by Zulma Alejandra
No, not his Vans.
I immediately tuck the shoes back into the giant-sized maleta. My eyes swell with lagrimas. My tears cloud my thinking. My hands unpack tirelessly as they plead for justice. He was only 6 months old when he crossed the border with mama y papa. I begin to unpack. Ramon, Ramon, Ramon- my brother's name becomes a prayer. I, too, wasn't given the choice to decide where and when I'd be born. I was born three years after my brother, Ramon. I was born in Oakland, California.
The new spotless, clean, white socks.
I shove them into the shoes. Mama bought them just two days ago. Three days before that, we had just learned about my brother's last day in the United States. Three months before that, he was apprehended by the police and soon taken to the immigration detention center in Arizona. The white socks. I'm keeping those. He didn't wear socks in his first court day. He didn't wear socks, nor laces in his second court day. Those were the only two times I saw him during the three month period my brother surrendered into custody. Similar to how we'd surrender to our chores. I took care of the laundry and dishes. He always had dibs on the bathroom. I didn't complain much because he always made the best eggs and pancakes. He'd always make enough for me. Our chores and our pancakes marked the start of our summer days.
His Baggy Jeans.
Mama's favorite, not. They were very tightly folded. I place them closer to the edge of the giant-sized maleta. Perhaps this will even out the weight. My mom despised his baggy jeans. Still, she packed them. I was indifferent about the baggy jeans. They looked silly. “Did you forget to use the bathroom again, Ramon?” I'd tease. The day he was arrested he wore baggy jeans. “Te ves como un pandillero! Subete esos pantalones!” Mama would often argue. On his court days he was suited in orange, from head to toe. Now, that's what I call criminal attire. He looked like a stranger. Nonetheless, he never looked like a criminal because he wasn't one.
The Bob Marley Shirt.
His fave. I fold this one twice making sure Bob's face is showing. I lay the shirt on top of every other piece of clothing. I bought it for his 20th birthday. He wore it out every other day. Surely, it was his favorite shirt. Surely, it was the best birthday gift ever. I grin at the thought. It should be the first piece of clothing he sees when he opens the giant-sized maleta. I brush Bob's face, pretending to brush my brother's face. He was hairy. Unshaved and just so hairy when I saw him at his court days. Those days, I would shut my eyes tight, wishing that when I opened them again, I'd be standing in front of my brother ready to run away from him. “No, it's your turn to be it again!” I'd yell almost in tears. We lived together. We grew up together. We lived big.
I walked into the SF immigration court by myself. Just me and the giant-sized maleta. I am allowed. I am the eldest citizen in my family. I dragged the giant-sized suitcase into the building. Meanwhile, Mama waited three blocks away. She was standing in front of the car's trunk organizing my brother's clothes. She's not allowed in. She'd get taken too.
“That's well over 10 pounds young lady.” The officer smirked. I assumed he was Hispanic. I smiled at him hoping he'd recognize that I too was of Hispanic origin like him. Dang, I swear I'm full Mexican! I mentally exclaim to myself. My smile is plastered on my face, hoping that somehow, he'd magically disregard those stupid 10 pounds. Hoping that as a 16 year old girl, he'd focus on my smile. On me, rather than those lingering 10 pounds.
10. That was the age of my younger sibling at that time. My American-born little brother. When I was unpacking the giant-sized maleta, my younger brother was 10. Much, much smaller than he is today. Take the heavy clothes out first. But do not touch his favorite clothes. No, not the baggy jeans. I begin to cry. Okay, focus. I grasp for air. Plead with my eyes that the officer will allow me to squeeze in an extra pound or three. “Okay, ma’am, you need to hurry.” I roll my eyes at the sound of his voice. He's not my friend. He's now the villain. I purposely ignore him. This time, anger flares out of my nostrils. My ears burn with rage. Tears sprout out of my eyes. Shit, boogers!
I reclaim my dignity and spit out. “Sir, my brother- he has nothing in Mexico.” I plead in disguise knowing that deep down I could yell at him for doing his job. I could fight him. I seek for the slightest sense of composure that's left in me. I try my best to gather my brother's clothes. The ones I took out of the giant-sized maleta and I shove them into the white, plastic bag that was given to me by the villain officer. I try my best to recollect the memories of my brother. As if in this giant-sized suitcase, alongside my brother's clothes, the memories would be taken too.
I take a deep breath as I exit the building. Holding the plastic bag close to my chest. I mentally tame my goosebumps down. Stop crying, stop crying – I hear my brother's voice within the cracks of the cool wind. Okay, I respond to myself. Okay, I respond to my brother.
I find my way back to the car where my mom is waiting. I'm unsure of how much time has passed. I meet my mom who remains standing outside of the car, facing the trunk. Her back to me. Still folding my brother’s clothes. She turns when she hears my footsteps. “Estaba muy pesada la maleta.” I explain before she blinks. My eyes burn with desire to jump into her arms. I don't. Instead, I hand her the white, plastic bag. Her eyes are red. I wasn't the only one crying that day.
“Ten, regresa y dale este dinero al oficial.” She hands over the money. I obey and nod in agreement. I offer her a reassuring smile and make my way to the building. I walk in his time, but this time, I demand my presence. I am an angry bull. Before the villain officer says a word, I speak up. “My brother is forced to leave the country today. He needs this.” I charge the villain officer, my eyes glued to his. Mesmerized, he stares back. I mumble a few words to myself, possibly, curse words. “Here's money for my brother. Please, he was nothing, no ID, not one bill, just this and the suitcase.” I hand him the money and walk a few steps back. “Okay.” He responds. My eyes feel swollen from crying. I feel them burn into his. He seemed possessed by my rage, but not my pain. This was the last day my brother was in the United States.