Roberto was brown and his people lived beside us, so of course I went over on weekends. They were full Mexican. That made us superior. My father found every opportunity to say it. Not to their faces, he’d just whistle through the window, but Ma took it upon herself to visit most evenings. She still didn’t have many friends on the block—we were too dark for the blancos, too strange for the blacks.
But Roberto’s mother dug the company. She invited us in. Her husband worked construction, pouring cement into Grand Parkway. She didn’t have papers. No one was hiring. So what she did with her days was look after Roberto.
Ma brought yucca and beans next door, but then my father saw and asked her who the fuck was buying it. Javi and I watched our parents circle the kitchen until our father grabbed a bowl of rice and threw it on the floor. He said this was what it felt like to watch your money walk. Maybe now Ma’d think before she shit on her familia. And of course it didn’t faze her—if anything, we went more often—but Ma started leaving the meals at home, she brought me and some coffee and some crackers from the tin.
Roberto had this pug nose. Pimply in all the wrong places. Short, short hair like most of the white boys, and when I asked him why that was, he called it one less thing to worry about.
He told me about the bus he’d taken straight from Monterrey. His father left for Houston first, until he could send for them, too. When I asked about Mexico, he said everything’d tasted like sand. He asked if I’d ever seen a bird in a dust storm. That was Mexico for him.
Roberto couldn’t go to school, it was the first year of my endless flu and I didn’t exist to Javi anymore—he’d taken up with the local hoods. That meant I spent a fuck ton of time next door. They had this table and some lamps and a mattress on the carpet. When Roberto’s father wasn’t out, he was usually snoring on it.
His mother was always exhausted. Always crying to Ma. Said it wasn’t that this country was hard—everything was just so loose.
Ma told her to wait it out. That’s just what America did to you. They’d learn to adjust, eventually, but what she had to do was believe in it.
Roberto and I walked to the corner of Lockwood, where the East End collapses and the warehouses begin. We threw rocks at parked cars. Tagged drunks on their porches. We watched loose gangs of boys smoking kush on Sherman, and I saw Javi among them, and he didn’t even blink. But that night he shook me awake on our bunk. Said he’d kill me if I said anything about it. And I thought about warning Roberto too, but then I remembered he had no one to tell.
Once, I asked Roberto if he liked it in Texas. He looked at me forever. He called it another place with a name.
The first time we tugged each other his father was sleeping beside us. They’d finally cemented the 610 exit and now he was out of work. It was silent except for the flies above us, and Ma on the porch promising that they’d figure it.
When Roberto finally gasped I covered his mouth with my free hand. We put our ears to the door, but nothing changed outside. Just our mothers’ sobbing. The snores overlying them.
He’d gotten it all on his sweater, and it cracked us both up—it was the only one he had. He wasn’t getting another.
That night, Ma told my father about their situation. She said we should help, we could’ve used a spot ourselves, and my father told Ma that of course we’d spot them a loan. They could borrow some dishes. The bedroom, too. Javi laughed from his corner and Ma said it wasn’t funny, he knew exactly what she meant, he was twisting her words.
Gradually, things began evaporating from Roberto’s. I know because I was there. I watched them go up in smoke.
But it didn’t stop the two of us. We touched in the lot on Rusk. By the Dumpsters on Lamar. At the pharmacy on Woodleigh. We tried his parents’ mattress, once, when his mother’d stepped out for a walk, and we’d only just finished zipping up when we heard her jiggling the lock.
Eventually, I asked him if maybe this was a bad thing. If maybe his familia was being punished for our sins.
He said he didn’t know anything about that. They didn’t go to church. Neither of his folks had the money to tithe.
When they finally disappeared it was overnight and without warning. I only knew it happened because it was the one morning Ma hadn’t slapped me awake.
I palmed open their door, and the mattress was on the floor, but their lamps and their table and the grocery bags were gone. They took the screws off the doorknobs. The lightbulbs, too. What I found were some socks in a bathroom cabinet.
My father said we’d all paid witness to a parable: If you didn’t stay where you belonged, you got yourself evicted.
Ma simply sighed. Javi laughed. He’d had his first knife fight, owned the scars on his elbows to prove it.
The morning before, Roberto’d shown me this crease on my palms. When you folded them a certain way, your hands looked like a star. Some lady sitting beside him on the bus up had shown him, and he’d called it crazy then but he said maybe he’d just missed it.
We huddled in his closet. Our knees scraped the carpet. He cupped his hands between us, he asked if I’d found one in mine, and even though I couldn’t see shit I called it amazing anyways.
Bryan Washington divides his time between Houston and New Orleans. He is working on a collection of short stories.