He closed his eyes, wincing as the dull ache of the old wound throbbed. It’d been three years since the Honduran drug lords had tried to enlist him. He’d escaped with the machete slash to his arm, a constant reminder of why he had fled. As if he needed physical reminders? Every time it rained in the artichoke fields, didn’t he see the mud and garbage washing down the dirt road in front of his family’s tin shack and feel the rain dripping through the holes in the roof?
Juan entered the kitchen, shaking his head, “To, it’s 4am. You got this. Grab a beer man, you need to chill. Christ, you’re sweating.”
Roberto loved his cousin. Juan was born in the US, he was automatically a citizen. He could never know the anguish of waking one morning and knowing the empty spot next to you in bed meant your little brother had run off in the night and now slept with an AK-47 instead of you.
“No Juan, I need to pass, I can’t take off another morning. I’m going to be in enough deep shit with Hansen when I show up late.”
“Yeah. Whoa, To, your leg!”
Roberto looked down. He had swiped his cutting knife in an awkward angle this morning and nicked his shin. Now with shorts on, he saw streaks of red up and down his leg. He realized his sweat wasn’t from stress nor the 90 degree stale air. He was burning up. He’d seen infections before; they could come on fast, and end things fast.
Juan dragged him to his truck and they sped to Urgent Care. Juan rushed inside screaming, “Get out here, my cousin needs antibiotics NOW!”
A bleary eyed PA looked at Roberto’s leg. “Yah – that’s staph”.
In a low mumble, he nodded his head and motioned Juan a few feet away. “I’ve seen this shit before, he may have less than 24 hours. I know he needs an antibiotic. Thing is, I got nothing. My morning delivery comes at 10.”
“Roberto,” Juan called, “They don’t have meds. We gotta go to like San Jose”.
“What? San Jose? I can’t go to San Jose. My test is at 8.”
“No, To, your test ain’t at 8, cuz you’re not going. We gotta get you those meds.”
Juan looked out the window and across the parking lot. The morning sky glowed with newborn pinks. The flagpole in front of the Burger King stood stark and naked.
“We’re not going. I’m gonna take my test. I’m gonna pass. You’re gonna give me my flag and I’m gonna die knowing I’m an American citizen”.