ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

A journal for poetry, criticism, reviews, stories and essays published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


"Illegals," from the novel "Crisis," by Jorge Majfud, translated by Bruce Campbell

Monday, January 5. Dow Jones: 9.027

Rio Rancho, New Mexico. 8:30 AM


Guadalupe was plucking the chickens that moved one after another down the belt at the poultry plant.  Anita was saying that in Spain they called a man’s cock a “polla,” which was pretty close to “pollo” for chicken. Luisa said she didn’t understand how the penis could have a feminine name and Raquel grabbed a plucked chicken by the neck and showed everyone how it was just like a dead penis.  But why feminine?  So Laurita, who is Uruguayan but spends all her time reading Mexican stuff, said that Quetzalcóatl had created mankind by dripping blood from his penis, and picked up a recently beheaded chicken to show us, the silly woman.

That time, says Guadalupe, I was a half hour late because I stopped by the Dollar Store to buy a couple of things.  Jackson saw me, but couldn’t say anything to me about it because that was the first time in months.  Raquel and Lupita were talking about the price of vegetables at the farmer’s market when all of a sudden you felt a shudder.  It wasn’t a noise.  It was one of those jolts that you feel inside, like you all of a sudden fell off a cliff without falling.  Everybody looked all around until they saw a wave of silent people coming from the entrance to the plant.  Lucía asked what’s going on.

First a man in a black overcoat was talking to Jackson who was shaking his head.  Then another man came in just like the first and the three of them went into Jackson’s office. There was an anonymous complaint.  Then, María, who had been there longer than any of the other women, took off her gloves and left her position on the line.  She was followed by Paca and then, after some nervous indecision, by Guadalupe.  But they didn’t have a chance to escape because there were a hundred or a hundred and fifty workers ahead of them and two police locked the exit door.

They took us out into the cold and lined us up against the wall.  I had to go to the bathroom really bad and the cold was giving me bladder cramps.  I would have done anything they asked me so that they would let me go to the bathroom, but the answer was always “don’t move,” which maybe meant that they didn’t understand me, said María José.  Guadalupe didn’t say anything.  She was shaking inside and out.

I just kept thinking about Maicol, my little boy, that if they took me away I wasn’t going to be able to give him a little kiss every morning when I left him with Florita.  And Florita, poor girl, what was she going to do to put food on her table and to feed Maicol.  I told the police that I had two children to take care of, that they were good kids and could they let me go and the other women complained that they all had daughters and sons and some also had husbands and homes and they were going to end up with nothing, so I shut up and started to cry like a fool.

—Keep quiet! Don’t move!

Like a fool, because in my case I had a man, and a good man like José, to take care of them. 

—Keep, keep quiet, you’re making too much noise!

Even though José wasn’t the father I knew that he was going to take care of them as best he could.  His biggest problem was that working in construction he would be here one day and then the next he would have to go to another city or another state.  And when they sent him in the truck with cargo ten days could go by without me seeing him.  He was a good man, José. 

“Yor aydí”, the woman said to me when it was my turn.  And since I hadn’t been paying attention to what the other women were doing because I couldn’t stop thinking about Maicol and Florita, I didn’t know what to do and the policewoman yelled at me louder, “yor aydí”.

Your ID — one of the workers next to me repeated —.  She wants you to show her your papers.

I gave her what I had.  The card and the badge that Jackson gave me when I entered the plant.  The policewoman looked at both sides of the badge, wrote something on one of those little machines they use at the Wal-Mart to change car tires and called the next person.

—You shouldn’t have brought your Social – the other woman said to her in Spanish  without looking at her. —It’s better to be deported than to get caught with a fake number.

—And how was I supposed to know, if Jackson gave it to me.

—That guy is a jerk — said the Argentine woman who still hadn’t been searched. 

 — That guy is the worst.

—But I didn’t know — insisted Guadalupe.

— You had to know it —said the policewoman in English as she waited with her radio in hand.

The other women fell silent.  The woman from the Migra had understood every word they had said in Spanish all along.  How had they not realized it, with her Niurka Marcos face?  The problem with Niurka Marcoses is that one never knows whether they are Latinas or Americans even when they open their mouths.  They have no accent when they speak English because they’ve been here since they were little, but they understand even the most subtle insults in Spanish.  But if you imagine them without the uniform and without the dyed hair and without the blue contact lenses, you realize right away that they’re just like us.  That’s why they hire them and that’s why they earn so much money, because they’re absolutely necessary when it’s time to hunt illegals.  Afterward, when they take you to a legal aid attorney, if they even take you, they say they’ll appoint you one who speaks your native tongue in order to protect your rights and then it turns out the guy can hardly tell the difference between grabbing a chicken in Mexico and fucking a cock in Spain.

Niurka grabbed me by the arm and took me out of the line against the wall.  I asked her where she was taking me and she didn’t tell me anything, as if she all of a sudden didn’t understand me.

—I have a fifteen month old boy and a ten-year old girl who are waiting for me.  I am their only support.  The bigger one takes care of the little one but if  I don’t come home in the afternoon the big one is going to get really scared.  At least let me make a phone call.

Guadalupe took her cell phone out of her pocket and the policewoman took it away from her. 

—Please, miss, I need to call the girl.  She’s all alone at home.

— That’s illegal too —the policewoman finally responded in English, and shoved Guadalupe into a white van with bars on the windows.

When they arrived at the police station the workers were classified in different sections.  In an impeccable room, like doctor Durham’s, a woman who looked like Jennifer López signaled her to undress after removing all of her personal stuff.  While Guadalupe was emptying her pockets, Jennifer slipped her hands into condom-like white latex gloves as if she were about to operate on someone or as if she were about to search Guadalupe’s vagina, like the midwife who gave her emergency medical attention in Houston and stuck her hand in Guadalupe’s bloody uterus like she was unclogging a drain.

In a grey plastic container, like they have in the entryways of federal buildings and according to Ernesto at the airports too, Guadalupe placed all her personal belongings.  José’s watch.  A chapstick she used for the cold.  The charm bracelets for Florita.  But the yanquis don’t know anything about the celebration of the Reyes Magos.  Not even Jennifer, who must be another Latina and who tagged the grey container as personal property, because for the yanquis that is what is sacred.  Like the law, because this is a country of laws, unlike Mexico, from which Guadlupe had to flee with Florita.  Two dollars and some change left over from the five dollar bill she used to pay for the gifts. The keys to the apartment along with the little keychain flashlight that José gave her.  Maiquito was a citizen, because even though that monster Inocencio got her pregnant in Morelos, she gave birth in Texas.  “My darling little yanqui,” José would jokingly say to him.  The wrinkled ticket from the Dollar Store.  She had forgotten the billfold with the perfume and the feminine napkins in the locker at the plant.  More quarters, from where Guadalupe didn’t know.   And the little red car that she bought at the Dollar Store in People Plaza, because tomorrow was the celebration of the Reyes and Maiquito went crazy for the little wheels that he called “tiqui-tiqui” the same way that he called the door “mamá” whenever it opened. 

Mamá means mommy but it also means the door is opening.  Now, every time the door opens mamá means she’s not here, she’s gone, tiqui-tiqui.


Jorge Majfud


Jorge Majfud is a Uruguayan writer who received his Ph.D. from the University of Georgia, and taught at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. Currently he teaches at Jacksonville University. His essays, story collections, and several novels have been translated into Portuguese, French, English, German, Italian, Basque and Greek. His latest novel is "La Ciudad de la Luna" (Baile de Sol, 2008). Forthcoming: "Crisis," a mosaic novel about Hispanic people in the USA.



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