His smile is still silver, but now when he smiles, he only does so with his mouth. His eyes don't follow along. They're sad, and they're flat black, like holes in his face. I couldn't stop looking at his eyes as we talked. This 27 year old had aged a decade since I had last seen him.
Rudi asked, Cuanto te debo? How much do I owe you?
Oh, Rudi, that was a long time ago. Ya me he olvidado. I've forgotten it already.
But he insists, and I think that even though I never expected to be repaid, maybe it's essential to his dignity that I allow him to repay me. In Mexico, he lost some of his dignity, but he also lost a ton of money. Not money that he had to lose, but his future earnings. He was kidnapped on his way back here, held for ransom, and now on top of the cost of his passage, he owes $6,000 to his friends and family who paid for his freedom.
It kind of makes the $600 I paid the lawyer seem insignificant. I was happy for the chance to help him, and although it came to naught, it was not money wasted. It was proof that, as he sat in that glowing white hot tent in Texas, someone cared for him and wanted him out of there. He was deported back to Guatemala anyway, where he lived and, according to his primos here, suffered, until he had the strength to cross Mexico again.
That crossing took years of his life, and that sparkling-eyes-and-teeth smile I had loved to see directed at me.
He had called me once from Guatemala, told me there was no work, and he would return in March, nearly a year after he was deported. March came and went, and I asked about him. His cousin told me, he's in Mexico. He left Concepcion Las Minas the end of February.
But it's April.
He called his mother and said someone took him, not la migra, not the police. They're holding him there. He can't leave until he pays them six thousand dollars.
What does that do to a man? How can he swallow the injustice of having to pay so much money to someone whose only intent is to cause him more suffering? On top of the injustice of poverty, lack of education, lack of opportunity in his homeland, lack of respect in the only place that offers him any hope at all for a better life. I burn with injustice at being ripped off in simple everyday purchases. But six thousand dollars, for nothing? Just for the privilege of continuing an already terrible journey?
I complain when my flight to Key West is delayed, bitch and moan about my "lost" luggage that I have to wait an agonizing 24 hours to receive. Rudi lost two months, sitting in the middle of a hostile place, just waiting. Waiting for his destitute family to collect and send that $6,000.
The injustice of this is indescribable.
Nearly two months after he left Guatemala, Rudi was back here, with a mountain of debt to pay. He took no time to rest and recover. Mowing lawns, washing dishes, he dove instantly back into his work, the same work he was doing when he was arrested for having committed no crime aside from simply being here, working.
Rudi didn't tell me any of this. I heard it from his cousins. For me, Rudi had nothing but his best attempt at a smile, and two questions: How have you been? and, What do I owe you?