On the day of his departure, Yovani hugged his mom as tight as he could but she held him tighter. She gripped the back of his shirt tightly and pressed his head against her chest, leaving a wet spot from her boy's tears. Yovani wished for the moment to last forever, but he knew that it couldn't. His dad stood in silence, anxiously waiting his turn. When his moment came, he kneeled down on one knee the best he could and looked straight into his son's brown eyes.
"Mijo, please take care of yourself." His father said to him in his raspy baritone voice.
Yovani stared at him, knowing that his sunken green eyes were holding back tears. Armadas don't cry, his dad would often say to him but Yovani could never stick to that saying. He was a timid boy and would often cry for the smallest things and this bothered Mr. Armada, but even he knew that today, it was more than acceptable to do so.
"Don't cry, Mijo." His dad said to him as he pulled Yovani in for a hug. He released a trembling sigh and Yovani knew that for the first time, his father was scared.
"It's going to be okay, Mijo. Te quiero mucho."
Yovani wanted to believe his father's words. He wanted to believe that everything was going to be okay. He wanted to believe that without his parents he was going to be successful like they wanted him to be, and he also wanted to believe that he was going to make them proud. He wanted to believe all this, but the abilities he held to do so began to worry him. He began to realize that without his parents, whose support and guidance had been with him all of his life, he wasn't going to be able to do it. He was only nine after all and the thought of all the responsibility began to weaken his knees and upset his stomach.
As the small family of three stood in the middle of an empty field of gravel outside of the city, where they were told meet at noon, a bus began to approach them. The bus was similar to a school bus, yet its yellow paint job was absent. Instead, It's green paint reflected in the sun and the words "La Santa Maria" identified it to be the right bus to take Yovani. The distant rumbling sound of the engine began to get louder and Yovani's heart began to beat faster than the bobbling heads inside the bus.
"Vamonos!" a man said to Yovani as he jumped out of the crawling bus before coming to a full stop.
Yovani became frightened by the man's appearance and his thunderous voice. He was known to many as EL Coyote and Raul to a few. Yovani had no desire to know the details. All he knew was that he was a bad man. He was the Mexican reaper who had come to take him away. The man was short with a mustache as thick as his curly hair and as black as the shirt he wore. His belly was held in place by a golden bull that had clearly been shined one too many times. From that point on, Yovani began to refer him as the bull man.
"Look at me," said Mrs. Armada as she went in for a last hug, making it the strongest one of all. Yovani was not much of a hugger, avoiding them anytime he could but today he welcomed it, wishing it wouldn't end. Mr. Armada joined his family's embrace and the two parents soon peckered their son with kisses, knowing this would be the last time they would ever see or hold their only son.
"Vamos, Vamos, Vamos!" The Coyote shouted after giving a high pitched whistle that scared some nearby ravens.
It was time to go and so Yovani, more scared than he was on his first day of school, picked up his handwoven backpack made for him by his mother and began walking towards the Santa Maria. As he walked, he tried hard not to look back. He began to embrace the hot Guatemalan sun that burned his brown skin, knowing that this would be the last time he would feel its heat. Sweat formed on his skin but he did not wipe it, hoping it would soon dry so that a piece of Guate would stay with him throughout the course of the trip. He took his time walking towards the bus, knowing that the Bull Man was growing impatient. Yovani did not look at him and stared at his Converse that were close to falling apart. He feared that if he looked up, the Bull Man would come to pick him up, throw him on the bus and leave, not giving Yovani a chance for a final goodbye to his parents from the small bus window. That wouldn't happen, however, he thought, at least not until he left. For right now until the bus's departure, he was under his father's protection.
The Coyote signaled the young boy for his backpack when he arrived at the bus's door. Yovani wasn't sure what he meant and when he did he handed over his backpack, watching the Bull Man closely to ensure he didn't damage it. The Coyote opened the bag and looked inside, shuffling through the boy's belongings as he hummed a strange tune that made Yovani feel uneasy. He found nothing alarming. Why would he? Just clothing and homemade snacks took up the space of the small bag and after a few seconds, he returned the bag to Yovani, not bothering to tie it back like his mother did. He gave an elegant gesture with one hand that extended inside the bus and arched his back enough to almost rip the back of his shirt as he nodded to Yovani.
"After you, señorsito." he said.
The boy said nothing. He stayed silent. He looked inside the bus and began noticing the heavy smell of sweat as it filled his small nostrils. The driver, a darker-skinned man with two golden teeth, nodded and smiled. Yovani politely smiled back and it was then that he made his first small step into his future. It was hot inside the bus and a small fan that hung in the front by the mirror tried to ease the problem. No one seemed to notice it, though, as they were sweating quite heavily. The seats were nearly empty, only being filled by a woman in the back a young boy with his mother towards the middle. The boy stared at Yovani as he slowly looked for a place to sit. When Yovani saw the small boy and his mother next to him, he began to wish that his situation was like theirs. He wished that his parents were with him but he knew that he couldn't hold his breath for such fantasies, and so he began to walk toward the family of two as he looked for a seat.
After sitting down and placing his bag beside him, Yovani looked outside the window and waved to his parents. His mom waved back but he could see that his father had walked over to the Bull Man and handed him a white envelope. The Bull Man grabbed it and placed it in his back pocket, not bothering to shake his father's hand. The Bull Man walked away disrespectfully and his father turned to wave at his son, not letting such rude gestures bother him. Yovani knew what the envelope was. It was the hard work and sacrifice that his parents had made to make it possible for him to be leaving. He knew that inside that envelope was a neat stack of Quetzals, waiting to be spent by the Bull Man and he knew that even though it was a lot of money, it still wasn't enough to cover the cost for the Coyote's guidance and assistance.
Yovani's parents waved him and he waved back through the small bus window. Yovani saw their bodies becoming more and more distant and eventually disappearing along with the Capital city of Guatemala. He gripped his backpack and wiped his eyes, trying to hold the memory of them as clearly as he could.
"Oye, what's your name, niño?" he heard a voice say to him from behind after a few minutes had gone by. He turned around and saw the small boy poking his head from the top the ripped bus seat.
"What?" Yovani said, even though he had clearly heard the question.
"What's your name? Cómo te llamas?" he said in a cheerful tone that made Yovani wonder why he would be in such a mood.
"Yovani," he said in a low voice that could almost be mistaken for a whisper. He stayed silent after his response. The boy stared at him, waiting to be asked the same question. When it didn't come, he shifted his body and continued the conversation.
"My name is Joaquin and this is my neighbor, Elma."
Yovani was surprised, only noticing the lack of resemblance in that moment. Elma turned and gave him a smile.
"Nice to meet you, muchacho."
"Nice to meet you," Yovani said to her as he began to feel more at ease.
"Elma lived a few blocks from my house so I've known her for a long time."
Yovani nodded his head, trying not to be rude, but it was clear that he didn't feel like talking.
"So what are you going to do when you cross--"
"-- Joaquin, ya. I think that's enough for now. Let's leave him alone for a bit." Elma whispered to him loud enough for Yovani to hear.
Without showing it, Yovani thanked Elma for understanding that he needed time to himself. He wasn't in the mood to talk and he wasn't sure if he would ever be.
"Sorry, muchacho. Joaquin likes to talk a lot and make new friends."
"It's okay," Yovani said, wishing he had more to say to them both.
"We brought quite a few things along for the trip so if you need anything at all, don't hesitate to ask, okay mijo?"
"We have food, water, and extra clothing for Joaquin that I'm sure would fit you as well. We will let you be. Let us know if you need anything, muchaco."
"Thank you." Said Yovani, overwhelmed at the woman's generosity.
The boy sat back down and began to open a bag of chips. The smell of the chips reached Yovani and his stomach began to turn again. He opened the small window for air and was hit with a dirty batch of air. He squinted his eyes and looked around for a few seconds. He did not know where he was but then again, that was the point. As he sat in his seat he began to think about all the things that he was leaving behind. He knew he was going to miss the sharp sound of rain hitting the tin roof of his home each fall, or the cold showers that he was forced to take each morning because of the lack of hot water. Even though he wished for more when he lived with his parents, he still had all that he needed to be happy. Food was always on the table and love was never absent even when the money was. All his wishes of electricity, a television or video games began to fade as he sat on the bus. All he wanted was his soccer ball that had been loyal to him all those years and his soccer shoes that his parents had worked so hard to get.
That's why they worked long hours for him, scraping enough money so that he could have a better future. He knew that if they could, they would have come with him, but the constraint of money kept them in the brick structure with a tin roof that they called home.
Yovani knew that it was going to be a new beginning and he couldn't fail. He sat in the bus, dreaming about the success that he could have as he made his way to the first of many safe houses. If all went well, he would be arriving at his aunt's home in two weeks or so. The road ahead worried him but not as much as his failure did. He had heard many stories from people in his town about those that didn't make it, or about those that did but later returned. This frightened Yovani and he didn't want to be one of those people and so he tried to keep a positive attitude. He had to toughen up and do what needed to be done. He knew he was going to make it. He had to. And so, Yovani closed his eyes and began to dream about his life on the other side of the border, making his parents proud of what he had finally become: an American.