Survival, Part Two

Last week, I gave a woman a ride to the international bridge here in Brownsville. She lives in a little town just to the south of Matamoros, Mexico, and was in a hurry to catch a bus before darkness fell (no one travels on the roads after dark). 

She was admiring my car and then, as I shifted into gear, said, “Oh! This car has manual transmission! You could drive this in my town with no worries.”

I asked her what she meant. She looked a bit taken aback. “Well,” she said, “those people (meaning the drug traffickers), they won’t steal cars that aren’t automatic. They have their standards, you know.”

The traffic came to a stop.   We pulled up behind a pickup truck, and I noticed that there was a new sticker on the back window. As far as I could tell, it was St. Jude, the Patron of Lost Causes. In this incarnation, St. Jude was wrapped in the colors of the Mexican flag.

Lost Causes indeed, and the simple madness of Mexico, lying just across the river, screams at all of us. 

Three weeks ago, a priest from Matamoros had a hole blown into his heart when he wandered into a firefight between two drug gangs and the Mexican Army.  This fellow was one of the rare clerics who didn’t mind making people laugh during Mass, and, in that way, offering the Sunday morning appointment with God as something different than a trip to the dentist. “Bala perdida (stray bullet)” announced the authorities.

Just a couple of days later,  all of Latin America had a hole shot in their collective hearts when Facundo Cabral, an iconic Argentinean singer, was shot to death while on tour in Guatemala. His car was machined gunned  by drug traffickers. The murder of  Cabral, an older fellow who, in his own way, with his voice, his poetry and his irreverence, lightened the load of so many Latin Americans, was, so the authorities insist, a case of mistaken identity. More “balas perdidas.”

The image of someone who sang so poignantly about the beauty of falling in love being blasted to bits by automatic weapons can find no place in my imagination.

I arrived at the bridge to Matamoros and pulled over to let the woman out of the car. She thanked me warmly; I wished her, quite sincerely, buen viaje. She held my look for a moment and said, “Thank you. We have to keep on living, you know.”  She smiled, and closed the car door, and then walked quickly up the street, headed for home.

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