I don't look like the other aliens. The ones who grow bright green, so green it hurts your eyes. The ones with bumpy heads, big black holes for eyes, and six slimy fingers. I guess I was born different, because in the mirror I see tan skin all over. It doesn't glow and it's not hard to look at. Some white kids in my school come back after summer darker than me, but they're not aliens. It must be written on my forehead, or something like that.
I've been an alien since I was seven. I remember running with the hot sun on my neck, running with my thin shoes slapping against the pavement, and my mother's serious face. She would say things like, "We have to hide now, cariño," or "Just close your eyes." I didn't ask questions, I thought we were running from the bad guys, or something like that. That's how I always put it, the good guys and the bad guys. In my seven-year-old mind that's how I divided everything up and it was simple. Running from the bad guys wasn't hard to do. When I became one of them, that's when I didn't know how to divide it up.
I stride down my winding stairs, letting the colors wake me up. Another morning. Each wall in my house is bright as the Mexico sun. But they weren't always like that. One day I asked my mother, "When are we going home? Everything is gray." She furrowed her brow. "This will be our world," she decided, looking around our house. At the time, the walls around us were all white. Blindly white walls. She took my hand and we went outside into the igloo. White snow was everywhere and showed our footsteps as we walked. When we got to the paint store and pulled upon the heavy cracked door, a bell rang out and the paint smell lingered all around us. My mother took my hand again and we walked towards the colors. She smiled, her smile that shows her slightly crooked teeth, with each color she picked up. I haven't seen that smile in a long time. They were all shades of yellow, orange, and red. Afterwards, she dug deep down into her pockets and pulled out that green paper everyone is worried about in this country. That's what I used to call it, green paper. I wondered why green paper was the answer to everything. We walked up to the counter. I couldn't see above it. There was a giant man behind the counter, and I imagined he had a great adventure fitting through the door. He looked down at me, looking at me just like I was green and slimy. My mother saw this and pursed her lips. The giant gave us a wagon that wobbled and titled the whole way home with our colors stacked proudly. My mother pulled it the whole way. Soon we were back in the house, covering the white walls and making them bright and sunny. I remember the smell, my mother putting a painted finger to my nose leaving a dot. We laughed and painted together until our world was bright. It was something she could do for me. It was something.
Now, my mother greets me with the same furrowed brow. She's worried again, but she kisses my forehead and hands me breakfast.
"Did you sleep well?"
"I had a dream we were rich as kings," I tease.
My mother smiles with her lips closed, a faint and tired smile. She never complains, but at night I can hear her awake, creaking back and forth on the wooden floors. The worries of the world woke her up before the sun could, and the worries crawled on her shoulder whispering in her ear. Green whispers.
"Did you pray this morning?" my mother asks.
"Yes," I lied, looking down into the steam rising from my eggs.
She looks at me with her quiet knowingness, twirling her gold cross with her rough fingers and says, "God put you here, hijo. He gets us through."
My mother always talks this way. How could he have put me in a place where I don't belong? I didn't argue, guilty. A loud honk rings out in the driveway. I peer into the foggy window to see my friend E.T. in his tan truck. He always picks me up for school. E.T. with his sandy hair and baggy sweaters and toothy grin and backwards hats. He honks again and I put down my plate that was filled with cracks. I pat my mother on the shoulder and go for the door.
"Aren't you going to eat?"
"I don't have time."
She nods, and I head outside. My boots thump against the concrete like they don't get along. I open the door to the truck and slam it shut with a thud.
"Man, you feel like goin' today?" E.T.'s voice fills the car, always on the edge of slight amusement.
I shake my head no. What had school done for me? The look on my English teacher's face after she found out I had a good vocabulary and was actually polite to her would be more of a banner for surprise than if one of her crazy metaphors actually came true. Maybe even more surprising than if the cow actually jumped over the moon. School was just another opportunity hanging over my head that I couldn't reach. Aliens have short arms, I guess. E.T. makes an abrupt left, and poignant decision to leave the right road. He turns up the music and I look out the window. I knew where we were going.
When we pull up to the train stop, E.T. cuts the engine and along with the sudden silence we step out of the car. The sky is light gray. I tuck my cross in my shirt and put my hood up, and we jump up the tired stairs in excitement. The train station is silent except for distant trains and loud graffiti. The graffiti sprawled from the walls to the floors, bright with messages unknown. The signs are covered, too. The floors are brown and dirty, home to cigarettes and chip bags. The benches are weary; they look like they carry more than just people. We did this a lot. When we didn't feel like going to school, we rode the train to the city. We chose a different stop each time, based on what was happening at the time. Like look at the girl who just got off, or this building looks cool. Always something like that.
We were only waiting a couple minutes when the train came rumbling up. We hop in and sit down, satisfied. That's how it always is at first. You're excited for the journey, but then you look around. You see a bunch of escapers. Everyone is escaping from something. There's the tall businessman holding his briefcase like a trophy and feeling important. He's running all the time thinking he's providing, but his absence leaves a mark like spaghetti on a white rug. There's the middle-aged lady clutching her purse when she seems me. There is always one of them. I look around and spot one right off the bat. There's the lonely people escaping to another chance, and the happy people looking for more.
As the purse clutcher keeps her eye on me, my eye looks down the train. I see a homeless man approaching us. His clothes have been through as much as the wrinkles on his face; he's tattered and tired but still walks with a little light behind his step.
"I'm a poet!" he yells, looking for a reaction. Not a single person looks at him. No one acknowledges him as a person, all of the sudden everyone seems to have gone deaf and blind. This does not fray the invisible man. I look him right in the eyes.
"Do you want to hear my poem?" he asks with a grin.
"Sure I do," I reply.
"It's not raining, it's pouring..." he starts loudly, and then pauses. "What's your name, son?"
"Ezequías," I mumble. Whenever I say my name, if the person who asked wasn't looking at me like an alien already, they sure are now because one: they expected me to say José or two: they have no idea what just came out of my mouth. But the homeless man is different. He nods knowingly.
"Strength from God!" he announces.
My stomach drops. How does he know what my name means? I look at him like he's the alien. My mother carefully chose this name with pride. It was her father's name.
"It's not raining, it's pouring..." he says again.
I look at E.T., confused. He's looking at the purse clutcher who is still looking at me.
"Let's get off," he says.
I agree by standing up, the train comes to a stop, and we're walking again. Almost immediately the sight of two cops hit me in the face. I see the purse clutcher get off the train. She's walking towards them briskly. Something in me tightens. As if I was watching a movie, she points at me, her lips moving. Both cops look at me like seagulls to a crumb in the sand. My mind goes blank and my feet push off the ground. Heavy boots against the concrete, and the cool sun on my neck. I see my mother's face in my mind, and I run for her. I keep running, and running, and running. Running from the bad guys and I don't know why.