‘Quiere Trabajo?’

     The Hula hoe is surely the world’s greatest small implement, with the possible exception of the saxophone. But I’m getting a mite old to chop weeds. So when I saw a Mexican fellow approach in the light drizzle, carrying bags from the food pantry, I figured, better him than me.
     “Quiere trabajo, hombre?”
     I’ll call him Chano, because that’s what he said his name is.
     I went to the bank to get cash and when I returned Chano was chopping weeds like a champ. He’d taken off his cap and jacket. I took him some water and snooped a bit, in Spanish.
     “See what they did to me?” he said. “I got a black eye.”
     He didn’t have a black eye – a huge chunk was missing from one side of the top of his head. His skull was shaped like a pear on that side.
     “Hombre!” I said. “What did they do to you?”
     “They beat me up,” he said.
     “I don’t know.”
     “You didn’t fight?”
     “No, I don’t know why they did it.”
     He’s lucky he ain’t dead.
     “One is 18,” Chano said in English. “He is in the state prison.” He switched to Spanish. “The other is 17. He has a lawyer. I don’t know what happened to him.”
     Long story short: Two white punks in my upper middle class suburban town in Southern California decided to beat the hell out of, or kill, a Mexican. For the fun of it, I guess.
     Chano spent weeks in hospital. He was in a coma for a while, then he was crazy for a while, he said.
     Well, there’s a big chunk of his brain missing.
     “I get dizzy if I move my head fast from side to side,” he said.
     But there he was, chopping my weeds.
     I presume the white boys beat Chano just because he’s Mexican.
     Chano was illegal then. He wasn’t here to start any problems.
     Now he’s legal.
     Know why?
     Because the prosecutors needed him to stick around to testify against the white boys.
     Chano told me all this just a few minutes ago. He’s out in my yard chopping weeds as I write this. I’ve already paid him more than he asked for. In fact, he didn’t ask for anything. He said that whatever I paid him would be fair.
     I’m about to leave now to get new glasses. I don’t know where Chano lives. He could run out on me the moment I go, and I’d never find him. I know he won’t, though. I know he’ll finish the job, and do it better than I could.
     He’s homeless.
     He needs to take medicine for his head.
     When I handed him cash – breaking more than one federal law in doing so, I suppose – I told him if he ever needs money for medicine to come back and see me.
     He thanked me and shook my hand. Chano said there’s open war in his home state, Guanajuato. “People with machine guns in plain day. They pile up rocks in the street and stop you. It’s all about drugs.”
     I was a correspondent in Mexico, back before the war became open. The Federal Judicial Police, the state police, the Army, the Zetas, the other cartels – it’s open war now, all of them fighting for drugs.
     Chano is a refugee. He made it to the North, where two punk white boys almost killed him for nothing. Now he’s legal and one of the white boys is in prison and the other one, I hope, will be there soon.
     Isn’t this a great story? As stories like this go?

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