Editor’s note: This fictional short story contains descriptions of violence and the difficulties immigrants face while migrating.
Carlo was on his way to work. The twists and turns he took through the corridors always mounted uncertainty in him. Strange, he had taken the journey hundreds of times before. Navigation, finding his way, he thought.
Yet, the experience thrilled him every time. The thought of turning the corner to find a new hallway, new blank faces that looked the same. The feeling of going somewhere was exhilarating, liberating. He remembered the same excitement he had had that fateful day.
Lights were flashing. The fence rattled. The wind tore through them, lashing at his face. The lights came closer. They ditched the van. Shouts came closer. They had come all this way, there was no turning back. He had come for freedom, but he had to hurry, or he would find himself trapped in a prison cell.
Through the perforations in the barbed obstacle ahead burst the bustling life of adventure that beckoned him closer. America, he thought. The whole group of them had longed for this, but now they stood in awe.
The time for action was here. Unlike the Mexicans who came to the border with their passports, their papers, the motley crew carried nothing but guns, wrenches and wire cutters. Screw all that hassle. This statement echoed in his mind, he repeated it purposely, to drown the piercing sting of his poverty. The truth, hah! No one knows the truth about people like him. The truth? He was poor. Too poor to afford any fees, visa.
He looked at the surrounding sea of unfamiliar faces that he now felt he shared something intrinsic with. They were in this together. The story would be great, he would tell it to his son, grandsons. About how he escaped his prison of circumstances. The border guards were almost there. They had found their sweet spot, that one weak entry point for them to break free of their shitty past. Of Mexico. He saw the bright lights flashing from the bars, pubs and gas station.
This spot now held meaning. He was significant, for he, Gian Carlo Purch, had broken into the land of opportunity through this spot, at 10:36 pm. This means something. That he had succeeded, that he was not shackled by the world he had been innocently convicted of. The metal clanged to the ground and there was divine euphoria in the air, rising, mingling, coalescing into shouts and uproars. The hole was not large. Their window was not wide. But it was enough. And the next thing he knew he smelt new air that filled his lungs. It was not a foul, smoky, corrupt smell. It refreshed him. New life. Literally.
He smiled as he came nearer to his place of work, continuing his journey through the maze of offices. He had donned his navy blue uniform, tiny suitcase in hand.
He thought about his life leading up to that.
Carlo twisted the doorknob, squeezing it tight. He needed to make sure that the door was open. Just not too much, or he will notice. Just a tad, ajar. Light, in a small shaft spilled into his room. There was rarely any light in his room, so this was a cherished rarity. He felt foolish basking in, letting it flow over his hand, trying to breathe it in, watching those previously invisible dust particles circle about dancing in the illuminated space of the room.
He considered just leaving it like this, like he had one afternoon. He had crouched in the corner next to the open door, bathing in the tiny patch of light while watching the other side of his room, shrouded in darkness. He imagined what it would be like for the whole floor of his bare bedroom to be covered in light, so he could step and walk all over without being afraid of the shadows. But his father would beat him if he found out the door was opened so wide. Carlo was expected to remain there.
As long as he could remember, maybe 2-4 years old of age, he would cry day and night. He was hungry, dirty. He had vomited on himself once and was beaten for stinking up the room. Not like they cared.
The room was his home, his jail, was it not. He would wail, but he was shouted at and most of the time no one came so sometimes he choked on his tears and vomited as well. As he grew older, he learned to avoid the mistake. Most of the time he was hungry. Once, him mother had come home drunk and high, meanwhile Father was in the next room with another woman. There was screaming, slapping. He was afraid that the noise, which came from the empty walls, would come and hurt him, or drive him crazy, or make him cry which would not end well.
Every once a week he would duck as sometimes he heard screams from the nearby market, and swishing sounds of things being shot up, a common paradigm that played in his mind for days. The sounds of his intoxicated father, ruffian brother and his friends who kicked him face down in the dirt, drug addict mother, gunmen outside, the smells of acrid plumes of cigarettes and the dirty common toilet, the aching feeling in his stomach which he would have ripped out had he had the strength, the dry sore in his parched, cracked throat.
It swirled into a sparkling cocktail of bitterness, an endless demented melody, a jab that had strucked him since birth but the pain of which never went away. It was a constant humdrum of life that beat steadily, till the point it was peaceful silence. He himself never felt at rest though.
The only thing that kept him going was his daily ritual of washing in the light of the outside world. It was a form of rejuvenation that assured him there were better things, that he could break out his cycle, of his home life prison, of his hellhole life, that there was a place of bliss and good life reserved for someone like him to one day enjoy.
On this occasion, he peeped out of the tiny crack. He was feeling sick of the old ritual, for the partial light only reminded him that the light was not yet his, that in truth a delusion was what placated his tortured soul. It told him of something to desire, but not to own. But he desired it.
His eyes were blinded fully by the light and paradise that awaited him. He wanted to go out, his nerves, legs, whole body tensed up. His nails gripped the ground, keeping his eager being in check from what he later reflected to be stirrings of desperation.
“I can see u.” Those words confirmed the boundary of the prison that he had crossed. Father lay sprawled across the sofa. Fingers tightened around a beer bottle.
“Ok.” Carlo retreated, slipping his head back into his world. So did the light, into its respective world of normality, peace and comfort. As the door clicked shut, the same effect kicked in. The one where it was painful. Painful to know that the light was out of his reach. He thought about that TV program he had seen that time he had watched through his door for 2 whole hours when no one was around.
That kid — Kevin McCallister. His house was like a palace or something, straight fantasy. There were people talking, laughing, smiling during Christmas, which he assumed was a time of joy and celebration. That was his first contact with the world that he knew he deserved, a happy world where he wouldn’t be afraid of or bullied by anything. He wanted to be just like that boy. The light outside was the reminder of what he lacked, that he was stuck because he was poor and in a country of chaos.
As he grew older he gradually learned of the specifics of this life which he had been denied, about America, a name he firmly planted, a seed that germinated in his mind that evolved into a plan since that day he had slipped his head back through, when he had gotten the full glimpse of what he could be, and what he feared he never would be. Happy. He had enough. So that day was his day, that day he had escaped, and now, Carlo thought as he rounded the corner of his workplace, he was free.
He knew because of the air he breathed. It was fresh.
He stopped before his workplace. Time for another day in the light, he exhaled with excitement. He took a deep breath of the fresh air. Time for work.
He headed inside the dim room mop in hand and pride in his heart. The toilet door clanged shut behind him as the white lights flickered on.