This was a short story I wrote awhile back, enjoy!
The Orange Blossom’s
Not much ever happens here in Polk City, Florida. The sun always rises as fast as it falls, and the middle of the day, when it’s the hottest, seems to drag like an Easter Sunday church service. Don’t get me wrong…, I love God and everything, but these long days in the sun are cooking me like a luau pig. I get up every morning at 5 o’clock, just so I can have an hour awake, without the sun singeing every hair-on my already leather-like arms. After an hour, four cigarettes and 3 cups of coffee, I climb aboard this contraption that use to be an old school bus. It’s painted all white now, has like a dozen old wooden ladders strapped to the top and virtually every window is missing since the air conditioning hasn’t worked since Jimmy Carter was president! But what the hell…who needs air conditioning when you spend ten hours a day, incubating at ninety-four degrees with thirty percent humidity outside.
I turn off of Highway 27, onto this dirt path they call a road to pick up Paco and his crew of eleven other Mexicans. Paco is the only one in the group that speaks English, and like me, he has never missed a day of work in his life. Paco and his crew live in a steal building, kind of like an oversized shed. Our boss pays them by the bushel picked, and lets them to stay in this garage like shack for free. Of course he always threatens to call the INS whenever he thinks they’re not picking fast enough. Not like it really matters, they all have work visas.
Paco and I always picked together, and have a very good friendship since he’s been around about as long as I have. He always refers to me as “Gringo”, since I was the only white picker amongst the bunch. There was always one white man on most picking crews, since we were the only ones with a driver’s license. Normally Paco and I spend our day’s bullshitting about the differences between American and Mexican women, and how I don’t have a clue what real tequila is. We argue and debate about stupid crap, but it’s all in good fun, just a way to help kill off these seamless days.
It was last fall-the last week of picking, joking and talking as usual…we had just set our ladders into the orange tree, when Paco says,
“Hey Gringo, why you do this every day?”
“Do what?” I said.
“Pick these oranges? Your white man, you can work better job than this.”
Paco had made a good point, I had never planned to pick oranges for the rest of my life, and it was always just something to do for the summer until I decided what to do with my life. The fact of the matter was I didn’t like change very much. My life was simple; I did the same thing every day, I had one friend and only had to talk to one person all day since the others didn’t speak English. So with a smirk on my face I replied “I love the smell of the orange blossoms!” He just chuckled as he said “ok Gringo”. It was a well known fact that I hated the smell of these trees; it seemed to linger with me like the stench of a skunk on a dog! It was the only smell I knew.
We were fast approaching the end of the season, when I usually drive Paco and his crew back to the Texas/Mexico border, where we meet with his family to drive them the rest of the way back home into Mexico, when Paco said,
“Hey Gringo, come home with us for vacation, we show you good Mexico fun! I take you to the bull fights; we drink some tequila…mucho fun man!”
“I can’t stay in Mexico; I gotta get back and…”
“Do what, wait for more orange to grow, Gringo?”
Paco was right, there was absolutely nothing to get back to, I had the next three months off before we did the fall trimming, but I’m just not use to doing anything outside of these damn oranges. I usually spend my three months off fishing down at Lake Okeechobee in my jon boat. I could clearly see that Paco wasn’t going to take no for an answer, and I really couldn’t come up with an even remotely worthy excuse, so with reluctance in my voice I replied,
“Oh you wont regret this Gringo”, as he smirked with enthusiasm.
“This better be good, I could be fishing” as I muttered under my breath.
The trip back to Mexico, was quite un-eventful, as we had made this trip so many times before, however once we crossed into Mexico, I was very interested in this new landscape before me. We pulled up to Paco’s home, or least that’s what they called it, and I have to say that shed they were living in back in Florida, was definitely a step up. Surrounded by a rusty wire fence, and at least a half a dozen chickens, was what they called home. Made of some old grey weathered boards, and a tin roof, it sat up off the ground about a foot and a half or so. You could see the red earth that covered all of Mexico’s landscape, through the gaps in the floor boards; needless to say I was already missing my one room palace back in Polk County, Florida.
It was my last night in Mexico, when Paco and his friends took me to the Rosarita Cantina. I do not lie when I say, that this was the absolute best Mexican food I have ever had, and the tequila…, oh the tequila, cannot be put into words. Now I’m not much of a dancer but, but with a glass of tequila courage, I was doing the salsa till well past two am with all the Mexican women. Paco had to pry me away from these sensual beauties, as I slurred some sort of flirtatious remark to them, as I was stumbling back out to the bus. We all piled back into our white Mexican limousine, ladders and all, and headed back down the all dirt road back to Paco’s, singing La Cucaracha. We were only two miles away from Paco’s house when the bus felt like it slammed into a pot hole.
“Oh shit Gringo! I think you just hit a dog” Paco yelled while laughing in his drunken stupor.
“It was a pothole bigger than your mother’s ass” I yell back in laughter.
I jerked the bus off to the side and slammed on the brakes, kicking up all kinds of red dust from the road. We all climbed out of our white chariot and headed to the back of the bus to look.
There was no pothole. There was no dog. We all just stood there staring in a daze, as we looked upon this old man that lay on the dirt. He was clearly dead. His body had been crushed. He must have dragged for a short period, as his skin was worn to the bone in several places, the red dirt intermingling with all the blood on his body…his face unrecognizable. My body was numb. I went from drunk to sober in half a second from the adrenaline that pumped through my body like a fire hose. The silence was broken when Paco noticed the headlights from a car in the far distance approaching.
“We have to go Gringo! Go! Go! Get on the bus Gringo!
“But I just…I just killed tha…”
“We have to go now” he said very softly this time.
I don’t ever remember getting back on the bus, or how we made it back to Paco’s house. At some point when I became lucid again we were sitting around an old wooden table in Paco’s kitchen, as he told me,
“You cannot go to a Mexican prison; a white man will not survive. They will kill you. Stay here a couple of days, then head out and get back across that border. You have always been a good friend to me Gringo, and we will never speak of this night to anyone, but you must make it back home my friend.”
Three days later as I approached the border, my heart began to race, I was sweating like a marathon runner, images of the body that I had left back on that red dirt road, flashed by like the light between train cars as it passes in the sun. I pull up to the check point booth.
“Citizenship” the border officer says.
“US” I reply.
“Why are you so sweaty?”
“Oh, the air conditioning doesn’t work on this heap.” as I chuckle.
“Sir, step off the bus, we have a little problem” as he points toward the front of the bus.
As I’m stepping down off the bus, thoughts of blood on the bumper hit me, or maybe a huge dent, or some hair, shit! What does he see, somebody saw us drive off, Paco ratted me out, either way I am clearly busted, as all these thoughts race through my head.
As the officer points at the bumper,
“Have a good time in Mexico, Sir?”
I look down at the bumper, and see a empty bottle of tequila wedged between the front bumper and grill, placed there by one of Paco’s buddies when we left the cantina in our drunken state.
“Oh yeah” I said with some relief, “the guys thought it would make a good hood ornament slash trophy of my trip to Mexico” as I laughed.
“Do me a favor” the officer said in an un-amused voice,”take that off and throw it away, welcome back to the United States sir.”
The next season Paco returned to the groves. We didn’t say much to each other, however there would be an occasional glance, with a slight nod, to let me know our secrets are lost in the past, never to be found or spoke of again.
I often think about that man, which lay on that red dirt road, and the guilt that I will carry with me till my own death. Sometimes I find myself staring into the sky, as I perch atop my ladder, birds flying as free as the wind, and the smell of orange blossoms, filling the hot summer air.