.
He had been sitting at his post for fourteen hours, and he didn’t know how much longer he would have to go. He had seen a few jackrabbits, several doe with their young bucks, and two wild hogs. But nothing on the road. No banditos. No cars or trucks. Seeing nothing made him happy.
He was hungry. So he reached into his jacket and pulled out a banana. It was warm and brown and soft. But it was food. It would sustain him, he thought. So he peeled it slowly and never took his eyes off the road. Silently he said, “Gracias Dios. Gracias.” Then he lifted the fruit to his mouth and slowly chewed each bite. When he was done, his stomach still rumbled. This will have to do, he thought. It will last me through the night.
The sun went down. The burnt orange, Amarillo, and brown turned to black. Only the road was visible. The moon was doing its job. And the man was doing his.
He heard the howls of the coyotes and the whisking of the wind as both echoed off the canyon walls, walls he could not see, walls that protected him from the cold. Keep howling wolves, he said to himself. Keep howling and I will be safe.
There were stars, splattered like paint, from one end of the clear sky to the other. They made him happy. They reminded him of being a boy, and his papa telling him that nothing bad could happen if there were stars. You will not see the Queen, his papa used to say, but you will see the angels who protect her, as stars in the sky, and they will protect you too.
He held his shotgun with his left hand and he held a picture of Our Lady in his right. Then he said an Ave Maria. And another. Again and again, until he could say no more. When he heard the sound of the motor in the distance, he put the picture in his pocket, and he held the gun with both hands. Don’t forsake me now, Agapito, he said. Be with me and don’t fail me.
The car was coming from the east, which made him very happy. The east meant it was his comrades. But he could not watch east. His job was to watch the west. His job was to protect the car until he could see it no longer. And when the car went past the wall of the canyon, and it was out of sight, his job was to wait for the next one, and do it once again.
The car came and went, past the canyon, and out of sight. The cocaina, opio, and marihuana it carried made it past his post, and he had done his job. And he did it without having to use Agapito. And that made him very happy.
He waited until the sun was again on the horizon, and the ground was burnt orange, Amarillo, and brown once more. He was exhausted when his amigo finally came into vision. He climbed down from the stand to the ground and met his friend, who was there to relieve him.
“Buenos dias amigo,” his friend said.
His friend handed him his wage for the day and then climbed up the tree to guard the post. He put the money in his pocket and he carried Agapito to the market, where he bought whatever food he could afford, and took it home to his wife and kids.
Before entering his small hut, he opened the chamber of his gun and removed all three rounds. Then he kissed the barrel and said, “Gracias Dios. Gracias. It is always a good day when I do not have to use my Agapito.”
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