Living in Mexico while building a church in Baja.
I was up before the sun. It had been a long time since I’d been to the beach and couldn’t wait to see the sand. We were going to spend the night there, and Roberto promised it was a little bit like heaven there, only with tacos.
The ride into la bahia was a couple of hours. This time it didn’t feel that long to get to where we were going. As we heading in the water and the buildings came into view. The rocky hills in the bay looked magical and there was mist around them. When got closer to the water I saw more cactus. The tall kind that looked like a hat stand were on the beach. The water didn’t come up to sand, it was rocks, pebbles and mud. It wasn’t what I wanted, but I wasn’t disappointed either. We all ran into the water and started to splash around. Roberto called us over.
“Hey, kids, you want to go out in a boat later?”
We all screamed, “Yes!”
“Ok,” Roberto said, “that cabana?” Roberto pointed to an open walled building with a straw roof, “That’s our camp. There is food and water there. And maybe a few sodas.”
We were swimming and splashing in the sun. Morag was of course, the first one to get out of it. Ruby was putting her hands in the water and watching it run off of her fingers. “It’s pure, so pure,” she said.
“You been to the ocean before?” I asked her.
“No. I’ve never seen it in person before.”
“It’s steals your soul away, doesn’t it? Makes you feel washed clean.”
Ruby smiled, “What’s your story Kyle?”
“I don’t have one.”
“Why are you here?” Ruby asked.
“Maybe to make a story,” I said.
We headed in to sit with Morag. There were some orange sodas. Liquid treasure, I hadn’t seen or touched a soda in a long time. There were tacos in foil that tasted so good. Roberto was wrong, heaven would have tacos. The breeze made me shiver as it cooled my clothes. This was a really good day.
After a while we were all in the cabana and eating tacos. It seemed like there was an endless supply of food and soda. This felt like a vacation, and for the first time since I left California I had some time to sit and think. Normally, I would find something to do to keep from thinking. But as I looked out at those hills that jetted out of the water I wondered why I was here. Not in Mexico, but alive, on this earth. Nothing came to my mind. Then I heard Ruby laugh. Maybe that was why I was here. To help Ruby and Dan and anyone else who felt tossed aside. That wasn’t a bad reason to be around.
Later, Roberto came and took us out on a boat. The water was calm in the bay, but when we got close to the open ocean there were some gentle waves. It was fun going in and out of the land masses that rose up from the water. A shadow came close to the boat. And then a large creature about the length of the boat swam next to us. It was spotted and had a mouth like a cave. Something made me freeze as It came closer and breached the water.
“Look,” Roberto beamed, “Tiburon Ballena, beautiful, no?”
It was beautiful and very big. I had never seen anything in the water that big this close up.
“Tiburon ballena? What is that?” Morag asked.
“A whale shark,” Charlie said, “it’s a big one.”
“It’s the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen,” Ruby said.
“I guess it’s ok,” Dan said with a quiver in his voice, “but so what?”
The beast turned and left. Watching it swim away I felt small. I understood what Ruby meant. It felt like I had seen a unicorn. The rest of the tour was like a ride. Dolphins leaped in the air. There were swarms of pelicans, and fish were everywhere. Life was exploding in the bay. This was like heaven.
Later in the day we watched the sun set behind the bay. While it sunk behind the land bound hills and cactus the water lit up like it had neon glowing underneath it. I saw a dolphin jumping and then the light drained slowly from the sea. We made a fire and joked until we fell asleep under the stars. This was a big bay and I loved it. My dreams were full of whale sharks and I was swimming among them.
In the morning, we went out for a swim. It was just like my dream. A few whale sharks swam along with us as we made our way into the bay. The water was deep and blue and warm. Little fish were everywhere and the whale sharks sucked them in like a vacuum. The scale of the sharks made me feel full of a feeling I couldn’t describe. It was like awe, a feeling that made me realize my place in the universe. It was so intense. Evan signalled time to go back. It was good that he did. I was a little tired but Charlie and Ruby looked exhausted. All of us were ready to eat.
Roberto brought us a big pile of fish tacos. They tasted better than the ones we had yesterday. People stopped by and gave us fruit and other food. THat was their way to that us for building the church. I was on my fifth taco when I noticed that Ruby hadn’t finished her first.
“Ruby, are you alright?” I asked.
“I got a stomach ache,” she said.
Roberto handed Ruby a pink bottle.
“I have to finish talking to the drill team, they are coming out tomorrow to help us find a well. I’ll be back around seven, we’ll eat and then head back. You can explore the bay, do whatever you want. Just don’t be disrespectful. And don’t go out alone, Ok?”
“Ok,” we all answered Roberto.
As he walked off we rested. Talked about our life, what we would like to do. Then Jorge asked what was the one thing we would like to do before we died. Morga went first.
“I’d like to take all my mum’s jewels away from my father’s wife. I want to get them all and make her pay for wearing them, and touching them. They belonged to my mother’s family and my father had no right to give them to her. Putting things right is what I want most of all.”
Charlie sighed and went next, “I want to own a farm, a big one. I want to help raise animal and grow fresh food. I will give that food to all the people who are hungry. That is what I want to do.”
Jorge added his story, “I want to find my mother. Men stole her from her family when she was young and sold her. When I was little, she told me that I was the most important thing in the world to her. I was the only thing that mattered, because I was the only thing left that belonged to her. I loved her so much. When I was ten, some men took me from her. She was screaming for me, and i was screaming for her. They threw me out on the streets and left. I want to find her and take care of her, that is what I want.”
Next Evan went, “I want to see a rocket launch. I don’t know why, but I do. More than anything else.”
It was my turn, “I want to know what life is about. After I find the answers, I want to write it all down in a book that everyone can read. I hope people will understand it.”
Ruby, still looking a little sick went next, “I want to have a baby. A beautiful little boy. I think I will name him Roberto, because that’s who saved me. I will raise my baby and never let him get hurt. That’s what I want.”
Last was Dan, “I want to get a gun and kill everyone in my family.”
Jorge was shocked, “You can’t mean that.”
“I do. That is what I want more than anything. You didn’t say it had to be for good, you didn’t say make it sweet or nice. You asked what was the one thing I wanted to do before I die. It’s what’s in my heart, my dearest dream.”
Once Dan said that, no one wanted to talk anymore. We broke up into two groups. I walked around with Even and CHarlie. The others wanted to hang around the cabana and play in the water. The three of us wanted to see what was out in the town. It was a really different kind of place.
People invited us in for lemonade. Some gave us cookies and chocolate. It was a great place to be. Even if we couldn’t speak to the people, we could tell they were friendly. There were more burros than cars on the streets. An occasional horse would pass by. There was a tourist part of the area that we stayed away from. There were hotels and private parts of the beach. People with taco carts and trinkets headed there or came back empty to get more wares. They greeted us warmly as we took in the sights. It was getting hot and we decided to head back to swim in the bay before dinner.
When we returned to the cabana, everyone was in the water splashing close to the shore except for Ruby. She was lying down in the cabana and looked a lot sicker than when we left. I ran over to her, “Ruby?”
Ruby’s eye sprang open and she sat up.
“Are you ok?” I asked.
“I think I might have a stomach flu.”
“Can I do something?” I was getting worried.
“No, I’ll be fine, go ahead and enjoy the water. It is so pure, so full of life. Who knows when we’ll be back again?”
Reluctantly, I went into the bay with everyone else. We didn’t swim out far enough to see anymore whale sharks. It was hard to enjoy myself with Ruby sick. Still, we were laughing and splashing long into the afternoon. I decided to go back to the cabana to check on Ruby. This time she wouldn’t wake up.
I must have screamed, soon everyone was around me. Roberto wasn’t due to come back for a while. Luckily, Jorge spoke Spanish well, and was able to get us some help. It was confusion and panic until we found a man with a car who was willing to take Ruby to a doctor. I went with her. T was so loud I couldn’t hear anything. When we drove quickly toward help, I felt Ruby’s pulse. It was there, and she was breathing. I focused on the rhythm of her heart to keep myself sane.
The doctor was in a little house on the tourist area. The man and I took Ruby in the front door, and there was more commotion. They took her into the back. Once her heartbeat was gone I fell to the floor.
It was a long wait. Time didn’t work like it was supposed to. Minutes grew in duration, and I wasn’t sure how many had passed. In the waiting room I did more than wait, I suffered. A lifetime passed before my eyes. I saw a little girl, I watched her grow, I saw happy times, evil deeds done to her. She was beaten, thrown away. But Ruby was so pure that she couldn’t be corrupted. Instead she became so pure she became as the water. Pure, clear and soon she was an angelic light. All soul. Once that happened I could see or hear nothing.
A woman came out and walked over to me.
“Are you the girl’s novio?” She asked.
“I’m sorry, her boyfriend?”
“Yes,” I said.
I lied because I wanted Ruby to have a boyfriend. If I could provide that for her now, I would. Tears came out of my eyes before the woman could tell me what had happened. Something told me that what I saw was real. Ruby was gone.
“I’m so sorry,” the lady, “your friend is gone.”
Then I really started to cry. The lady held me for a while. When I had sucked in more air I got a hold of myself. Grief was casting a gray shadow over my life. The lady lead me to a room where a human figure was covered with a white sheet.
“Please,” would you like to say goodby?” A man I assumed was a doctor said.
I pulled back the sheet and there was Ruby. She looked peaceful, but she lacked color. I bent over and I kissed her cheek. Then some of my tears landed on her face. I covered her again. There would be no baby for Ruby. All her dreams had vanished.
“What happened?” I whispered.
“She was pregnant, recently, no?” The man I assumed was the doctor asked.
“Yes. And she was beaten.”
“Unfortunately, not all of the materials of the pregnancy were out of her. It became toxic, and it made her sick. If she came in earlier, maybe she would be ok. But once things get this bad, there is nothing. Was it your baby?”
“No, she was raped.”
“That is tragic. He killed her, that man. Sometimes life can be so cruel. Can I do anything for you?” The perhaps doctor asked.
“I need to get back to my friends. Let them all know,” I said.
“Lupe can take you back. Just tell her where.”
It was a long ride back. I got us lost, but Lupe knew her way around. Before Roberto got back I was telling the others. There were cries and disbelief. Soon, the shroud that I took upon myself had been shared with the others. I started to understand Dan’s heart desire. Even though I didn’t want my life to be slanted that way, I did understand why it might be.
When Roberto came back Jorge explained what had happened. A hand was soon on my shoulder, “Ruby was a good girl. Be glad that you knew her.”
“Are we going back tonight?” I asked.
“No, we are going to stay tonight, Ruby needs to be buried. Then we will head back,” Roberto said.
Even though it was the same beautiful place I couldn’t sleep. I should have done more for Ruby. It was senseless that she was dead. I heard Morag crying and Jorge softly comforting her. Everyone was sad except for Dan.
“What are you thinking?” I asked Dan.
“Do you care?” I asked.
“I’m not sure. I would rather Ruby be alive then dead. But I don’t know what else to tell you. Pretty much, I feel nothing. That’s how I usually feel, or angry.”
“I’m sorry Dan,” I said, “sometimes I think you are being a smartass. It’s hard for me to understand your point of view sometimes.”
“It’s ok,” Dan said, “no one ever takes me seriously. I think I might like you Kyle.”
“I think I could like you Dan,” I said.
Dan smiled and I smiled back. A little bit of the shroud I was under pulled back for just a minute. Connecting with people like this felt really good, sometimes sad. Life was becoming more intense.
No one felt like eating dinner except for Dan. He looked at everyone while he stuffed his face with sopas. The fire was burning and the sunset behind the hills was beautiful. Tonight no one was laughing or singing. All I wanted to do was think about Ruby and how much I liked her.
“I really miss Ruby,” Charlie said.
“Yeah,” I said, “me too.”
“I didn’t know her very long,” Morag chimed in, “but she was dear to me. I can’t believe she could survive so much, come so far, and then get lost.”
“It was her baby,” Dan said, “maybe it was lonely and wanted Ruby to be with him on the other side.”
“Maybe,” Jorge added, “I hope she’s in a better place.”
“What do you suppose happens? You know, when you go,” Evan asked.
I thought about it and said, “I think we get knowledge. Everything sort of integrates. Our energy goes on, somehow. I think that we end up in a better place.”
“I don’t know,” Jorge said, “I think we go to see God. And he judges us, decides whether we should go to heaven or hell. I think we all get to argue our case before our maker.”
“Maybe,” Morag said, “there is nothing else.”
“That would suck,” Charlie said, “and it wouldn’t be fair.”
Dan added his opinions, “I think that no matter what happens, we keep getting recycled. We might get a little rest, but then we come back to suffer some more. I think we just go around and around and around. Just so God can have a laugh.”
Roberto came and asked to all try and sleep. He was going to make some final arrangements for Ruby. It might be late by the time he came back. I stared at the stars and looked for a sign. Wherever happened to Ruby I hoped she was at peace. Somehow I hoped Ruby was holding her baby looking down at me. I went to sleep and saw her face. Ruby was now completely perfect.
In the morning we got up and no one ate but Dan. It was amazing that he still could put away the food with such gusto. We all watched him in awe. Morag cried a little, and Charlie hid some tears. I wished I had better clothes to wear to the funeral. Roberto had some flowers and gave us each one. We walked down toward the water and along the shore. It came up to a dirt road that went into the hills beyond the bay. Gulls and pelicans kept us company as we walked in the morning sun and came to a little cemetery. There was a priest who looked like he was waiting for us. As we came closer, a hole in the ground came to view. A simple wooden box was already at the bottom. I started to cry. I wish we could have buried her with her baby.
Once we got to the side of the hole, the Priest started to pray in Spanish. After he had finished, Roberto started to pray in English.
“Father in heaven, we are gathered her to remember our dear friend Ruby. She was not her long, and she did not have an easy life. Please welcome her into your kingdom. Please purify her soul so that she may look upon your face. And bless all of us who remain behind, and ease our suffering. We will all miss Ruby, but we know that her burdens are gone. Rest easy, Little Ruby, Amen.”
“Amen,” we said in unison. Then we all said a little goodby. I couldn’t listen, I was crying so hard. When Morag talked, I watched her body quiver with sobs. She looked like a willow wobbling in a windy day. Her ashen hair was so natural and slowly moved with her body and the breeze.
When Jorge talked, I couldn’t stand to look at him. How could he be so close to Morag? Why did he get to hold her hand and comfort her? I knew that they had sex before, Charlie told me. Thoughts of them being together in each other’s arms made my face feel hot.
Everyone started to put some earth in the hole. We all took turns. Then Roberto and Even started to shovel in more and more, taking Ruby farther and farther away from us. Morag and Jorge were hugging. I turned away from the sight. Once Ruby was fully covered, we each placed a flower on top of the fresh pile of dirt. We walked back to the cabana and Roberto told us to wash off in the water. It was going to be days before we had a chance to be this clean again.
The bus came and we all loaded on it. As I watched the buildings get smaller and smaller, I thought about leaving Ruby behind. I didn’t make any noise, but rI was crying. Charlie was sobbing to himself next to me. No one was signing, and I didn’t notice how uncomfortable the seats were. Dan sat as far from us as he could. I could tell he didn’t want to be a part of our grief.