The driver stares at us in the rearview mirror. His eyes are dark. He’s sizing us up, the way he has since we slid into the back of the cab at the bus station twenty minutes ago. I stare back. Tiny black hairs curl over the thin purple line of his upper lip. He brushes them away with the tip of his tongue. It makes him uncomfortable, two men sitting so close. I think he’s going to tell us it’s time to get out. I take the last few crumpled bills from my pocket and tell him to keep the change.
I remove the pocket translator from the bag at my feet. I type, Here we are. Josue stares up at the house through rain-beaded windows. Already I know what he is thinking. One night sitting in his room listening to music, he showed me the grainy photographs of his childhood home, the tin-walled structure outside Caracas he shared with his brother and sister, mother, father, and grandfather. I type, We are not rich.
Josue nods when he reads the screen. He doesn’t believe me. He begins to type and stops, balancing the translator on his knee, staring at the house with his mouth hanging open.
The driver continues to watch us. “You talk through that thing always?” he asks. I tell him it’s the only way we can, until Josue learns English or I learn Spanish. He shrugs the way everyone does when they hear this. “How the hell you meet then?”
I quote from a poem I wrote for an intro to comp class. “We speak little but understand much / For love is the language we speak.”
The driver nods. He doesn’t buy it. Doesn’t believe for a second we’re anything more than two kids trying to stand out. The wipers beat atonally against the windshield. The engine rumbles. Beneath it all the radio’s low drone seeps like sand in an hourglass.
Josue hands me the translator: Why waiting?
In the spare bedroom upstairs I can see the shadow of my mother unfolding clean sheets for the bed where I’ll sleep, or Josue will. Not both. If they let either of us. I was vague about my plans, telling my mother someone was coming with me. “What’s her name?” she’d asked.
“What sort of name is that?”
“Is she your girlfriend?”
“There’s more to it than that,” I said.
“Oh, Jesus. She’s pregnant.”
“No,” I said. “It’s nothing like that.”
“Ho-sway,” she said, trying the name out like a florid blouse.
I pass the translator back to Josue. He stares at it and frowns. He reads the words twice as they form on the screen. This will kill them.
Josue types quickly. Impossible.
I look from the screen to the house. My father is standing in the front window. The driver cracks the window and the susurrus of rain fills the car. He lights a crudely rolled cigarette. Josue squeezes my hand. I do not move. My mother glances from the upstairs window and disappears. In a moment she will be with my father in the window, looking out. Waiting. I can’t get out with them standing there. This was not how I’d imagined it. My parents watching Josue and I come up the walk with our single suitcase. Their drawn conclusions already waiting at the door when we walked in, before we could say even a word, or let them see what Josue and I had. “They have no idea what’s coming,” I say.
The driver shrugs. He exhales smoke through the open window. “Who ever does,” he says. He reaches beneath the seat. The trunk releases with a pop.
“You don’t understand,” I say.
The driver picks tobacco from his tongue and smiles. “What’s not to understand, kid?” he asks.
Josue follows the volley of our conversation as if judging a contest he doesn’t understand. When we pause, he forces the translator into my hand. In capital letters it blinks the message: NOW TIME TO GO.
The driver watches us. Smoke from his cigarette rises and curls through the cracked window. The crumpled bills lie in a pile on the passenger seat. He says, “You thought you’d slip in under the radar?”
I stare at the spot where Josue’s knee brushes mine. That’s exactly what I had thought. “I don’t know what I thought,” I say.
I type a message to Josue: Let’s go home. He points up at the house. His breath is stale with sleep and hunger. We have not eaten since morning, before we left the apartment for the bus station in Amherst. Overhead the clouds shift and the window darkens. For the first time since we’ve been sitting here, my parents can see clearly into the back of the cab. Can see Josue and me, and the close angle of our bodies. I hold his arm. The realization of what’s about to happen spreads across my mother’s face like a rash. She holds my father’s arm. Not, I notice with satisfied irony, unlike the way I hold Josue.
The driver says, “Adios.”
Josue looks up and smiles. His nose wrinkles. Light radiates outward from the smooth plane of his perfect face. He has no idea how bad this will be. I don’t move for the door. I want to let him go on thinking this will be okay. That we will be happy forever the way we are. I want to protect him for as long as I can.
Donald Avery is a writer living in Michigan with his wife and their menagerie consisting of a very, very tiny yorkshire terrier, a dapple dachshund with an attitude, and two cats, both of whom outweigh the dogs. He believes there are wild cougars still roaming his state, but laziness and fear keep him from getting too involved in the search. His work has appeared in Front&Centre, Third Wednesday, and Every Day Fiction. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, but only if you wish to send money or, at the very least, lavish him with unabashed praise and adoration.