We stop for our morning atole—that thick crushed corn drink con chocolate, de los Indios. Hot, hot, hot. Like cereal, so much better than the gringo café, just makes me want to poop. All morning. Standing in la basura—la basura—reaching past my knees. I try not to look at it, but now, I begin to smell. Like basura.
The guys are my age. Sixteen. Seventeen. We’re lucky to have a job, and maybe someday, I’ll drive the truck. Instead of standing in stinky basura. I’d rather wash cars and make more pesos, but mi Mama says this job has a future. Driving la basura, maybe. The first stop, CLANGING metal, that’s my job, people come running with their pinche basura. Plastic containers, large, and small—some with worms crawling—spread it all evenly on the truck floor. Stomp with feet, us young guys. Los gringos bring their basura in neat, black bags, smiling. I take them, rip them open to spread evenly on the truck floor. To my shoelaces. But the gringos put tips in the can dangling with wire—I smile, “Gracias.” Maybe enough for tacitos for us all. Some rich Mexicans tip too—“Gracias,” I smile. “De nada,” no smiles, but more pesos. No me chingas.
I wonder how they got rich, fancy cars, fancy boots for women. They look like las gringas, tight jeans, bright lipstick and skinny, no hips. When mi hermano, Jorge, calls from Los Angeles, where he says there are no angels and laughs. We gather at la gringa’s casita where Mama cleans and cooks, to talk to him, even see him on el Skype. He tells me I should come, el otto lado, the other side, before I get every disease in el mundo from everyone’s pinche basura. He tells me he shares a nice casita with a bunch of guys—cooks, waiters, busboys. That las gringas would love me, give me their phone numbers when they pay.
I clang the metal and the next group runs toward us lining up, containers and black bags full. Plink of pesos. “Gracias,” I smile.
“They wouldn’t give me their number, Jorge. I’m not pretty like you,” I laugh, knowing he’s watching me from the place with no angels.
“Oh, you’re the rugged type, Andres, they’d like you even more. You’ll start out as a bus boy, like I did. Then, the waiter with all the gringa phone numbers,” he smiles widely. “Is Mama there?”
“She went back to cooking for la gringa.”
Jorge pitches his voice low. “You can even become their boy friend, and they pay for everything, buy you nice clothes. The one I’m seeing right now wants me to move in with her, crazy but beautiful gringita.” He laughs his wild man laugh.
“Are you going to do it or what?’
“I’m thinking about it, chico. Even if it’s for a few months. Why not? Don’t tell Mama. You know how she is, her y la Virgen and all the saints,” Jorge smiles. “Come and join me, chico. Get your nalgas out of that chingada basura. I”ll send you plane fare, just get a visa, and you’ll never go back.”
“Las gringas won’t like me, Jorge, like they like you. Do you ever look for Papa up there?”
“He could be anywhere, chico, and I’ve stopped looking, el cabrón, leaving Mama with everything to care for.”
“The money you send us really helps, but it’s time for me to work, no more school for me. I think I could be a poet, Jorge. I’m not kidding. I write them and save them,” I almost whisper, my secret.
“Next time bring one and read it to me. And get that visa. Then, I’ll send you the plane pesos, and before you know it, you’ll be a waiter with a gringa girlfriend.”
I’ve promised myself to go to the Consulate and get the chingada visa as soon as Jorge’s boss at the restaurant writes me a letter saying I have a job. In Los Angeles where there are no angels. Jorge’s going to be a cook, but he’ll probably miss all the gringa phone numbers.
I smile, clanging the metal, everyone lining up with their stinking full containers with worms. But, I’m not pretty like Jorge, and I’m not a smoothie like Mama calls him, laughing. Mama’s English is getting better with la gringa, and I’m glad I took those free lessons. I could be a bus boy. Give people water, clean the tables. But, I’m probably not smooth enough to be a waiter. With a gringa girlfriend.
Now la basura is up to my ankles. Pesos clinking in the can. I look up smiling, “Gracias.”
“De nada,” a beautiful, blonde gringita smiles right into my eyes.
“See you next time, cutie,” she says laughing.
“Okay, bonita,” I manage. She laughs louder. Tinkly.
I look up to a roof where a small doll is perched. Something red waving in the wind. Someone wedged it between pieces of metal. When the red moves, it looks like the doll is flying. And then I realize, it’s Superman. His red cape. Flying. Wedged in the metal on that roof.
I take the final containers of rotting basura, spreading it evenly on the truck floor. The driver finds a ranchera on the radio, full blast, starts the truck toward the next block. The next people waiting with their rotting, wormy basura. The driver does a loud grito to the rancheras. The usual topic, love. And the guys and I laugh, stamping la basura flat with our feet like we’re dancing.
I look at Superman as we drive away and almost tell my friends, but decide he’s mine. He’ll give me the courage to go to the Consulate, el otro lado, where there are no angels, and maybe even be a waiter with gringa phone numbers. The beautiful gringa’s blue eyes, laughing. I wonder if Superman has blue eyes?