Tony crumpled the empty bag of fried pork skins and dropped it in his backpack. From his seat in the bus he could see July heat waves shimmering in the distance above the asphalt. The surgery would be tomorrow, with or without him.
Greyhound promised an eight hour trip from Abilene to El Paso. With luck, he would be in Chihuahua by midnight. Coming back might be impossible but his father had asked for him.
Outside the window a dust devil whirled across the desolate sun-scorched terrain unnoticed.
The conversation with Pastor Darcy after the service last night was fresh in his mind. “Tony Martinez, I cannot believe how well the young people have responded to you. Have you noticed how many are coming each week? How old are you Tony?”
“I’m twenty-six, pastor. The kids have been great. It’s fun helping Bruce.”
“Well, that is what I want to talk to you about. Bruce is moving to Missouri. I wondered if you would be willing to serve as our Youth Minister. The pay is not…”
“I’m sorry, pastor. I don’t think…”
“Now, don’t be modest Tony. You will do a great job. The kids love you. I just need to get some information for a background check. No big deal, really.”
“Pastor, that’s the problem.”
“What? Tony, I don’t think I’ve misjudged you. What are you saying?”
“Pastor, I love the kids. I’ll help any way I can. That is, if you want me. But, I can’t go on the payroll or let you do a background check. I swam the river. Well, waded really, the water was really low that day.”
“You, Tony, a wet bac…, I mean, an illegal? You don’t seem the type. Why, you set up our church web site. You are a gifted guitar player. You have a trained singing voice.”
“Well, it is true. I am here illegally. I graduated with a degree in computer programming from The University of Mexico. I earn more working construction here than I could with my degree in Mexico. Sad, but true.”
“Tony, I don’t know what to say. If you are illegal, then maybe…”
“I agree, Pastor, and you will see me no more. I have enjoyed worshipping and serving here and I understand the predicament this puts you in. I once heard John 3:16 expressed this way: ‘For God so loved the world he didn’t put lines on maps’. No lines between counties or parishes, or between countries. God just loves the world. I thought maybe it would be alright with God if I came here so I could help my family.”
“The scripture also says to obey those that rule over you. I don’t know what is right, Tony, but we can’t hire you. We would be breaking the law.”
“Pastor, I leave for Mexico in the morning. I received a call this afternoon that my father is in the hospital. I need to be in Abilene by mid-morning to catch the bus. I plan to return, but please pray for me. It won’t be easy.”
“What do you mean?”
The border patrol is more sophisticated now. They have electronics: motion detectors, heat monitors, night vision equipment. I think I know how to get around some of that. The real problem is the summer heat.”
“Yes, I imagine that can be a problem.”
“You have no idea. If I return over the Arizona border I will walk fifty miles or more in blistering heat. There are rattlesnakes and scorpions you can’t see at night. Cactus and thorn bushes claw and puncture you in the dark. You dehydrate. Lactic acid builds up in your legs and you cramp. Nausea and vomiting debilitate you. The sun cooks you in the day and you cannot carry enough water. The desert is littered with skeletons of my countrymen.”
The bus speakers crackled to life interrupting Tony’s memory parade. “We arrive in El Paso in thirty minutes” the driver announced.
Across the road the sun reflected off a small church’s marquee angled to catch traveler’s attention. Tony saw it. The sign asked, “You think it’s hot here?”
Tony bowed his head and began to pray. “Padre, my father is far down life’s highway and he is not ready to meet you. Please soften his heart and give me the words to say to him. Gracias a Dios!”
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