A photo essay by Alice Driver.
1. Your hands are still warm from walking dozens of miles under the scorching sun when you cradle your baby cousin. The two of you have walked 654 miles together since you left Honduras, your lives intertwined as you flee a territory where daily violence marked your life. You feel his heart beating as you cradle him and you know that you both made the right choice to walk toward the unknown.
2. Volunteers in Mexico peel oranges, and as you watch you are reminded that you have not eaten all day and that your mouth is parched. They wield the knives delicately, and you watch the thick peel drop onto the table, waiting for them to hand you a piece. You feel thankful for the people who prepare your food and donate diapers to your children. They tell you that all people are made of one blood, and you nod your tired head in agreement.
3. In the late afternoon sunlight, after you have showered with the other women, you stand in the grass and brush your daughter’s hair as you look over at your three sons and imagine what kind of lives they might live. Your daughter is wearing donated shoes covered in silver sparkles and as she stands up in her baby stroller, you wrap your arms around her.
4. In the evening, when the residents welcome you into the old bus station where you will sleep, nestled among some 5,000 migrants, you make a space for yourself and your friends and pull out a pack of cards. The heat of the day is still in the air, and you all sit around shirtless, your scars, bug bites and blisters a constellation that tells the story of your life on the road.
5. Before bed, you stand near your family in donated flip flops a few sizes too large and you wonder why your family has decided to walk so far. Your parents tell you that you are going on a long walk, and they say it each day. You are still figuring out what that means. You see some kids blowing up long balloons and playing tug of war while others jump rope, but you are too tired to join them.
6. And when volunteers hand out food and clothes, you dive into a sea of people and hold your breath, hoping that there will be enough food for you, enough food for your children. When they hand you flip flops with pink jewels on them, you hope that they will last longer than your previous pair and you look down at your feet which are brown like burnt bread and blistered on the toes. You remind yourself that your body can heal. You tell yourself that it will.
7. You share the food with your baby daughter, who is 4 months old. Your milk has dried up. She is already eating beans and you wonder if you are a bad mother. You hope that you will both sleep well tonight as you cradle her between your legs.
8. The next morning, when the water truck arrives, you and the other boys use cut up water bottles to scoop water and dump it over your bodies. If you are lucky, you have a bit of soap and lather up your body and your head. The water feels so good that you dive your entire body into the bucket, relishing how it feels on your skin.
9. You don’t know it how long it will take, but you will walk and hitchhike until you reach Mexico City. Some of you will arrive on a bus, others via metro or taxi or on the back of a semi-truck. You will arrive at night, your body but a shadow through the bus window. As you walk to the sports stadium where you will sleep that night, you will pass by piles of donated clothes. You will pick out a lavender beret and a knitted scarf, a military looking coat, and you will put them all on.
10. In the morning, you will wake up on a piece of plywood, your body covered in a donated blanket. As the sun comes out, you will gather around giant blue containers of water to brush your teeth, hand wash your clothes and bathe. You will look at your reflection in the blue-gray puddles of water, trying to see how much you have changed. You want to know if your face shows what your body has lived. You feel sure that the difficult and tender movements lived over hundreds miles are written on your body.
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Alice Driver is a freelance journalist and translator based in Mexico City. She is the author of More or Less Dead, and a 2017 Foreign Policy Interrupted Fellow. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The New York Times, Outside Magazine, The Atlantic, Oxford American, Lenny Letter, The Guardian, and Pacific Standard.