Although we had planned to continue northwest, Andrew and Steven had advised us of a different road that would take us due north. Supposedly this road was in better repair and less likely to subject us to crowds, since traffic on the other road was often heavy with trade.
So north it was. Other than the occasional small rancher taking goods to market, we didn’t see anyone on this lonely strip of road, and the country was plain, flat and boring. When I sighed over this to Charlene, she gave me a funny smile. “At least there’s some scrub. Enjoy it while you can.”
“What do you mean?”
“We’re almost to the Texas panhandle, and there’s nothing there.”
“There’s nothing here, either.”
“Oh, there’s a lot here compared to the panhandle.”
Our road terminated at a highway that followed a rail line east. We were near an old military base, rechristened with the unoriginal name Ciudad Ala.
Charlene was intrigued. “You think this is what Tanner was talking about? You know, where the old airplanes are?”
“It could be, if you think he told the truth about anything.”
“Let’s go take a look. I bet it’s interesting.”
I couldn’t help thinking this was another of her delaying tactics, now that we were only two days from her home. Ciudad Ala was impressive from a distance, glittering like silver in the morning light, but as we got nearer, we could see that this was because the dilapidated buildings had been repaired with pieces of shiny metal. There was a whole village here, but it didn’t seem like a friendly one. People watched us from doorways and paused in their comings and goings to stare at us and spit on the ground as we passed. It was a little unnerving, and so far we hadn’t seen any airplanes.
There were signs that said “Scrap Metal for Sale or Trade,” so we followed the direction indicated and were finally rewarded with an impressive sight.
To my amazement, there were people living in some of these old planes, and no sooner had a few people caught sight of us than they came hurrying over, some carrying bits of metal or wire, others merely shouting what they had available.
“Aluminum! Big pieces, small pieces, cut to order! Aluminum!”
“Steel today, ladies? Good and strong!”
“How about some wires? I’ve got all kinds!”
This last was said by a woman in a plain wool shift, her neck and arms festooned with ropes of wires, some in colored sheathing, some bare. A little girl at her side was wearing red wires on her neck, arms and even through holes in the cartilage of her ears, as if they were decoration.
Charlene was fascinated and bought some blue and white braided wires for her wrists, but since the people seemed intent on selling instead of letting us look around, we turned to go.
We were on our way back through the old base, when three boys rushed our horses, brandishing machetes. “Give us your money, bitch,” one of them shouted at Charlene.
She pulled up on the reins and looked at me. I drew my pistol and aimed at the nearest of the boys. “Go bother someone else,” I said. “We ain’t got nothing.”
“Bullshit. We saw this whore counting her money back there. I bet you’ve got money, too.”
From the way these boys held their weapons, it looked like they meant business. I fired a shot at one of the boys’ feet, hoping he would realize that I meant business, too.
“Missed me, bitch!” He took a step closer.
Well, he was asking for it. I fired again, this time at his hand. The machete fell into the dust while the boy set up a howling and cursing that caused doors and windows to open and grownups to look our way with narrowed, suspicious eyes.
“Go!” I shouted at Charlene, and she didn’t need to be told twice. I started after her with the boys and a noisy mob of angry villagers chasing us. But they were all on foot, and we soon outdistanced them.
We slowed to a canter, then a trot. When we were sure we were safe, we stopped and let the horses rest.
“That was more than we bargained for,” Charlene said with remarkable calm. (I'm obviously as bad an influence on her as she is on me.) She examined her new wire bracelets. “I had no idea they might cost so much.”
“A crazy place,” I agreed. “Makes me wonder what Tanner was doing mixed up with them. Up to no good, I suppose.”
We got our bearings and made our way back to the old highway, heading east once again. After our morning adventure, it was a let-down to arrive in town. We bought some lunch from a street vendor and ate in a little park. Then we topped off our water supplies continued on.
A few miles later, we started seeing signs along the railroad tracks. They were different colors and had numbers and symbols on them. Charlene said they indicated distance from the border, and sure enough, a few miles later we came upon a little cluster of buildings, newly made of plastered adobe, old bricks, and scrap metal.
A west-bound train was stopped at the station, and inspectors were swarming over it. “Customs,” Charlene said. “That’s what they call it when you have to declare from one government to another what kinds of goods you’re taking across the line.”
“But what government is inspecting things going west?” I asked. “There is no government.”
“I guess it’s whoever is running this area. Lucky for him or her, since they get to set their own prices and keep the profits.”
“Until another warlord comes along,” I said. “So do they stop travelers like us, too?”
“They might. You never know.”
With this thought in mind, we turned north and crossed at a different spot, following a dry riverbed.
And just like that, I was in Texas. I reined in and looked back, but the land behind me looked no different from the land in front of me.
What made this a border, as opposed to some other spot? Was this all a boundary really was—some arbitrary line that people with big egos forbade each other to cross? Is this what we fight for—the right to say that one piece of land that looks just like the one right next to it is somehow different?
It was all very strange, and I found it hard to turn Flecha back onto the road northeast. Yes, I was heading toward my goal, but I felt like I was leaving something important behind, too.
We made camp in the open tonight. Charlene was quiet and went straight to bed after supper, but I can tell she’s not sleeping. We can be at her family’s ranch by tomorrow evening if we want to. It will be interesting to see if she finds any other reasons to delay.
I’m glad for her silence tonight. I find myself staring at the night sky, marveling that it looks no different than it did last night. When I look toward the west I see nothing remarkable, even though it seems like I should be able to see the ghosts of my short life all lined up along the horizon. A silly notion. It’s been three months since I left Auntie’s home, and only just now am I physically free of my country. My mind will take a little longer to catch up, but already I don’t think I’m the same person I was when I started out.
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