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"Each speed bump reminded me of my transgression."

Published onDec 03, 2023

Photo by Raul Juarez:

I knew bad things would happen to me the day I hit a red Volkswagen in Reynosa and drove away.  A young woman with gorgeous blonde curls hopped out of her Passat and rushed to the back of her car, distressed, nearly catching her long straight pants in her heels. Probably on her way to work. Her cheeks were polished over with pink rouge, and she paced back and forth, back and forth, with a dazed expression on her face. I noticed her navy-blue blouse with darker lace around the collar. I exited my car, which was behind her Passat, and nearly converged with her as she bent over to look at her rear bumper and back tire. Under different circumstances we might be friends. I waved my hand toward a small side street ahead of us.

“It’s better if we talk over there,” I told her in Spanish. “Away from all the traffic.”

I pointed at the street again. She nodded, and I drove to the corner and waited. I knew that in Mexico they sometimes impound cars after traffic accidents. Did my insurance cover damage over the border? A few more seconds passed. To my right an old woman shuffled by with a cane and tiny purse. I took another sip of my beer. What would I tell the nicely-curled young woman once she rounded the corner? What would I do?

I drove away.

I started slowly, as if pulling into a parking space, but then I turned left at the next street and sped through a neighborhood. A kaleidoscope of colors whizzed by me, painted homes with iron bars, corner stores with chipped paint and fading signs, pay phones covered in graffiti. I obsessively checked my rearview mirror. Someone was coming to get me!

Finally, I made it back to the main road and the morning rush of cars waiting to cross into Texas. Each speed bump reminded me of my transgression. I checked behind me. Along the sidewalks merchants hawked carved figurines and leather belts. A woman carried a large metal board with fruit-shaped magnets attached. Rows of watermelons and tiny peaches stared accusingly into my car window. A man selling plaster green lizards smiled. I grabbed 25 pesos from my glove compartment and prepared my exit tax. I’m not the man I appear to be. My legs trembled. The coins teetered in my hand. When I approached the booth, the man barely looked up at me. I had fooled him. He handed me a receipt and a five-peso coin. I crossed the bridge into the United States. More cars. More speed bumps.

The guard on the American side of the bridge told me my license had expired. Did I have any other form of identification? “Look at me,” I said. “I’m as American as apple pie.” I stared at my reflection in the guard’s silver sunglasses. Did I have another form of identification?  No. And suddenly I imagined myself trapped in this no-man’s land, the space between who I imagined myself to be and what I had become. Perhaps the young woman with the perfect curls called the police. I couldn’t go back.

“Just look at me,” I repeated.

The border officer took off his sunglasses. His eyes were brown as old pennies. He rested one arm against my rolled-down window and peered inside my car. His eyes paused over the empty beer cans and bottle of Presidente brandy in my backseat. Beside me, several women carried bags of stuffed animals through the pedestrian entrance. A yellow Tweety Bird hit the pavement. I waited for the women to turn around while the officer walked back to his booth.

A few moments later he returned, handed me my license, and asked how much I’d been drinking. 

“I, uh . . . came to see a movie and—”

He interrupted me, told me he didn’t care.  “Just as long as you’re a U.S. citizen,” he said.

“Of course.”

“But watch out for the cops in Pharr,” he continued as I slowly rolled up my window. “They can be a bitch.” 

Behind me the calm Rio Grande faded in the distance. A young woman with beautiful curls tells her parents about the American man who hit her car and drove away. Her father will smooth her hair and make things right because he knows how these things work: karma’s a bitch and the man will get what’s coming to him. Tomorrow his daughter will pull those curls tighter than normal and curse the drunken man who promised her something and left. 

Chris Girman is an associate professor of nonfiction writing at a Mid-Atlantic University.

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