I am a medical student working in a rural clinic in Central America.
A man plops in the clinic’s metal chair. I see the glint of tears. A guttural sound rolls up from his belly. He begins to sob. His daughter disappeared a year ago. He believes she tried to migrate to the United States. She was seventeen. He traveled to where she was last seen, to search.
He has no physical ailment, no hardship of sickness. He is grieving. He simply needs a witness to his suffering.
The town was small and bleak. People were guarded and suspicious. He posted photos in store front windows. He visited outlying farms and ranches. He walked the railroad tracks. He scoured the backcountry. Finally, dejected and hopeless, he arranged to return home. However, as he departed his motel, a lone man approached. He handed him a blouse. It was his daughter’s blouse, her name inscribed in the collar. He grasped the man by the arm and bellowed, “Where did you get this?” The man, frightened, directed him to a desolate piece of land near an abandoned shed. The area was littered with discarded food wraps, torn flip flops, ragged sandals, tattered clothing, and human waste—the debris of passing immigrants. He collapsed to the ground and dug with his hands. He found nothing. He shifted a few feet and dug again. Nothing. He shifted another few feet. A sharp object pierced his index finger. He yanked a splintered bone from the soil. It appeared human. He grabbed a spoon from his lunch pail and frantically rummaged the soil. Deeper and deeper. The spoon broke. He scrambled to town and purchased a shovel. He dug until his arms were fatigued and feebled. He recovered several shards of bone and a small piece of cloth.
He heaves a heavy breath. “I know many have died where I found the bones, but I believe they are my daughter’s.” His grief is profound; it is okay to believe. He stands and steps toward the door. He tells me he has constructed a shrine to his daughter in the living room of his house. His daughter’s blouse, the bones, and the piece of cloth rest next to a candle, a photograph of his daughter, and a painting of the Virgin Mary. They all sit atop a small table.
His body shudders with weeps. I cradle his shoulders. There are no words to speak.
Undocumented immigrants from Central America travel to the United States through Mexico. It is a dangerous undertaking, the journey besieged with thieves, gangs, traffickers, kidnappers, rapists, and murderers. Many succumb to the grueling and perilous trek and return home. Others are detained by immigration and deported. Still others simply disappear, kidnapped, killed, or trafficked, never to be seen again.
Paul Rousseau (he/him/his) is a semi-retired physician and writer published in sundry literary and medical journals. Nominated for The Best Small Fictions anthology from Sonder Press, 2020. He is a lover of dogs, and is currently in Charleston, South Carolina. He longs to return home to the west. Twitter: @ScribbledCoffee