It was hard to leave the children, but if she didn’t they didn’t get to eat. In the end that trumped everything else, their food was on her shoulders.
There were five of them right now. Jenny and Jude were the girls. Onipede was probably in the worst shape in many ways, he could show his face only if he didn’t talk – and even then, dark black skin was dangerous. Combine that with an accent he had picked up from his first seven years, spent in Nigeria, and he was going to be picked up by anyone who noticed him. Manuel was the best of them. He looked white, with a tan, and he’d lived in Dallas all of his life, he was two month old when his parents came over. He even had a Texas accent. Timon was somewhere in the middle. He had an american accent, but black skin. Black skin wasn’t quite a death sentence these days, but it wasn’t all that far from it.
People around the world were still coming to America, still chasing a dream that had died years ago. Some of them landed here, in Dallas, had children here, or brought them with them. It didn’t take long to figure out that this place wasn’t friendly to foreigners. Jude had lived all of her short life in Dallas, born there but to illegal immigrant parents. She wasn’t eligible for citizenship, and never would be, no matter what happened.
The one constant in her life. The lights. Dallas was a city of light. Every street was bright, the glow of the city illuminating the underside of the ever present exhaust haze. On the darkest night the sky was purple and red, light flooding the landscape. Even here, the purple sky bled through windows covered with threadbare sheets, illuminated bare mattresses on dirt floors. Here in this giant city of light, of steel, of glass, this shack hidden on the roof of an empty gas station on the outskirts of town could have been the home of any refugee anywhere in the world. They didn’t dare move into the gas station, sometimes people still came in there, mostly teenagers who wanted to smoke and fuck.
The walls of the shack were made of corrugated tin, the windows were holes that had been cut in the sheets when they got them. The whole thing looked like it would blow over in a strong breeze, but it held, somehow, and it provided them with a bit of shelter from the elements. On the rare days when it rained the tin roof kept the rain from burning their skin, and the shelter kept them from sunstroke. It wasn’t much, but it was something.
Jude had reached a point where she started thinking about the future though. She had no idea how she was going to survive long term. This was working for now, but what was she going to do, spend the rest of her life trying to steal enough food to survive the day? It wouldn’t work long term, so that meant limited options. She knew that Sarah had gone down to the stroll when she hit thirteen, still saw her from time to time. The stroll was probably her only option. Well, hers and Jenny’s. She didn’t want to ever think about that, about sweet little Jenny getting into someone’s car. Still, that was probably better than the boys could hope for. They would get work for a little bit, maybe, but they would be found, they would be lynched. Their other option was the gangs, getting fake documents in exchange for years or decades of service. They would kill and die. Why the fuck was she in this fucked up world? Why had her parents believed the lie that was America?
Laura walked down the sidewalk in Dallas. There was a sidewalk her, a short one. She needed to find a car, and fast. Nobody else was walking here. It seemed like cars were mostly private here, that threw her for a loop. It had been too long since she’d spent time in the states. Who the hell owned a car? Paul said “I have a phone, it’s local. We should grab an Uber. If we keep walking around we’ll get popped.”
“Yeah, do it up. Do you realize almost all these cars have a single person in them?”
“Yeah, pretty gross isn’t it. Even worse, more than half of them have IC’s and a steering wheel. Kind of makes me feel like I’m back in time somehow.”
The Uber arrived. Paul punched in the address of their local contact, the guy who knew where the kids were. They were whisked to their destination in a clean, efficient vehicle, much like what they used at home. The ride was terrifying however. They saw a truck spewing dark clouds of exhaust, swerving in and out of traffic. Their car stayed well clear, but even it was driving far more aggressively than they were used to. The roads were wide, wider than any they had ever seen. All of the cars seemed to be racing to get somewhere unspecified. Finally they pulled off of the freeway, and Laura felt like she could breathe again.
They drove up to a gate. There was a guard sitting at the gate, looking bored. “You residents?”
“Guests, here to see Mike Fin. Paul and Laura Jacoby.”
“Alright, yeah, I see you on the list. ID’s?”
They pulled out their ID’s. Laura held her breath, but the guard didn’t try to scan them, instead he gave them a cursory look over and then handed them back. “Remember, you have to be out by dark. You don’t have overnight privilege. I suggest you make sure you comply, would hate to see a couple of nice folks like you get shot.”
The guard was the first Hispanic person Laura had seen since she entered Dallas.
They took the Uber into the gated community. Mike was their local fixer. A mercenary from what Laura knew, the kind of guy who was good in a pinch, but not to be trusted. His house was a McMansion, just like the rest on the cul-de-sac. They knocked on the door and waited. Then Laura knocked harder, hard enough that her knuckles hurt. Finally she heard footsteps. The man who opened the door was as far from what she expected as she could imagine. He was fat, not slightly large, but huge. He was wearing track pants that were slowly dissolving on his body, an old wife beater style shirt and a bathrobe. His hair clearly hadn’t been cut or washed in months. “Sorry,” he said, “it takes me a minute to get to the door these days. House is too big. Usually I have the maid do it, but I figured with you folks coming it was better if I give her the night off.”
“Yep, that’s me. Big Mike Fin. Come in, let’s get you out of the out of doors. Take off your shoes, no shoes in the house.”
Inside the place boggled Laura’s mind. It was a huge place, but every square inch was covered. There were stacks of paper magazines, something that hadn’t existed in decades. Toys. Piles of clothing that had merged into a single item over decades of neglect. The walls were covered in memorabilia. So much of it that it was impossible to take in. There were commemorative spoons, thousands of them, plates, posters, even a velvet Elvis painting. Laura felt short of breath, claustrophobic, she needed to run away.
“Yeah, the place is a bit disorderly. I blame the maid. You know how the spics are, no work ethic. Still, she’s a decent woman, I would hate to see her green card revoked, her kids were born in this country on a legal stay, so they have citizenship, same with the grand kids, would hate for her to lose them, so I keep her on. Pull up a seat,” Mike sat himself in an arm chair that was almost indistinguishable from the moldering piles of detritus on either side of it, and motioned them towards a pile that might have contained a sofa as the base layer. “Um… here?”
“Yeah, just throw that stuff on the floor. Consuela will get it tomorrow.”
Laura and Paul did as directed. The piles they moved felt greasy to the touch. Laura vowed she was going to spend a week under hot water when she got back to civilization.
“One of my contacts in the Dallas PD knows where the kids are. He’s been doing what he can to stop them getting picked up. There are five of them, but it’s a challenge. The kids are obviously migrants, poor little fuckers. Seems like they are staying in an abandoned gas station on the outskirts of town. Probably think nobody knows about them. Friggin lucky for them there’s still a few decent cops left on the force. Did I tell you I used to be with the PD? Probably not, since I just met ya. Well, yeah, I was on the force before I hurt my back. Since then, it’s pain pills and pension money. Yeah, I was always one of the ones who thought we should give the migrants a break. I mean, send em back where they came from, sure, but hanging them in the street? I can’t get behind that shit.”
“So, how do we get to them?”
“I’ll drop the co-ordinates in your phones. We can get you a van to use. You have to manage the pickup, that’s beyond what I can offer. Hell, if I could do that wouldn’t be any need for you fine folks right? So, these kids, you don’t sell them or nothing right?”
“No, we hook them up with families, get them adopted, send them to school. It’s a bit of work, but it’s worth it.”
“Believe it or not America used to do more charity than anyone else. We used to send money to starving kids in Africa. Don’t know how we ended up like this.”
Laura and Paul thanked the giant slob of a man and left, careful not to touch anything.