My uncle had a friend whose name was Calletana. She was short and dark with medium length hair, black, with a wave right at the spot where it ran into her shoulders, straight, but kind of crazy at the same time. The rest of her features, just as feminine and she was petite: big eyes, curvy lips, like a miniature Barbie doll, except shorter and fuller, with lots of personality, and speaking only in Spanish.
Her clothes weren’t as nice as Barbie’s though. My uncle was a coyote, what you’d call somebody who crossed mexicanos illegally from one side of the border to the other, and Calletana, I assumed, was his business partner, so whenever they showed up at our house they were dressed down more than anything, like they’d just been nervously driving for hours, because they had. Warm ups and big tee-shirts, her hair pulled back in a nappy pony tail, my uncle in blue jeans or brown poly-cotton pants, with a dark colored polo shirt, almost always. He must have been at least 10 or 15 years older than her.
I was 10, and I adored her.
As they’d pull into our driveway she’d yank back the sliding door of that vintage gray van, jumping out to greet me with just as much excitement as I’d jump around with before running into her arms. Something about her just made me feel special. Like I was the center of the world when Calletana was around. She never yelled at me for trying to get my little brother in trouble. She didn’t tell me I was annoying. And she never, ever ran around our house and yard trying to hide from me. Instead, Calletana and I would sit on the floor of my uncle’s van with its sliding door open, just talking about nothing, laughing and carrying on like we were family. We weren’t.
From the smirk on my father’s face when he told us what a coyote was I knew that word meant danger, doing something you weren’t supposed to, doing a bad thing and getting away with it, like when I had grabbed a handful of candy at the Valley Mart and ate it all up before anyone saw me. I knew it was wrong, but I felt like such a rebel because I didn’t get caught.
Maybe that’s what it was like for Calletana?
She wasn’t bad. I liked her, and even if she had done a bad thing on purpose and gotten away with it, why should that matter?
I still wanted her to come around and be my friend.
I definitely didn’t want her to get in trouble.
For years they’d come around like that, just showing up unexpectedly at any random moment, and every time my excitement was just as huge. My mother and everyone else’s not so much; yeah they were happy to see them, but they weren’t bursting out of the seams to have another silly conversation at the footsteps of that beat up old truck with Calletana like I was.
Years later all I’d remember would be the pickles. Small and crunchy, with just the right amount of sour – the kind you could eat one right after the other without ever getting tired of them. Like we would.
I didn’t know why she always carried pickles, but she did.