Wednesday

Belize Survivor, part 57

Through the dust and flickering heat, they both spied a small rickety building in the distance.

“What's that up ahead?” asked Max. “Do you think that's the checkpoint they told us about?" As the van came closer, a faded Mexican flag out front gave mute testimony to its purpose. “Have you got that Spanish dictionary handy?"

"Yes,” Alexis replied. “But I wish it had verb conjugations instead of just nouns. Now I'm sorry I took French for the last three years of high school instead of sticking with Spanish. The only phrase I can remember from seventh grade is No me gusta las albóndigas, which means ‘I don't like meatballs.’ And I don’t think that particular vocabulary will be of much help at an Immigration checkpoint."

The burly sweaty Mexican in a uniform motioned them to step off the van as it pulled to a stop. "Ven," he said. "Ven aquí, Ustedes. Tienen armas? Que tienen por allá? Armas? Televisiónes? Que tienen al dentro?"

"What's he saying?" asked Max.

"Damned if I know, but it looks like he wants us to get out. Something about televisions. I'm not leaving the baby. You go."

"Televisions? What's that got to do with anything? Can't you say something in Spanish?"

"I'll try. Ahhh, Señor, no puedo come over there. Niño. I have a niño sleeping back here." She made a motion with her two hands to indicate rocking a baby, and then closed her eyes put her hands under one cheek to indicate sleep, and motioned to the back of the step-van.

"Esta bien, pero su esposo necesite venir para la inspección de sus papeles."

"He wants to see your papers, Max. Go ahead while I check in the dictionary."

Armas...armas, she thought as she flipped through the pages. Here it is.

"Guns!" she shouted out the window after Max as he entered the building with the fat Mexican. "He wants to know if we have guns or televisions with us." Max nodded. She held her breath until he came out of the building a few minutes later.

"All set," Max said, in a great mood, as he got back in the driver’s seat. "All I had to do was give them a few pesos. The third world's the same wherever you go. Even if you don't speak the language, money talks. If we did have guns, all I'd still have to do is give them a little more money, and they would have let us go." He laughed, and shook his head. "This lifestyle is going to be a piece of cake." As they drove away, he reached into his crotch and pulled out a small baggie. "Here, roll us a doobie and let's celebrate."

"You brought weed into Mexico? I thought you were going to get rid of it before the border?"

"Throw away perfectly good pot? No way,” he laughed again. “It’s one of the best reasons to go to Central America in the first place. Roll it up."

For the rest of the day and most of the next, the scenery didn't change. As Alexis stared at the never-ending dreariness of Tamaulipas, she wondered if she'd ever see a tree again, let alone a jungle.

"I'm hungry, said Alexis, finally. “The ice in the cooler is melted, so now the bread is all soggy, and the cheese and fruit are gone. So are the nuts. There's one yogurt left, but it's got a hole in the top and the water leaked in. Can't we stop somewhere and get a real meal?"

"I swear, you eat like a goddam horse," Max muttered.

"I'm nursing,” she countered. “It takes a lot of calories to produce milk, so I probably need even more food than you do right now. I know there aren't a lot of places to stop out here, but I've seen a couple of signs saying abarrotes. I have no idea what that means, but whatever it is, I’ll eat it."

"Okay," he said grudgingly. "We'll stop the next time we see a place."

About forty kilometers later they saw an old wooden building with the same sign. It was barely a building – really just a large shack with no walls, a few upright beams, and a rusty tin roof. A pleasant old Mexican woman came out to serve them. With a hollow ache in her stomach, Alexis said hopefully, "¿Abarrotes?"

The woman smiled and gestured to a large old-fashioned top-loading cooler behind her. "Si, señora. Por allá." At her invitation Alexis went over and lifted the lid. Soft drinks. Nothing but soft drinks. In desperation she paged through her dictionary. "¿Comida?"

"No. Lo siento, señora,” the woman replied apologetically. "Pura bebidas."

"Oh Max, all they have are soft drinks! No food."

"Well, so much for your eating abarrotes."

"Señora, por favor," Alexis pleaded. "Mi niño – leche," she gestured to her breasts. "Comida, por favor." Her mind struggled back to the seventh grade for the right words, "Hambre, señora. I’m very hungry. Tengo mucho hambre."

The woman understood. She looked beyond the rear of the wooden building to her own dwelling and pointed. "Solamente huevos y frijoles. Esta bien?"

"Max!" Alexis shouted with glee. "That means eggs and beans. I remember those words. "Si señora, huevos y frijoles. Muy bien."

The old lady nodded and disappeared into her small thatched house. Twenty minutes later she brought out two small plates with a tiny amount of beans and eggs on each. She set them on the red checkered tablecloth with a large stack of steaming corn tortillas wrapped in a clean cloth, and a bowl of green salsa. Alexis grinned as she thanked the woman sincerely. Although the place obviously wasn't a restaurant, the old matron understood motherhood, and she had provided for them out of her own meager stores. The portions were nominal, but Alexis figured that the stack of tortillas could go a long way if she put just a dab of beans and eggs on each. Max commented on the diabolical-looking green sauce.

“Think it's safe?"

"It looks pretty deadly. I don't much care for hot stuff either but I'm so hungry I feel a little reckless. I'm going to have some."

Their hostess was pleased with the acceptability of the meal, and she held out her hands toward Jordan. "Dame su niño mientras."

"I think she wants to hold Jordan, Ntombi. Africa's like that too. All the old ladies love to fuss over yellow-haired babies. Let her hold him so you can eat."

Simple fare, but it was a meal Alexis would never forget. Piqued by rampant hunger, the tasty tortillas with their flavoring of eggs and beans and the tangy hot sauce were nourishing and satisfying. Breaking their own rules of healthy eating, Max and Alexis washed it down with a couple of cold Cokes. As they left, they thanked the woman heartily and paid twice what she asked. With a fond adiós the young family climbed into the truck and continued south, feeling like they'd arrived in the real Mexico.