Sweat glistens on the man’s face as he walks past the green sign at the city limits. Resguardo is a one-street city in the middle of red dirt and strangely shaped rocks chiseling the horizons. The interstate running through it is bordered by a few shops, two-story buildings and a gas station with a waving steel cow boy seeing you to the city exit. On windy days, the smiling sign, riddled with bullet holes, creaks as non-stopping vehicle whooshes by its flimsy frame. From its vantage point, the cow boy cannot see the sunburnt and grimy face shaded by a frayed bucket hat bleached white with too much sun. But Lou can.
He has taken his usual seat in the shadow offered by the convenience store. His is the only bench in town, not even the bus stop can boast of one. Anita thinks that they will have to fix a plaque when he passes on. From behind the counter, she can see the back of his head though the shop window. The white, baby smooth hair sprouts from his trucker cap and spread over the collar of his checkered shirt. The straps of his suspenders draw little curves in his fleshy shoulders. She cannot see his perpetual squint, stemming from a stubborn refusal to wear shades, giving him a continuous sullen air. But she knows about the pot belly, the dirty jeans speckled with mud at the cuffs, the pointy boots with the decorating stitches and the can of cheap cold beer he has just bought from her.
“Look at what the wind’s blown in” Lou thinks. He wasn’t sure at first. The unforgiving sun had been warming the asphalt since the middle of the morning so that the man’s figure was hazy, appearing and disappearing, blurred by the combination of distance and heat. But as soon as he had stepped past the Resguardo sign (pop.30, elev.30), the picture got clearer. The man is now a few feet away from Lou. He grips firmly at his can, staring at the man who is looking somewhere in the distance. “My, what do we got here! Can’t the dude drive no car? “As the man comes closer, he shoots him a glance with his bright blue eyes out of the shadows from the brim of the hat. Lou is startled. The cigarette falls from its comfy spot where Lou’s lower right canine should have been. The man stops, looks with envy at the cigarette rolling slowly down to the gutter.
Anita instinctively reaches for the baseball bat under the counter. There is something troubling about this man. He is dripping with sweat, his bronze arms are scorched with sun and scarred with a thousand scratches. Various stains can be seen on his lap and around his crotch, some lighter but some darker. She can’t see the battered black jackboots with the worn-out soles and she can only guess at the backpack topped with a rolled-up sleeping bag. “One of those crazies again, dios mio”. Resguardo has its lot of folktales. People disappear. Campers stroll into town, ask for directions to ancient Indian cities, spend the night out under the canopy of a cloudless and starry sky. Never to be heard again, strangled by the powerful hands of drifters, fighting back to survive with the help of inept nails, uselessly digging into the forearms of the maniacs. The severing of jugulars spews out blood, the only handy towel the pant legs. Then rocks are removed from the flank of a hill, a niche is prepared, some personal effects thrown in along with the body until it is concealed by a scree provoked by the evil-doer on his way up. First, a small stone rolls down, pulling down bigger ones, until the slope starts shaking enough to release boulders sealing the sarcophagus shut, forever. The echo of the tumbling rocks sings the final requiem.
“A’least he’s nothing like Ernie”.The thought shoots through Lou’s mind with no reason, probably induced by fear. He’s on the other side of the street watching the scene unfolds between the half-open blind slats. “Give it to the old fuck”. Ernie cannot forgive Lou for all he has done. As a kid, he liked to run through Lou’s cotton fields, watching the big machinery gobble up ranks after ranks. A single machine going through a hundred yard in under 10 minutes, picking and baling it. Had Eli come up with something similar earlier, it would have saved Ernie's people, Americans, worlds of sorrow.The roar of the engines through the field was deafening and he didn’t hear Lou behind him. “ Whatcha doin’ here boy, trespissin on me property?” The slap sent Ernie flying down right into a prickly harvested bush. “ Gonna string ya up if I ever see ya agin”.
“Come on do ya cracker shit. Shoot the fucker already”. Ernie bites at his thumb nail frantically.
The cigarette is rolled about by a gentle breeze blowing in the appearance of the first lights of dusk. Lou cannot move, Anita cannot move and Ernie hopes the man will make a move. He points to the cigarette “You have one for me?” “Kinda accent is that?” Lou cannot help himself from thinking. He shakes his head even though a plump full pack is sticking out of his shirt pocket. The man shrugs, removes his hat and runs a hand with grubby fingernails across his face to wipe the sweat off, doing away with a peel of red dirt, painting his face ready for war.Locks of his long hair stick to his temple, the sparse beard glistens with tiny drops of sweat. He shrugs and reaches for something in the side pocket of his backpack.Lou's breath is cut short “’m done for” , Anita feels tingles in her fingers“ I’ll crack his skull”, Ernie can feel his heart pounding in his ears “ That’s the spirit my man”.
The man gets a flask which he upends to drain the last droplets of water down into his mouth. He puts his hat back on and starts walking again.They follow him, as he makes his way toward the town exit, past the gas station and the cowboy waving him goodbye, as if blown away and out by the invisible movement of his still hand. Soon, the man is seen ascending the little slope leading out of the county, until he is but a speck, snuffed out by haze and the coming night , a mirage, a sort of miracle.