On the Front

Turning in early was nothing unusual to any sane person living here in Juarez, Mexico. During the daylight hours, it was easy enough to accept the illusion that things were fine. Although it was not the prettiest city in existence, it was still hard to believe the city had one of the highest—if not the highest—murder rates in the world. However, when night draped itself across the land, perhaps in an attempt at concealing the horrors and atrocities about to ensue, and the cacophonies of gunfire and wailing sirens began to sound, one could no longer deny reality. Juarez was a war zone, fought in not by soldiers of opposing nations, but by members of rivaling drug cartels, vying for turf and power.

After finally reasoning with sleep to take his toddler son, Ibarra wandered into the living room of his cramped one bedroom flat. He went up to one of the barred, glass windows, looked down into the darkened and motionless street below, and then lay down on the dirtied floor. He looked around, and, as always, the lack of furniture and furnishings tapped his heart a little. Then he wrapped himself in a musty, quilted blanket he had brought from his son's bedroom. It had sewn by Ibarra's mother. He closed his eyes and waited patiently for his turn, his mind in another city, another country, another imaginary land untouched by fear.

But sleep did not come for Ibarra that night.

When the shooting outside began, he was not sure how much time had passed. He also could not judge how close it was—it sounded like it was happening right outside the window. Ibarra lay still, frozen in terror. His heart pounded restlessly in his chest, as if trying to break out and flee.

He heard the window above him burst, as either shrapnel or a runaway bullet slammed into it. He winced and rolled over, seeing the bits of glass that had been sprayed onto the carpet; in the glow of the moonlight, the remnants twinkled dully like fake diamonds.

More gunshots went off in quick succession, and Ibarra winced again, this time covering his balding head with his hands. Then silence descended, and it left his ears ringing. Meanwhile, Ibarra's mind and heart continued in their panicked ways.

Then someone broke it, shouting: "No me chingues!"

Ibarra, though he knew better, stood up. A gray haze was beginning to seep in from the shattered window, and he could taste the bitter cordite hanging in the air. He waved some of the smoke away as best he could, and then peered through the window. In the street, he could make out very little: the silhouettes of parked cars, the outlines of parallel buildings, and a utility pole towering over the whole scene. Then he made out the impressions of two figures. He squinted, trying to make out any other details. There were none, just that one of them was much larger than the other. Ibarra heard more obscenities pour from both as they swayed in the dark like shadow dancers, fighting tooth and nail, rolling and wrestling.

Ibarra backed away from the window and broke into a run, heading for his son's room and not even noticing the shards of glass cutting and scraping the bottoms of his feet. Despite all the shouting and the gunshots, the smell and taste of gunpowder, time seemed still, and it seemed like he was in a dream; this notion was only furthered by the feeling that he was floating, not actually running.

When he reached his son's room, Ibarra found him in the corner, balled up and crying. On impulse, Ibarra hunkered down beside him. He scooped him up and began to soothe him. He cradled his boy in his arms and spoke softly to him. His son eventually did stop, but the fighting outside did not. The figures, or their comrades, or whoever, had resorted back to using their firearms, and the remainder of the evening was filled with more gunshots, more shouting, more violence.

At one point during the night, he heard something explode, and it caused their apartment to shake and rattle. It set his son off again, too, and Ibarra, once again, soothed him. However, sleep was much more reasonable this time around.

As the moon lifted its own curtain, setting the stage for the sun, Ibarra rose up as well. He had not slept, just waited in a kind of trance. He wrapped his sleeping son in a blanket and carried him back into the bare living room, skirting around the broken glass. They went past the threshold and through the front door. He eased down the stairs, his feet sore, and stepped onto the street, where a scene of devastation, a mini-apocalypse, awaited him.

He stepped onto a pile of shell casings and kicked them aside. Ibarra scanned the street. Most of the adjacent posh shops and buildings looked untouched, but rubble, mostly glass and scattered and charred bits of shrapnel, lined the asphalt. The remains of what looked like a car bumper lay not far from him. Two policemen in full battle dress clutching rifles came running past him, moving with the fervor and nervousness of mice. On both sides of the street, citizens began to appear. The expressions on their faces varied from outright shock to aloof disapproval, but they all seemed to share the same amount of fright. Then he looked directly in front of him, and Ibarra mentally scolded himself for not noticing immediately. In front of a police truck, right in the center of the street, the still-burning husk of a car continued to blacken and emit flames, spilling smoke into the cool morning air.

Works Cited

Alcazar, Jesaas. "Car Bomb in Juarez." Photograph. European Photopress Agency, 15 July 2010. Web. 14 Oct. 2011.