She rose from the mesquite bushes as I approached the highway just north of the Mexican border. Short, dark-skinned, wearing a black skirt and sweater, thick socks and sandals. She was wrapped in a rebozo, a shawl, of black and purple. And tucked into that rebozo was a small child.
She held out her hand to me, a gesture of request. A plea.
I stopped. This was not a woman from the neighborhood out for a morning stroll.
In the more Castillian Spanish of southern Mexico, she asked for food. For her child. She’d been walking for days, she said, carrying the child, and hadn’t eaten. The only food she’d found she’d given to her daughter.
Though I knew she’d crossed the border illegally, what could I do? A young woman with a baby, in the desert. Asking for food.
I gave her the lunch I’d packed just a few minutes earlier, a few energy bars I kept in the car, and a bottle of water I had along. Then I handed her all my money less what I’d need to buy lunch at work that day. Buena suerte, I said to her as I eased away. Good luck.
This was nearly twenty years ago, and I still can’t get her out of my mind.