I saw him at El Güero Canelo, a taco stand near school, that we all called “The Foolish Blonde” in English. He was filling his cup with Coke near the outdoor picnic benches while I was reaching for some Tapatío salsa to splash on my burrito.
“Hey,” he mumbled, his tan hair waving down around his eyes and over his shoulders. He was wearing a Green Day tee from their last tour, “21st Century Breakdown.” It had a hole near his left armpit, and a slight odor from the day’s heat oozed out of it like vapor. “You eat here, too?”
I had tried to avoid him, everyone did, ever since he kept claiming that the number 18 was really the number 6 a few days back in Calc. There he was, his chair leaning back against the wall, smiling with teeth as yellow as corn, screaming the number 6 from the top of his lungs while the new teacher, some Mexican or Yaqui prof from the border, tried to speak over him. The MexiYaqui prof had given up after almost straining his voice and had walked out to get the assistant dean.
“Yeah, I do. Best place in town,” I forced the words out, looking if there was anyone else from school sitting on the benches or ordering from the counter. No one, everyone today at The Foolish Blonde was either a rancher coming in for a late afternoon lunch or some real estate guy with no houses to show. There was no way out. I would have to sit with him.
“I’m going to find a space on the bench. Wanna join me?” I asked him. I could feel my eyeliner starting to drip down my brows. A bead of sweat slipped down the back of my neck and soaked itself onto my pink tank top.
“Yeah, whatever,” he shrugged.
We walked passed a mural of Cesar Chavez, Pedro Infante, and Selena. Above them was an angel dressed in charro pants and a large sombrero. The Mexican flag’s red, white, and green swirled in the mural’s background, up so high above the angel that it looked like it would fly away and never come back. The taco stand’s radio speakers blared a song by Juanes, a pop singer from Colombia who had sold out the local arena a week before. Loosely translated I let the lyrics flow through me as I walked with him to the bench nearest the road, hoping that no one I knew would come in for the next 20 minutes:
That my eyes are opened, by the light of your face, I ask this of God
That my mother will not die and that my father remembers me, I ask this of God
We sat. He crunched into his chicken tacos. I bit into my burrito. We chewed in silence, while Juanes kept asking God for favors and wishes to be fulfilled. Once in a while, I would glance at him. He was kind of cute, if he just cut his hair a bit and wore cleaner tees. I had asked about him a few months back when he first came to school to a girl who knew him from high school. She told me that he used to date some Latina chick who told her that one night he took some meth and started flipping out, and that a few days later, she had left him. Bad news, she said. Best not to chase him.
He kept eating his tacos, cheese stuck to the stubble on his chin, bits of tortilla clinging to his fingers. Bad news. Story of my life. Every guy I dated was bad news, from my the first time I kissed the neighborhood bully behind the stands in middle school to now, when Roberto just plain left me to go to New Mexico, find himself and dedicate himself to his industrial art. That was a week ago, and here I was, stuck in some shitstorm community college, living with my mom again, hustling to get a decent job that could pay for my classes and my car so that I can actually find some purpose in my goddamn life.
“Do you believe in freedom of thought?” his question startled. For a second I paused. “La Puerta Negra” by Los Tigres del Norte had began to play. Freakin’ ranchera music always reminded me of Roberto and the nights we would spend together drunk on tequila and pot.
“Freedom of thought?” I looked at him. “Sure. Are you saying we are free to think about anything we want to think about?”
“Yeah,” he said. “The freedom to think and imagine whatever the hell you want without anyone telling you what to do or say or think or breathe or sing or whatever.”
I laughed a bit. “Sure. I mean, who can’t stop us from doing what we want to do?”
“Exactly,” he picked up his Coke and starting gesturing at me with it, the straw shaking at me. “This is why this country sucks. No one is allowed to have freedom of thought.”
“Ok,” I said, popping the last piece of the burrito into my mouth. I smiled at him. Crazy bastard, and when he got riled up his hair flopped up, down, and around like a mop.
“I mean, we’re stuck because we are not allowed to think!” he said, banging his hand against the wooden bench. “Look at this place. People just sitting around, eating, not thinking, not speaking, just stuck.”
He calmed down and finished his Coke. The afternoon sun was descending onto the taco stand, its rays bouncing off of Selena and reflecting towards him. For a second, I thought he was would vaporise, but around him the light shone just like the angel in the charro pants.
“Wanna get high?” I asked. “Just bought a bag last night. We can listen to Green Day. Chill. Catch some Netflix. Talk.”
He nodded. We both got up from the bench, emptied our trays, and walked out of “The Foolish Blonde.” I wrote my address on his hand and we each went to our cars.
“See you there,” I said.
“Yeah, cool,” he said.
When I saw his mugshot this past Monday on the Tucson news, I was still weeping from the text I had received two days before. I still hadn’t answered it. I had just hurled my phone against the walls of my mom’s apartment and screamed as it shattered into pieces. Bad news. Always bad news.
JL did it. Killed little girl and shot lady. WTF. U knew him? Yes?