Tales from the Rio Grande


"One more beer seņor?"
The voice echoed vaguely in and out of the dull thumping in my head as I forced myself to look up from the bar that I had fallen asleep on. It was already morning and shards of blinding light were streaking in through the sackcloth that hung in the door frame where once perhaps, in years gone by, had hung a door. How much had I drunk and where was I exactly and where was Jim? In those first few minutes of consciousness I had a hundred questions spinning around in my head. The barman grinned, toothless in the daylight, and handed me a glass of water quipping that it was on the house. I thanked him and asked him to confirm that I was still in Mexico, and he nodded, so I stood up to leave knowing that Jim would be in America, in El Paso, Texas to be precise, back in the hotel across the Rio Grande. I hadn't had a drink for twenty one days: the twenty one long desert days that we had been locked up in El Paso with all the other wetbacks. I'd never thought of myself as a wetback but that's what Officer Molina told me I was, "Ever'body who enters the U S of A without permission is a wetback, but you jus' a Limey wetback as well!"
It was a mistake parting company with Jim, but after being locked up for so long I just wanted to drink all night and then, when I met this guy called Hank, who said we should go to Mexico, how could I resist that? It only cost a quarter to get through the turnstile at the end of the Bridge of Friendship, and there we were in Juarez, with the girls and the trumpets and the rock and roll and everything was banging and I completely forgot about Jim, who'd said we ought to turn in early and take things easy on our first night out.
I bid the barman, "Adios," and walked out into the dust of an already hot street looking for the bridge. It was still there, where I left it, but it might as well have crumbled into the mighty Rio Grande for all the use it was to me. Under a banner that read, "Beinvenidos a Los Estados Unidos," a young immigration officer in a crisply pressed white shirt politely refused me entry in the United States of America, pointing out that someone had stamped departure required next to the US visa in my passport. He looked like he'd never had a good drink in his life though I didn't tell him so but instead I pointed at the crumpled piece of paper next to the visa and said, "Yes but Judge gave me thirty days to get out of the USA."
"Yeah, but you got out already," said the kid before adding rather helpfully, "And you ain't gonna be gettin' back in anytime soon." As a concession he agreed to phone Jim at the hotel and get him to come down with my bag and he let me have a seat on the Mexican side of the line where I fell asleep again. Then Jim was shaking me and calling me a few names and saying how he'd had a word with Immigration and there was nothing they could do, I had deported myself from the USA for twenty five cents!
We said goodbye and I staggered back over the bridge into Mexico thinking I would never see home or Jim again and with some vague idea that I would hitchhike to Veracruz and somehow get a boat home and, with the ten dollars in my pocket, I sat on the banks of the Rio Grande and looked across at America. Down below a couple of Mexicans were piggybacking people across the river. Wetbacks! I was supposed to be one of those myself because Officer Molina had told me so.
Five minutes later and four dollars lighter I was hanging on some kid's back as he waded me across the Rio Grande to a hole in the fence, where we ran across a railroad track and we were back in Texas and the kid showed me to what looked like a taxi.
"Welcome to America sir," said the cabbie, "Where would you like to go today?"



S Theaker

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