I don’t mean to rain on your parade, but I hate Christmas. What’s up with all the smiling faces and rampage laughter? I mean, who are we kidding here, do we even remember the meaning of Christmas?
I picked up the phone. “Captain?” I said.
“Yes Larry, how are you doing?”
“I’m fine Sir.” Silence as the Captain waited for me to continue. “Sir, I need to pick up a double shift on Christmas day,” I requested.
“Larry, Larry,” the Captain replied with a sigh. “Why don’t you come over and hang out with my family?” The Captain and I had come a long way.
“Thank you for the offer Sir, but I need the extra money.” It was a lie and the Captain knew it. He grudgingly granted me my request.
The town of El Paso, Texas lies on the border between the US and Mexico separated by the Rio Grande River. If you buy a house in El Paso, then one of the requirements is that the windows facing Juarez, Mexico, have to be bulletproof because of the sporadic shooting that comes from across the border.
On Christmas Eve, I watched my colleagues trickle out of the El Paso Police Station looking as happy as clowns. They were excited to run home and spend some quality time with their families: listen to Christmas songs and exchange gifts. There’s no place like home for the holidays… they sang as they left the premises.
The patrol cops left the station at around 9pm and my partner and I were left in charge to oversee things and to be more specific, to book in new offenders and keep an eye on the jailbirds.
At 10pm, my colleague was already asleep on his desk. He worked two jobs: a policeman at night, and a warehouse associate at day. Bored to death, I stood up and did my rounds, peered into the cells to make sure that everything okay. In one of the cells, a woman was crying incessantly, her face near the floor.
“You okay ma’am?” I asked as I peered through the bars. She was the only one in the female cell and her sobs cut a gloomy ambiance in the air. She raised her head and looked at me but didn’t stop crying. Her eyes were full of pain and I felt sorry for her. “I’m okay,” she whispered as she tried to straighten her white dress. I didn’t buy her reply but gave her the benefit of doubt and continued on my rounds.
I came back at 11pm and found her still crying and this time I was genuinely concerned. “Ma’am,” I said. “Its okay, you can talk to me.”
She sat down her back against the wall and stared at the empty space ahead with a vacant expression. “Its my two boys,” she said. “I promised them that I would be home for Christmas.” She broke into explosive sobs. “Th…y will ne..ever forgive me for this!”
Her sobs pulled at my heart and I felt torn by her pain. “I’m sorry about that ma’am. What happened?” I asked. “Why are you here?”
She turned and looked at me and the corridor light hit her face. The first thing that caught my attention was her blue eyes: they were beautiful and spell binding. She was a pretty Hispanic woman, probably in her mid thirties, my contemporary: long disheveled hair and a sexy body. Everything about her intrigued me and I found myself interested in her and her story. “What happened?” I asked again as I edged closer to the bars.
“Its my husband,” she said with a frown. “He had me arrested for being in the country illegally.”
“Why would he do that?” It was cruel. I assumed that she was from Mexico.
“You know how you men are?” She said as she wiped the perspiration from her face with her dress. “You find another woman, you discard the old one.”
“That’s not true,” I protested. “You can’t generalize people.”
She smiled sadly. “Sorry, am just angry.”
I took a second look at her dress. It had class and spoke volumes about her taste and lifestyle. My cop eyes told me that she was a woman who respected herself and the folks around her: a good mother. “So where are the boys now?” I asked.
She shrugged. “Probably with the neighbors. Every Christmas, we sit under the tree and sing carols. This will be our first Christmas apart. Oh Gosh, I hope they don’t hate me for this.”
This was getting to be interesting: selflessness, the love of a mum. I wanted to hear the whole story and so I pulled a chair and asked her to move closer to the cell bars. “Call me Larry,” I said.
“Lucia,” was her soft reply.
She composed herself then began. “Six months ago, I received a phone call from Mexico saying that my mum was very ill.” Lucia looked sad. “I was in the middle of processing my immigration papers and so I asked my husband to complete the last part for me so that I could rush home to see my mum. All he had to do was put the paperwork together and mail it to the local immigration office: copies of my passport, drivers license, bank statements…the usual.” Lucia stopped to collect her thoughts. My eyes travelled to her cleavage and I quickly looked away.
“I came back from Mexico two weeks ago and was stopped at the border. They said that I didn’t have the correct paperwork. I showed them my work permit and travelling documents and explained to them that I was in the process of being a permanent resident. They pulled up my information on the computer and told me that my case had been termed as abandoned due to non-submission of requested documents. I couldn’t believe it. I was in shock!” Lucia’s face turned cold as she went back in time to the stated day. I listened keenly wondering what had happened next. It turned out to be even more interesting.
“My two children were here in El Paso and the thought of never seeing them again was unacceptable.” She shook her head furiously.
“How did you get here?” I asked.
She hesitated and looked at my Police uniform, then my badge. She made a decision and continued. “I hired a coyote in Juarez to run me across the border.”
“You what?” I couldn’t believe my ears. I mean I knew that it happened but to hear it from a classy woman like her was surreal. “You jumped the fence?” It wasn’t a question, just me in shock.
She smiled at my expression. “Did it all Larry. Jumped the fence, swam the river… walked for hours… hitched a ride. I didn’t think that I would make it. The border patrol showed up in a helicopter but there were only four of them and we were ten. A few of us didn’t make it but the thought of seeing my children drove me on and I ran like the Olympics,”
“Wow!” I shook my head in disbelieve. “But why didn’t you just divorce your husband?”
“That’s how it all started,” Lucia explained. “We had bought a beautiful house together and I kicked him out and filed for divorce. I guess he wasn’t too happy about my return and so he called the immigration people and reported me. So here I am.” She motioned at the cell. “Here I am waiting to be sent back to Mexico to never see my boys again.” She didn’t cry, just stared straight ahead pensively.
“It’s cruel to separate a mum from her kids,” I said “The kids suffer more.” Lucia gave me a curious look then turned away. I went into the police station kitchen and brought her a cup of hot coffee. “Merry Christmas,” she said and I looked up startled.
“It’s midnight already?” I asked and she sipped the coffee, carefully noting that I had not reciprocated to her Christmas wishes. “Thanks for the coffee,” she said.
“Welcome to my paradise.” I chuckled and pointed around the cell.
Lucia sipped her drink and squinted her eyes. “You like being here on Christmas day?”
I put my index finger to my lips. “Shssss,” I whispered and she craned her neck expectantly. I closed my eyes and smiled. “Do you here that?” I asked her.
“The crickets,” I said and she smiled. “Silence… pure gold. My paradise.”
She looked amused. “What’s your story anyway?” she asked indifferently. “How come you are working on Christmas Eve?”
Something snapped inside me and suddenly I was happy no more. Thanks Lucia for ruining my safe haven.
“I just don’t like Christmas,” I said. “Did you know that they used cacophonous Christmas songs to torture prisoners in Guantanamo Bay Detention in Cuba?”
She laughed. “You are a pessimist Larry. It was hard metal, rock music.
“I’m a realist.”
“No. You are a nice guy masquerading as a pessimist. Come on man, I told you my story. Its only fair that you tell me yours.” She had a point there.
I pursed my lips and tried to find a relevant beginning. Two years had gone since that dreadful day. I coughed nervously. “My wife left me on Christmas day,” I said and Lucia narrowed her eyes. She knew the story from other folks who had gone through similar ordeals.
“How long ago?” she asked.
“Two years,” I spat out. “Two years ago this day.” It felt like yesterday. The thoughts still hurt. “Its not just about leaving me, it’s the way she did it.” I noticed that Lucia wasn’t interrupting. She nodded at the right moment or appropriately pursed her lips in disapproval.
“What happened?” she insisted.
“I came home that day and she was gone. The house was empty and her things were missing. I called her phone a thousand times until she finally answered. She told me that she was leaving me for another man.
“She broke with you over the phone? That’s cold.” Lucia’s eyes burned with anger at a woman she had never met.
“That’s just half the story,” I continued. “Apparently she had been seeing this guy for six months, been cheating on me for that long. I asked her if we can talk about it but she said that it was pointless. It was over. I couldn’t accept that for an answer and so I told her that I had to see her and that’s when she dropped the bomb on me.”
Lucia looked at me expectantly. “What? What did she say?”
“Not say, the word is ‘do’. She got a restraining order on me. I can’t go anywhere near her… a hundred yards I think… a hundred yards from the woman I loved…. A hundred yards from the life that I had made.” I looked away so that Lucia wouldn’t see my eyes. In them I knew was a reflection of melancholy and weakness. I didn’t want her to see me as broken.
“That’s quite a story Larry,” Lucia said. “I mean, you guys had been married for what, three years?”
“Four,” I corrected and she whistled.
“And just like that, in the blink of an eye, and everything was gone? Wow. Marriage is scary.” Lucia shook her head in disbelief.
We sat in silence for a long time digesting each other’s story. Being near her felt right and I realized that I was enjoying myself. For so long I had carried the pain of my breakup and the burden had bogged me down. But talking to Lucia was like a breath of fresh air. Suddenly, the load on my shoulder wasn’t as heavy and I felt a lightness in my head that made me want to jump up and run down the streets.
“You have a Bible Larry?” she asked and I looked up surprised at the shift in topic.
“No,” I replied. “I used to be an avid church member back in the days but I kind of fell off the wagon.”
Lucia knew the story all too well. “Mathews 1: 20,” she said and I looked at her in astonishment. She continued.
“An Angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holly Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
Lucia closed her eyes with a relaxed expression. Her face glowed and I realized that the words had invigorated her. A drunk yelled from a nearby cell.
“Do you know any Bible verse Larry?” she asked.
“No.” I felt ashamed although I had done nothing wrong.
We shifted to warmer topics and our gloomy faces brightened, laughter filled the air. Lucia was funny and intelligent. She had somewhere singlehandedly brought up two children and bought a house. She talked about ‘moving the cheese’ a book by Spencer Johnson.
“What does it mean?” I asked her.
“People are like mice,” She explained. “We strive to get the cheese, no matter the cost: but sometimes the cheese moves and we have to anticipate this and adapt.”
“Wow!” I said. “It’s an interesting perspective to life.”
“Your cheese moved Larry, you need to adapt.” Her words hit home hard and I knew that they would resonate with me long after we parted.
Morning drew nigh and the patrol started pouring in. “I have to go now Lucia,” I said as I stood up. She reached out through the bars and squeezed my hand. “You are a good man Larry,” she said. “You can fight this thing. Don’t let life bring you down.”
I smiled at her and said goodbye. I walked to my car and drove home in a weird mood. What was this feeling inside me that made me feel like I had won a million dollars? The car radio crackled to Christmas carols and for the first time in a long time, I didn’t change the station.
I came back to work the following evening on Christmas day with a happy look on my face and policemen in the halls stared at me in disbelief.
“You look good Larry,” they called and I waved at them. My feet were light underneath me: I was walking on cloud nine. I searched through the cells for Lucia but she wasn’t there. I scratched my head in confusion and made another pass. She truly wasn’t there! I panicked. Had she been deported back to Mexico? I would never forgive myself if that happened. I asked a few cops about her but nobody seemed to know who I was talking about. I looked through the computer data and here my dilemma intensified. Lucia had never been booked in. This was ridiculously insane. Was I losing my mind? Had I imagined the whole night? Was I a candidate for ‘a beautiful mind’ condition?
A Beautiful Mind. Definition. There is no definition for this term. It’s a name of a 2001 movie by Russel Crowe. The protagonist begins developing paranoid schizophrenia and endures delusional episodes while painfully watching the loss and burden his condition brings on his wife and friends.
I took a magazine to the restroom and sat down on the throne to enjoy a quiet moment. As I casually flipped through the pages of free coupons and Christmas discounts, the main door creaked open I heard voices… laughter.
“Did you see his face when he walked in today?” First voice, a cop.
“I have never seen him look that happy in years. He looked like he had been laid.” Second cop. Silence. The sound of running water.
“You think he will ever find out that we paid the girl?”
Suddenly, I was listening, my eyes unblinking.
“No.” Second cop. “Lucia is cool peoples. She’s been serving me drinks for years and she promised to keep it on the low.”
I heard the flush of a urinal, a door opening… and then silence. I was alone again, my mind working furiously to make sense of what I had just heard. Lucia had been paid to spend Christmas Eve with me! The thought was appalling. It was great to know that the boys cared for me but still, to be an object of pity? How would I ever earn my respect again? How would I ever hold my head up in front of my peers? I sat in the restroom for a longtime.
I took Christmas night off and drove aimlessly around El Paso. The soundtrack was the echo of a few drunks and breaking bear bottles: Mexican teenagers dancing the new gangnam style on the street, the only thing more interesting than Justin Bieber. They eyed me suspiciously as I drove by. She’s been serving me drinks for years … the man in the restroom had said.
The name at the entrance was La Hacienda Bar and Grill and even without my uniform, Lucia saw me the moment I walked through the entrance. She looked up startled from behind the counter then quickly recovered and continued to serve a drink to a nearby man. The time was 11pm. The place was packed and music from a surround system echoed the room. Folks yelled in conversation while others meditated quietly as they sipped at their drinks. I finally managed to grab a seat at the counter and Lucia walked over to serve me.
“They told you?” she asked and I nodded. Her calmness bothered me: she looked like a different person. The Lucia from the previous night was gone. She was afraid no more, weak no longer. The woman I was looking at had a strong beauty and a firm no nonsense expression ... a woman phenomenal.
“Beer?” she asked and I said yes.
She handed me a cold bottle and our eyes locked for a brief moment. “Was any of it real?” I asked.
She kept staring at me as though trying to read my face. And then, “no,” she said and walked away to help another customer. I sat on the bar stool and simmered with disappointment.
She came back after a few minutes. “My name is Lucia, yes, but am not married and I don’t have kids. My parents are from Mexico but I was born in Texas.” She looked at ease in her environment. The bar was her niche, and here she was in control.
“Was any of it real?” I asked again and she was silent as though finally understanding my question. Had she felt what I had felt last night? Had I made her as happy as she had made me?
She leaned over the counter and I tensed. “Larry, you are a nice guy. But this…” She pointed at herself then at me. “This is not going to happen.”
I took a closer look at her unblemished face and straightened hair. The smell of rich fragrance drifted into my nose and instantly I knew that she was right. Lucia was on a different class and I was a fool to think otherwise. I decided to hold my peace and so instead of answering, I stood up and walked away.
The cold wind on my face steadied my dizzy head and I exhaled. Gunshots rang in the distance, the Mexican drug Lords were at it again. Gone were the days when my friends and I in the force used to cross into Mexico for cheap sex. I straightened my hat and tried to shake off the lingering loom of depression, then started down the street.
“Larry?” Lucia’s voice came from the doorway. I turned to look at her. The firmness was gone from her face to be replaced by a familiar softness. She was once again the Lucia from last night. “Larry, am sorry!” she said. “I needed the money!” And then she turned and bolted inside before I could reply. I stood there for a long time, confused and not knowing what to do. Then finally it came to me and I acknowledged the epiphany with a sad smile. It was time for me to leave El Paso. I wasn’t going to live another day wallowing in inconsolable gloom.
The following day, I told the captain of my decision. “What?” he was shocked. “Are you sure?”
“I haven’t never been sure about anything for the past two years,” I said. “ But this time I am. Its time to get my life back.”
“You can’t run away from your memories Larry.” But the Captain was whistling in the dark because I had already made up my mind. I wanted out. I was leaving Texas: the Rocky Mountains of Denver were calling for me. “Consider this my two weeks notice Captain.”
On New Years Eve, I picked up a double shift again and listened to the drunken folks singing. I would miss this place I realized. At midnight I made my rounds casually glancing into the cells and that’s when I saw her. I thought I was dreaming.
“Halo Sergeant,” she greeted.
“Lucia!” I was in shock. “What are you doing here?” Was this really happening? I mean I was happy to see her but then again, this woman had rejected me and taken a part of my manhood away. That part of me wasn’t happy.
“There was a fight at the bar,” she explained.
I laughed sarcastically. “Oh, just like the last time? Deportation? Is this your new story?” I was furious. I wanted payback for what she had done to me.
“You… you!” I couldn’t get the words out and so I started pacing the corridor. “What kind of a person are you? How do you just play with someone’s heart like that? You are a snake!” I hissed the words out.
“I’m sorry Larry, I needed the money.” She looked rattled by my words.
“You want money, I will give you money.” I dug into my wallet and pulled out the three hundred dollars from inside.
“I don’t want it,” she said as silent tears streamed down her face.
“I will take it!” another prisoner shouted and I quickly put the money back in my wallet.
I cursed and used the F bomb. “You are a piece of work. Money is nothing in this world,” I continued. “You can replace money but you can’t replace a broken heart… it takes years to do that, if at all!”
Lucia cried softly as she watched me raving like a lunatic. And then I gave her one last glare and walked away. I was done with her. She was the part of me that I didn’t want to remember.
Two weeks later, the captain picked me up to take me to the airport. I looked outside the SUV window as the town of El Paso flew by: houses, business premises, fast food restaurants ... meager wages. What had once been my place of solitude now looked strange. The past two years had been a blur … the days had merged into each other in a monotony of routine. I wasn’t sad as I looked at the town receding behind me: University of Texas El Paso, El Paso High School, the Plaza hotel, El Paso Zoo… I was ready for a new beginning.
“I hope you make a good life in Colorado,” the captain said.
“Thanks for the ride Cap.” He glanced at me then turned his eyes back on the road and I knew that he wanted to say something before he said it.
“Did you guys talk?” the captain asked.
“Who?” I played with the car radio.
“You and Lucia?” The captain didn’t look at me but he sensed that I had gone very still.
“You know about Lucia?” I asked.
“Everybody knows about Lucia. Nothing happens under my roof without my approval.” It made sense. Suddenly the car veered off the road and the Captain hit the breaks. I looked at him, confused.
“You guys didn’t talk on New Year’s Eve?” He took off his dark glasses and I saw concern.
I remembered the night as clear as daylight. I had done most of the talking: pretty much gave Lucia a piece of my mind. “No we didn’t talk,” I said. “I was too angry.”
“You are a fool Larry.” The Captain looked annoyed.
“I am?” my voice was meek.
“Yes. You are so stuck up in your past life that you can’t see love if it hits you in the face.”
“I don’t understand Captain. She said ‘No’ to me.”
“And you believed her?” The Captain jumped out of the car and lit a cigarette. I ran around anxious to hear what he had to say.
“What are you not saying William?” I called him by his name and he knew that I was getting angry.
“There was no fight at the bar Larry,” the Captain explained. “Lucia asked me… begged me to book her in for the night so that she can hang out with you!”
I felt the punch and reeled back against the ropes. “She what?”
The Captain’s face broke into a grin. “Exactly Larry. I told her that you were leaving for Colorado and she said that she wanted to see you … said something about saying the wrong things and wanting to make things right. What woman is crazy enough to go to jail for a man?”
I took the cigarette from the Captain’s mouth and took a deep drag. So much for going to Colorado. I jumped back into the SUV and I didn’t need to tell the Captain where I was going.
I walked into the bar at 6pm and found Lucia wiping down wet glasses. I dropped my two bags on the floor and she looked up startled. The glasses tinkled in her hands.
“Larry? I thought you left?” Her eyes anxiously searched my face. I took two steps forward then stopped.
“Luke 2:9-12,”I said.“ And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. And the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. "And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths, and lying in a manger."
Lucia’s eyes lit up in surprise. “You finally read your Bible!” She exclaimed and I could see that she was impressed. I walked over to the counter and sat on the barstool. She followed me with her eyes but my expression gave away nothing.
“A beer?” she asked.
“Martini, dry.” My nerves were taut. A beer wouldn’t cut it.
I took a quick sip and smirked my lips. Then I set the bottle down and we made eye contact. “Was any of it real? Christmas Eve?” I asked.
Her face was nonchalant and she took a cloth and began wiping the table. Suddenly the look on her face changed and she threw the rug down and stared me down. “No Larry,” she said coldly. “Its like I told you before. You and I will never happen.”
I looked like a brick truck had hit me: this was absurd especially after what the Captain had told me. Her heart was impermeable, my quest forlorn.
“What did you expect Larry? To come in here, quote a Bible verse and have me run into your arms. You must be joking!”
I opened my mouth but words failed me. Of all the responses from her, this was the last I had expected. I felt like a trespasser. My feet hit the ground and I staggered towards the door.
“Is that it?” her voice rang out loud across the room. “Is that it Larry?” I turned and saw her walking towards me, one hand on her hip. I noticed her legs under the miniskirt for the first time, long and sexy, the kind I coveted. The stiletto accentuated her body swing. “Is that’s all you’ve got!” she asked. “You cancelled your Colorado trip … and now you walk away?”
I was confused and desperate at my predicament: my words came out in a rush of anxiety. “I don’t want that to be it Lucia! I want you in my life. You made me read the bible again. You brought Christmas back to my life. I had forgotten.”
“Then fight for me Larry! I want a man who can fight for me!” She clenched a fist.
I took her hand in mine and gripped it firmly. “Lucia,” I said. “I have been a policeman for many years. I have fought for people I have never met and may never meet again. Its time for me to fight for someone I know: its time for me to fight for love.”
I watched as the coldness left her eyes and I knew that I had finally breached her walls of defense. She smiled for the first time and rushed into my arms. “Yes Larry,” she whispered. “It was all real.” Her voice came soft and I knew that she was crying. Her body trembled against mine and I knew that she was scared. “I have been hurt before Larry. I promised myself to never trust a man again.”
Her words came with a sense of reality. For some reason, she had let me in and I made a vow to honor and love her with all my heart.
“Don’t be scared Lucia. I’m right here my love. I’m never letting you go.”
Finally, fate had dealt me a kind blow. That Lucia was the better half of me was a virtue of certainty. My thoughts on Christmas were uncompromised no more.
Off to AFRICA
My book A Whisper in the Jungle has been picked by a publishing company and approved by the board. It has been scheduled for release soon.
The music is all around you, all you have to do is listen
Without God, what are we? What do we have? What is life...