Construction Literary Magazine

Fall 2020

Irreconcilable Differences

Irreconcilable Differences
Photograph via Flickr by Tarik Browne

The most handsome of the 12 stared directly at the camera baring his teeth like a cornered possum. The others looked dejected, dirty and, most of all, like they were on the brink of dying of starvation, thirst and heat stroke. They were shirtless, with torn pants, scruffy hair and unshaven beards: each the living image of a castaway. The raft was just that, a small watercraft in which the living could barely fit sitting side by side, with the dead like a carpet at their feet, and a torn and greyed sail barely hanging from a stick on one side. More than a few of the men had their arms raised so that they would stand out to the person taking the picture. I shifted my glasses and took a closer look at the newspaper to better catch the details. I read the headline: “12 Cuban Boat People Rescued in Tamaulipas.”

“How brave they were to flee like that,” I said to the convenience store cashier, placing the paper on the counter along with a gallon of lactose-free milk. Some time ago I became lactose intolerant but now I felt guilty: those poor boat people would be happy to be able to drink milk whenever they felt like it, without caring if it’s whole, nonfat, lactose-free or with extra calcium. “And they’re not half bad-looking,” I added.

The man, a broad guy of six feet, looked at me without smiling. His chest could have been muscular at some point in the past, but it was now cushioned with a layer of fat. He was wearing a white t-shirt, dampened with the sweat of his armpits, where vines of curly black hair poked out. He had a badly groomed mustache, pockmarked skin and miniscule eyes. Not remotely good looking, the poor guy. Maybe that’s why he’s come to feel so bitter about life. I smiled at him, having read once that a smile softens even the most stone-faced. But he was neither affected by my gesture nor by the tragedy portrayed in the local paper. I sighed, knowingly. I understand that men don’t dare get close to me because they think that I’d never give them the time of day, so they compensate for their lack of self-esteem by being passive aggressive. I know it well because it happens to me all the time.

“That’ll be 20 pesos,” he said drily, ignoring me as if I hadn’t said a word. I don’t like to think badly of people right away. Maybe his hostility had to do with his anguish about the devastating contrast between himself and the foreigners in the newspaper.

For a few seconds, the man behind the counter ran his eyes over me from top to bottom, but didn’t pause when they reached my own. Weak animals never can make eye contact with those they know are stronger.

It was in this moment, feeling the lust and desire contained in his face, that I realized I’d left the house only in my nightgown, without a robe. It’s true, the nightgown fabric, after so many years of use, is basically see-through. But what can I say? I’m a frugal person who lives modestly and sees no need to spend on nonessentials. Besides, the heat in this port city is unbearable, and it’s a light layer of fabric that can make the intolerable tolerable. I know it’s hard for men not to stare at a pair of breasts, especially if they’re hanging freely, out for a stroll before their eyes. I don’t usually wear a bra to sleep, everyone knows that’s bad for the back. And as soon as I woke up I wanted to have breakfast while reading the newspaper, so I stepped out to go buy it, along with the milk for my cereal. One would assume that these types of establishments are called “convenience” stores precisely because they are close by and because you don’t have to get dressed up to go to one. And if a girl has nipples that are too dark? Is she supposed to be ashamed of the shapes, textures and colors of her own body? If so, then whatever have we done with all those feminist teachings and ideas of empowerment?

“What are you looking at, nasty old man?” I said, furious.

“Señora,” the guy answered, shifting his gaze, “cover up for shit’s sake!”

“Señorita! That’s señorita to you, even if it hurts you to say it!” I said, throwing him a 20-peso bill that glided like a vulture and fell behind the counter. I grabbed my purchases and left, vowing to never again buy a thing from that place.


My pulse was racing when I got home, and I was a bit short of breath, I don’t know if from the excitement or from having rushed back so quickly. The stink of the house blasted into my face. The contrast between the light outdoor breeze and the dense air of the living room always reminds me that I should clean and air out the place more often. But that’ll have to be done later, I thought. I yanked the small chain for the ceiling fan and spread the newspaper out on the kitchen table. Slowly, I read the article.

Recruits of the First Naval Zone rescued twelve Cuban boat people who had been adrift in the Gulf of Mexico for 24 days.

A ship captain informed that it had detected a small watercraft near the shores of Soto la Marina, on the coast of Tamaulipas.

“They were 15 men, all of them self-admittedly Cuban. Thirteen of them were alive and two deceased having died the day before, according to their companions,” said Carlos Servando Ponce de León, of the First Naval Zone.

They were transported on a Mexican Navy ship to the Port of Tampico where they were given medical care.

The two Cubans who died aboard their own watercraft while trying to make it to the United States were Carlos Alberto Hernández and another man only identified as Joel.

A third, Fidel Domínguez Rivero, passed away this Sunday at the Tampico General Hospital.1

I ran my finger over their picture. I got closer so that I could study the face that had caught my fancy. Was his the face of a Jesús, an Oscar, a Juan Francisco, a Daniel, or an Alexander? The only thing certain was that he was neither Fidel nor Carlos Alberto nor Joel. People always look like their names. I closed my eyes and practiced saying a few to see which one fit. What would it feel like to call out a man’s name? A man who would come when you called him? Or better yet: what would it feel like to have a man call my name, full of desire and authority? I took my hand to my chest, underneath my blouse. Some drops of sweat slid down the space between my breasts. I touched my raised nipples and banished all bad thoughts. It’s not me, it’s the heat.

The hot air was suffocating, despite the open windows. The heat of the city is so intense that you can actually see it if you look carefully, as if reality were steaming up. The heat has us living in existential laziness; that’s why people here are so unreliable. I threw back the curtains and wiped the sweat from my face and breasts with a small towel. There was no life outside; not even the birds dared to go out into the sun. The stray dogs, the homeless, everyone was taking refuge in the shade somewhere. The sun is violent, brutal. I thought about the castaways, stuck in some cell at Immigration. Heaped together, thirsty, failures. The damning Gulf waters, treacherous, sadistic even, instead of guiding them to Miami and the American dream, brought them to Tampico, the Mexican nightmare.

The immigration officials would surely treat them inhumanely. At least the migrants wouldn’t be thrown in with regular prisoners, at the jail, like they used to do. But they’d still be dying of heat and thirst, locked up somewhere with no ventilation. The mosquitoes would be eating them alive at all hours. And only to be deported to Cuba: to jail, torture, reprisals. Little is even known about what happens to dissidents there. To escape from a country with sealed borders is a serious crime. It’s the greatest dissidence there is, to abandon, with your body, the ideology imposed by force. The worst was waiting for them.

I got dressed as quickly as I could, put on lipstick and fixed my hair. Then I grabbed some money from the metal cookie jar where each month I skim off a part of my paycheck for savings or emergencies. I grabbed my keys, my umbrella, and tripped over the cats on my way to the door. If God had brought me to the store this morning so that I could see that front page headline, it was for good reason. I had to do what was within my reach, I couldn’t succumb to the inertia of misfortune.


At the entrance there was a pot with an obviously fake palm tree, an overflowing trash bin, and a cigarette butt cemetery. The glass doors were covered with handprints and smears of grease of unknown origin. Inside, the guard, partially balding and with smooth caramel colored skin, was shamelessly picking his nose. He saw me struggling to open the door, but did nothing. When at last I managed to open it, he approached as if to help me.

“Thanks, I got it already,” I said, containing my outrage. I shifted my skirt, straightened my back, and put my sunglasses away in my purse.

I told him in the sweetest tone I could muster that I was a relative of one of the Cuban immigration detainees. The guard looked at me suspiciously. I got closer and caught his stench of sweat, cigarettes, and rotten breath. I held out a few bills of the highest denomination. As soon as he saw them, he hurried to grab them and discreetly put them away in his shirt pocket. I would guess that it was an amount similar to what he receives come payday. These poor devils barely make minimum wage. He gave me a friendly smile as if I were someone he knew but was only just now recognizing, and he asked that I please follow him.

He took me down a dark hallway that smelled of mold and spilled out into a bigger room, where there were four desks with their respective bureaucrats pretending to work. The prevailing smells were of chorizo, burnt coffee, armpits, and mail-order lotion. I felt nauseated. A pair of ceiling fans churned the hot and dense air, like someone beating cake batter. They collectively sounded like the buzzing of a giant fly. There was also a small portable TV broadcasting a cheerful morning show. The three women and one man who were talking amongst themselves didn’t even look up when I passed through with the guard. We walked down another hallway with a couple of doors marked as bathrooms. Not a bit clean, judging from the fetid smell they emitted. I tried not to breathe through my nose, to concentrate only on my mission. There were going to be many obstacles but I’d already gotten past a few of them. I closed my eyes to give myself courage, tightened my stomach muscles, and suddenly, we were there.

Another guard was napping in a metal chair that could barely support his weight. He had a standing fan in front of him that only blew in his direction. He was much fatter than the entry guard. Just behind him were my prince and his companions. Behind bars, like criminals. Some were lying on the floor, others leaning against the wall. There were only four cots. I didn’t even want to imagine how they managed to get through the night. My guard, the one who now had his pocket stuffed with money, told the other one to go grab a soda, that this would be brief. They exchanged meaningful glances. The guard in the chair stood up and walked groggily out into the hallway. His pants were dampened with sweat around his butt cheeks and the back of his legs. My guard stood in the entryway to the room to keep watch.

“There they are, Señora. You’ve got fifteen minutes.”

I bit my lips so as not to correct him with “señorita.” I find it infuriating when rude people assume things about me. But I kept silent. It wasn’t worth it to make him my enemy. Wiping the sweat from my face with a handkerchief, I took in a gasp of air and approached the jail cell.


There were twelve of them just as the newspaper article had said. When they saw me, all took to their feet and approached the cell bars. It was clear that they hadn’t been given a chance to bathe and that they were barely being fed. Even from afar, the hunger showed on their sunburnt faces. I grabbed some granola bars from my purse, which I always carry with me in case my blood sugar drops. I only had five of them, one for each workday, but I thought they could share them. They immediately devoured the granola bars and shot me sorry looks, like street dogs begging for more and more food outside a sidewalk cafe.

“Gracias, señora,” said one man of obvious African origin, with a scar crossing diagonally along his face as if it were a no-parking sign. Others repeated the same words of thanks in a profoundly sad echo.

“Are you a lawyer?” asked a poor guy suffering from Vitiligo. I diverted my gaze to avoid that sad combination of coffee, peach and cream blotching his face and arms. Suddenly, behind another man with a lazy chameleon-like eye, I saw him at last. Sweat ran down my back. My pulse raced as if I’d been running. I nodded in the negative. I wasn’t sure whether, if I opened my mouth, words would actually emerge. There was my Cuban. He had sandy-colored hair, which fell handsomely over his tanned face and green eyes. It was hard to judge his age, but he couldn’t have been more than 30. I lost my breath. In the face of true beauty, one gets lost, becomes speechless. He was gorgeous, like gazing upon a waterfall, the enormity of the sea, or an orchid. That was him.

“I’ve come to speak with you,” I said, pointing at him with my finger. He laughed, joylessly, and came closer. The others returned to their previous positions in the cell, as if they were used to someone else being preferred over them. I told him my name and asked him his. Leober Pantoja Batista, he answered fixing his gaze on me, trying to guess at my intentions. I told him to trust me, that I was going to help him get out of there. He remained silent a few seconds, gripping the bars tightly, and I could see his scraped fingers, small nails and fleshy fingertips, like tiny infant craniums. He explained that they were going to be sent to the National Immigration Court, and from there be deported. I told him I couldn’t help them all, but I could help him. He didn’t ask why. And maybe, I hoped, he understood. He fixed his eyes on mine but I couldn’t hold his gaze. It was as if he could pierce through me or see inside my mind. I pulled out a handful of low denomination bills and gave them to him. It was a significant wad, so to speak. I read once that money is always useful in prison.

“I’m going to get a lawyer,” I told him. He nodded. “Tomorrow, I’ll come see you again Leober.”

He took my hand and covered it between both of his. Then he kissed it, as if he were the gentleman I had been waiting for my whole life.


Desperate people tend to choose the quick fix even if it means long-term loss. It’s like selling your first-born for a plate of lentils,” said the lawyer.

A metal plaque on his desk advertised his name in gold letters. Adalberto Calleros González, Attorney. He had a matching set ashtray, penholder, lighter, and datebook, all covered in black leather. His diploma was hanging on the wall in a baroque gold frame, where a younger and slimmer version of Calleros stared fixedly forward. In person, he was wearing a yellow-brown suit, the color of a mutt’s coat, and he was sweating heavily despite his office air conditioner’s constant whirring. His body was giving off a strong smell of lotion and tobacco. He sat in a synthetic leather chair, drumming his nicotine-stained fingers on his shiny redwood desk. It wouldn’t bother me if he smoked, I said to him. And he looked at me with relief and extracted a pack from his jacket pocket. He offered me one and I declined politely with a shake of my head. I’ve never had any vices. But of course I didn’t say that to him. The lawyer hurried to light the cigarette, inhaled deeply a couple of times, and seemed, finally, to relax.

“It’s a long and complicated process,” he explained, “but not impossible. We’ll try to prove that you two had a previous relationship and that you were going to get married in Cuba. Only he couldn’t wait any longer and made the hasty decision to leave the island on a raft. A discreet City Hall wedding and eventually he’ll get Mexican citizenship; he would be able to stay here without much of a hassle. But it won’t be quick, Señorita Basaldúa.”

I looked at the photo inside the baroque frame above his desk. A plump lady with dyed hair, thick makeup and a red smile, as if stapled onto her face, stared into the camera from the chair where she sat, very straight, and carrying the weight of the lawyer’s hand resting on her shoulder. A little boy of about four years old, with a face like a pumpkin, dressed like a sailor, his hair parted in the middle and slicked down, stood next to his parents and appeared to be the only one who was truly happy. After all, he held in one of his chubby hands a balloon and in the other, an enormous cotton candy. A happy marriage, for all practical purposes. I swallowed and without thinking fingered the petals of a white carnation that was leaning in a crystal vase.

It wasn’t fake.

The lawyer kept smoking, perhaps to give me time to process what he had said. I was still waiting for him to question my Christian purpose for “saving” a Cuban from imminent deportation and almost certain death or life in prison. But he just looked at me with his small black eyes like inexpressive buttons set back in his orangutan face, utterly mute. Without judging me. I guess that if men of his profession don’t have scruples about denying that a murderer is a murderer, they’re not going to judge a señorita in my position, provided that she always pays her fees, of course.

“That’s fine,” I finally said. He didn’t need to know about my savings, about my quite acceptable salary. I could give it a try, sure. Marry, live the conjugal life, as brief as it might be. It would be worth it. And save this poor kid, of course. Give him the possibility of a new life. Do something mutually beneficial for us both.

“In the meantime,” said the lawyer, “we can arrange for you to visit your fiancé every day. All we have to do is distribute this and that here and there. Real simple.”

We shook hands and I left his office. Walking down the street, I realized that I myself smelled of the lawyer’s lotion.


Call me by my first name, Leober.”

The guard let us sit face to face at a table in a little room next to the cell. The door was open, but it at least suggested privacy. I had brought some cookies that I baked myself, a thermos of coffee and a pair of disposable cups.

“I want to get to know you more,” he insisted, looking at me with his charming crooked smile.

Well. I was always a daddy’s girl. I used to sit in his lap and hang from his neck. Until he died a few years ago, I was certainly his favorite. My relationship with my mother was all mutual hostility for as long as I can remember, but when it became just the two of us, she changed. She became sweet and servile, as if she feared that without dad’s supervision, I’d throw her out on the street. But I didn’t do that. I managed to stand her presence until she died. I was never friendly, or had a kind word for her, but I made sure she never lacked anything. I always had one poor interchangeable girl or another to take care of my mother’s most basic and disgusting of needs, someone to wipe her chin when she ate, help her bathe or change her diapers. I never had a boyfriend, I don’t know how to explain it, but things just never led to that point. I never even tried to have one because I never fell in love with anybody either. I spent almost all of my adult life trying to expel from my mind the thought of my father having sexual relations with my mother so that I could be born, or trying unsuccessfully to rationalize what he might have seen in her. She didn’t have any qualities. They didn’t like the same things, didn’t share any interests, they were never on the same level. All this could only mean that they’d stayed together for sex and domestic comforts, something I found despicable. If my father’s death was the most painful thing I’d ever experienced, my mother’s death set me free. I had all the necessary ingredients for happiness (money, independence, freedom), but I couldn’t savor or enjoy them. Everything had been mixed together, boiled, mushed into the same watery and bland mass. Mediocre. And that’s why I decided to take the opportunity that God put before me with the newspaper and the article about the Cuban castaways.

I didn’t tell him any of that, of course. I’m not stupid or crazy.

I told him I had been an only child who devotedly cared for her two parents until their respective, slow and complicated deaths. That when I wasn’t taking care of my parents, I worked eight hours a day as a secretary at a public highschool, which is true. I also told him I’d never had luck with men, that they just came to me looking for bodily pleasures, but never for a legal and spiritual commitment. I had a whole speech prepared in case he asked me about my intentions with him. I’d say something like, “At your age it’s easy to judge harshly. You’re young, very young. There’s nothing more puritanical than a young man weighing in on someone else’s actions. But one day you’ll understand loneliness…”

But Leober never judged me. While he devoured the cookies and drained the coffee, he told me about his childhood full of repetitive actions like kicking cans instead of soccer balls, begging from tourists, listening to hours of communist indoctrination, and feeling a constant and inextinguishable hunger. He told me he was a painter, though he’d studied medicine, but before he could escape he worked driving a taxi for tourists. That really he did a little bit of everything. That hunger and necessity change a person’s values, even the ones that seem most deeply rooted. He was single, since the majority of Cuban girls hope to marry a foreigner who will take them away from the island. Not wanting to go hungry or experience scarcity is as human as it gets.

My eyes filled with tears from hearing him talk about such suffering. Leober took my hands in his and looked into my eyes. He told me that for these reasons he had risked his life, to escape that reality. That three of his companions hadn’t had as much luck. But now all was lost. Now, things could only get worse for him when he was sent back. I hurriedly assured him that the attorney and I were going to help him. That he shouldn’t lose hope. That things always happen for a reason.

The guard on my payroll came and stood in the doorway, pointing at his wristwatch. We’d been talking for exactly one hour. Leober and I got to our feet almost at the same time. I took out a plastic bag and began to put away the trash and the coffee thermos. He came up close to me, our bodies almost grazing. His mouth hovered near my ear and he asked me, quietly, if I could bring soda instead of coffee next time, and peanuts instead of cookies. Maybe enough to share with his comrades who weren’t so lucky to have such a pretty lady visit them. Then he kissed my neck. His tepid and damp lips against my skin spurred something unknown to me, an intense heat radiating down from my scalp. Leober took a step back and his green eyes slid over my body, which felt as slippery as a mollusk. If I had been naked, a puddle would surely have formed at my feet.

The guard, who went by the name of Don Rul, took Leober’s arm and led him to his cell. I walked back home, not once feeling my feet touch the ground.


The next day I brought Leober what he’d asked for. His cellmates were happy and went out of their way to tell me how grateful they were. Even Don Rul seemed moved by my actions. As I entered the next room, which was normally used for interrogations, as the guard later told me, I took out my surprise for Leober: a can of beer which he immediately popped open and gulped down in one smooth swig. He told me that it was the best thing that had happened to him in months.

Hearing that crushed me. I promised to bring him a beer whenever I could. That I couldn’t do the same for the rest of his friends; not only would that be expensive, but also impossible to conceal. But I could hide one can for him in my handbag. He seemed to understand and offered

me a sincere smile. We kept chatting for the rest of the hour, holding hands, sharing stories from our pasts. I embellished slightly, or wholly. I didn’t want to give him a bad impression. He, on the other hand, was so gentlemanlike and kept insisting that he couldn’t understand how someone so pretty, intelligent, and friendly as me could still be single at 36 (for his sake, I skimmed five years off my age). I blushed without answering.

And that’s how time began to pass, with the sweetness and false security of routine. I would visit Leober every day, bring edibles for his cellmates, money for the guard, and something special for my love. All the while, the lawyer did his part, sending letters, filing appeals, coming and going, always giving me bad news followed by hope, followed by the tab. With each new day, I fell more in love with Leober, and I think I can safely say that he felt the same way about me. His face would light up when he saw me come in. When nobody was watching us, when it was time to say goodbye, he would lean in towards me across the table and plant a kiss on my mouth. Nothing like in the afternoon soap operas, but a dignified kiss. Leober respected me and he didn’t want me to think that he was like all the other men who had passed through my life, the ones I’d told him about. Whenever they’d see me, his cellmates would break into a chorus of joyful boyish voices. Don Rul would joke that the Cubans were gaining weight off my diet of soda and potato chips. He himself, he gratefully informed me, had just finished building a second floor thanks to my contributions. He would take his wife out to eat Sunday evenings and his marriage had never been better.


Don Rul, who had come to feel affectionately towards me during this time, not only because of my donations but also because of my great personality, approached me one afternoon as I was headed out. He told me that he’d soon be able to pay me back for everything I’d given him. The following Monday was a holiday and most wouldn’t be coming to work. Only he would be there to keep an eye on the detainees. I had only to bring a thick blanket and my lover and I could be left alone at last. His left eye slid into a wink, mischievous and conspirational. I took my hands to my face, my skin burning. My vision clouded and I felt that I’d faint at any moment, like those women on the soap operas when they receive the next splash of their continuous stream of transcendental news. Don Rul touched my arm and laughed.

“Don’t be embarrassed, Señorita Basálda. You know the saying: every saint gets his day and every turkey its Christmas Eve.”

I stared at him without knowing if I should feel offended. In the end I decided I shouldn’t, that he meant well. I laughed, nervously. I didn’t dare ask anything else, but he seemed to read my mind, because he said, “Come Monday at the same time as usual, for your same visit as usual, that’s how I’ll take note of it in my book of ins-and-outs.” I shifted to indicate I’d understood. I felt like the excitement was stinging my skin. Don Rul went on, “The only thing different is none of the people at the desks or the other guard will be here. You give the Cubans their snacks and I’ll take the kid into the other room. Only this time we’ll shut the door.”

Again the guard winked at me and laughed with that laugh that men use when they’re in the company of other men, drinking alcohol and egging each other on in their vile deeds; when they seem to know so many unimaginable things, when they’re deep in that half-world forever off limits to women, deep in that brotherhood of exterior genitalia. I almost wanted to hug him.

I would have skipped back home like a little girl if I didn’t suffer from knee problems. The doctor doesn’t allow me such excesses. The rest of the day and the weekend felt eternal to me. I tried to lose myself in my regular activities, but really I couldn’t concentrate on a thing. If I’d had girlfriends, I would have told them, but I only had acquaintances, nobody I could trust. I didn’t want to be jealously judged by those women who, whether they’re married or not, throw themselves into religion for lack of love or sex or emotions. I thought of my parents. I couldn’t have told them either, for very different reasons respectively. I tried to close my eyes, to lose myself in my daydreams, fall asleep as the clock ticked on as sorrowfully as always.


Having a beloved fills the whole world, every particle of the universe, even my own being. I woke up on Monday another person entirely. Happy. Perhaps this is what the saints mean when they claim to be full of the Holy Spirit. Slowly and carefully, I bathed. I perfumed my whole body. I applied a base layer of makeup and a youthful overlay of blush on my cheeks. I dressed in the lace underwear I had bought long ago, precisely for this moment. Twice, I brushed my teeth. I collected the things I had prepared two days ago; a small yet soft and cushiony sleeping bag, sodas and snacks for the boys, and for us a bottle of red wine, two plastic cups, and a tray of paté and cream cheese canapés. I also took out Don Rul’s cut, but with a generous extra. My metal jar had finally been left empty. These past days had been a huge expense for me. I had squandered all of my savings and would have nothing left until my next payday deposit. But I didn’t care: money never serves noble ends. After today, everything will have been worth it. I took a taxi and, smiling all the way, listened to the driver’s pig-headed political chatter. Nothing could ruin my mood.


They took off, Señorita.”

Don Rul was standing at the door, wringing his hands as if they were a rag. His eyes were bloodshot and watery, like a little boy trying to hold back his tears.

“They’re going to fuck me over. I swear I had nothing to do with it.”

He asked me to testify about how he had gotten mixed up in this trouble, whining about how much he’d be questioned. But this man wasn’t my friend. In fact, I’d never seen him before. I went back home, locked myself in with no plans to go out again, made myself lunch and sat down to watch my soap operas. I fell asleep in the recliner until the next day.

The article would appear in the newspaper the following day. “Twelve Cuban Migrants Escape Immigration Detention Center.”2 Leober had my address, my phone number, my full name. My heart. All relationships end. Some because of irreconcilable differences.

(Durango, Mexico, June 13, 2012)


1. This news story appeared on August 21, 2006, in various newspapers throughout Mexico.
2. On June 9, 2012, this headline ran on CNNMéxico as well as in national newspapers. Only that the escape took place in Acayucan, Veracruz. As in Borges’ story “Emma Zunz,” the only fictional parts were the place, the circumstances, the date, the number of migrants, and some names. The Cubans, all of them, are real.