She asks me where Victor is. In the car, I say. Immediately she tells me that the BP can impound my vehicle, they can file charges. She tells me that she can call the Border Patrol for me. She seems to know exactly what the right thing to do is. The only thing to do. She places her hand on the phone.
A few seconds later I'm back in the heat of the night and I ask the first passerby, a young blond woman named Charity, for directions to the Ark of the Covenant. Do you have a map? She asks. She means a local map. No. Now she is drawing one on a page of my reporter's notebook. She draws many lines. Here there is a hill, she says; here, a llama ranch. She says a quarter of a mile, then a couple of miles, then three-quarters of a mile and left and right and across. It is a moonless night. Good luck, she says.
I climb back in the truck, I turn the ignition. I give Victor the notebook with the map. In a minute we're out of town and on to the first dirt road of the route. Still no BP in sight. The map is accurate. I pass by the llama ranch, barely catching the sign in the dimness.
For several minutes I ride on impulse--no thoughts at all. But as I turn left just where Charity told me to, a thought powerful enough to take my foot off the gas seizes me.
I can't ride into the Ark of the Covenant with Victor in the truck. What I'd forgotten in my haste was the political reality of the moment: The feds had called No More Deaths' bluff and were going after them in court. I remembered hearing from a couple of activists that before and since the arrests of Sellz and Strauss, there had been constant BP surveillance on the encampment.
If the BP were to see me dropping off Victor at the camp now, would they, could they use this as more evidence of running a de facto smuggling operation? Perhaps this could strengthen the federal case against Sellz and Strauss. And what if there was a conviction? And what if a judge ordered the camp closed?
Now I was weighing Victor's singular rights and desire and the goals and strategy of an activist movement that had helped dozens of migrants in distress over the past two summers and that could continue to help many more. The problem was, my cellphone was dead. The problem was my desire to capture a mojado. The problem was, I didn't have enough information to know what the "right" decision was. I had placed myself on the line, and I wasn't ready for what it would ask of me.
I slow down, and the dust kicked up by the tires envelops the truck. Victor and I turn to each other.
Fifteen minutes later, I pull up, for the second time, to the convenience store in Arivaca. The clerk is still reading the paper. I tell her to call the Border Patrol. I tell her that Victor has diabetes and symptoms of hypoglycemia.
She picks up the phone: "We've got a diabetic UDA."
I walk out to Victor, who is standing next to my truck, staring into the black desert night. He asks me again how far it is to Tucson. I tell him that he'll die if he tries to hike.
I tell myself that Victor is probably living and working somewhere in America now. It is quite possible that he attempted to cross over again after his apprehension by the Border Patrol, and that he succeeded. This thought does and does not comfort me.
I tell myself I did the right thing. I tell myself I did the wrong thing. I tell myself that every decision on the line is like that, somewhere in between.
Copyright 2006 by Ruben Martinez