Juan and me are sitting on the curb on CR 253, on account of the bus-stop shelter being full of people. I ball my exhaustion into my fist and push it into my pocket. My boots are bunched up close to my butt, so I’m kind of positioned like a gargoyle. My boots are steel-toe work boots; picked ‘em up at Salvation Army but they still look new. I bought new laces; and they fit just right; the two-tone laces climbing up like anoles in the trees.
The group in the bus shelter are quiet, a lady with three little kids is playing I-spy. A homeless old man is stretched out across three of the fold-down seats. I’m downwind, and he smells terrible - puke, and sweat and unwashed clothes, piss and sickness. The skin on his face is scaly and patchy with waxy russet blotches that look like leprosy.
Do they have leprosy here? I’m not sure. I just don’t like being in a crowd I don’t know.
Big flat-bed pulls up from Delacy and Price Farms Inc. A big walrus of a man with ruddy skin and an impressively large paunch dangles a bull-horn in his hand. Finally Paunchy bellows:
“Today I only need Six! Only enough work for Six Farm Hands.” Four men are already lined up with ID Lanyards thrust forward. We gotta scramble if we will be eating next week. We hurry without showing it; otherwise the others detect sour panic.
I pull Juan up, quick as fruit-flies and get us in line alongside the other guys. But a fella behind us catches Juan’s jacket and yanks him by the fabric. It’s a fine coat, but now down three buttons. Two of the buttons pop, and fly into the road, like golden nutmegs, and one lands down by the tailpipe, a dervish spinning. The other is lost to a drain.
Juan wheels around slams Bossy with an upper-cut punch. His teeth rattle against each other- the hit was that hard. Then there’s a smell, gunpowder? Flinty, chalky powder smell, and I see the guy’s front tooth has an irregular chip out of it.
The man looks Mayan, not tall but powerfully built, he clobbers Juan right back. Juan covers with a block. Toothy has friends, though, and they are mobilizing. I’ve managed to move up and wave my badge under Paunchy’s nose, and am wrangling Juan along with me. Miguel sees the ruckus and pulls me up into the cage. I turn and yank Juan up too.
Juan’s pumped up, panicking; skin slick with sweat and eyes racing. Toothy’s managed to land a blow and Juan’s lip is busted up. Juan stalks to the side of the cage, like a puma chasing a jackrabbit. He spits blood at the guys not selected for the job. They are now yelling, pumping fists into the air, and going off on each other, as if the fellow next to him is an ICE agent.
Paunchy quickly climbs down the metal step and pushes between two brawlers. “Scrappers will be banned from Delancy and Price Inc. Farms. And we will spread the word to all the other farms too. Conduct yourselves--”
“Shut the fuck up,” hollers Muttonchops. The guys calm down gradually.
“We should have some more work next week, chums. I heard the farms to the North are doing better. Try to get to the M-90 truckstop and hitch up with a semi-driver. Good buffalo hunters go where the buffalo are.” He hands Toothy his bandana; tells him to tend to his swollen eye, which is now blackening over and closing like a bruised plum. The homeless guy sits up, bewildered. BabyMama has gathered up her little kids and walked a bit away from the fight.
As Paunchy is filling out paperwork, I descend the back of the cage, drop onto the blacktop, snatch the button, and scale the cage. As my boots land squarely on the truck bed, Paunchy’s door slams. The driver jerks the transmission into gear and we roar away.
Mr. Homeless guy vanishes. A lone beat-up black boot lingers under the plastic fold-up seats, forlorn as a crow. BabyMama catches her bus; herds her kids on-board; smiles directly at me. Her smile shocks like a downed wire. Her teeth straight as tracks, make me miss home.
I wonder if the farm has hot lunch? If there’s bread, will there be butter? Apple butter? Honey? I picture a hot shower, a hook to hang your towel on. Will there be chairs, where we can sit and smoke; drink a beer in fresh air? They may even have new bunks in the migrant bunkhouse; I heard from Frederico that a tree crashed through the roof last fall.
I imagine the shock, a tree crashing into the men’s migrant bunkhouse at two in the morning. Branches splayed out like the prongs on an old rake. Abuela Rose used to make her own brooms. Got so popular that she and I would haul a cart down to the market on Wednesdays. The vendors on Market days filled the air with their calls, “Best Price here” “Fresh Pigs’ Feet,” and “Melons!” We’d set up on the colorful blanket and I helped her make the sales, take change, she would get me a soda as the market ended. Late afternoon we’d load up the left-overs, trudge the dusty path toward home. There always was a sense of peace on market days; a feeling that all is well; you’d done all you could. I remember the nutmeg tree growing in her yard, the avocados and lemons that grew well too.
Anything Abuela touched was charmed.
I’m looking forward to the end of the shift, I already feel achy and tired. I’m day dreaming about fresh drinking water, blueberries- even though they aren’t ready yet- and that hot shower. I picture the stars twinkling like promises in the night, and wonder who now goes to the Wednesday Market stalls.
Christina-Marie Sears is an interdisciplinary artist and writer whose work is informed by a long career as a dance and movement artist. Her enduring interests are the relationship between interiority and exterior structures, and the juxtaposition of embodiment and consciousness. She is Artistic Director of Maple Street Studios, and is an interdisciplinary artist whose work often includes words. Currently, she is exploring mixed-media, and text-based work presented in extremely large, petite or otherwise unusual formats. She enjoys writing flash fiction and poetry, and her poems have been published by Tupelo Press in the 30x30 Program of 2020, and produced in multimedia performances by First Fridays Festival of Ypsilanti Michigan, The Heritage Festival of Ypsilanti, and the University of Michigan Museum of Art. She teaches at Eastern Michigan University, and will graduate in 2021 with a Master of Arts in mixed-genre Creative Writing from the Department English Language and Literature.