They slept, talked, giggled and then they slept some more. Jenny and Maggie, two 12 year old cousins, were on a 10-hour Greyhound bus ride to the south Texas border town of Brownsville to meet up with their grandparents, Gramps and Kitty. They ate their mom-made lunches out of brown paper bags, and when the bus stopped for a break they ate dinner at a truck stop, paying with money they had earned babysitting. They could not believe their parents let them go on this trip alone. By the time they reached their destination, exhaustion had replaced excitement and they asked Gramps to go straight to the hotel.
In the morning the four of them drove across the border to Matamoros. The shopping excursion in the market was the second time in their young lives – and in the past two days – that they had been trusted to take care of themselves. Given a fistful of pesos to buy souvenirs, they could not decide what to buy from among the dizzying array of merchandise. Maggie exclaimed over gleaming silver jewelry studded with large turquoise stones and Jenny gagged as they walked by butchers holding bloody carcasses.
The girls caught up with Gramps and Kitty in a book shop which provided an oasis from the din outside. A nearby fan cooled them as they watched Gramps haggling with the booksellers for some old maps.
Hot and hungry, Jenny marched up to Kitty, interrupting as she asked, “Kitty, we’re can’t decide what to buy. Can we get some lunch? Is Gramps almost done?”
“No. Can’t you see he’s busy? We came a long way just to talk with this man about his … maps, and Gramps needs to get things settled,” KItty answered in a harsh whisper.
Jenny asked again, this time more politely. “I’m sorry, Kitty. Do you mind if Maggie and I go to that cantina across the way to get something to eat? Please? We can get something cold to drink for you because you look so hot.”
Tossing a few more pesos her way, Kitty said, “Fine. Order Gramps and I each a margarita and we’ll join you soon.”
The girls had never seen Gramps and Kitty acting so strange. And just what made these dusty old maps so valuable? Shrugging their shoulders and rolling their eyes, they ran out of the shop and into the bar across the street. They chose a booth in the back and Jenny placed the order when the waitress approached them.
“Dos margaritas, por favor.”
The waitress nodded and abruptly walked away. Giggling, Maggie looked at her cousin in confusion.
“Did that waitress think those drinks were for us, Jenny?”
Jenny giggled back, “Yeah, I guess kids can order drinks in Mexico. Gramps and Kitty won’t be here for awhile. Let’s us just drink ‘em!”
The drinks arrived with salt around the rim which seemed weird but important. They licked the edge of their glasses and then sucked every drop of the limey drink quickly through the straw. Sitting up straight after their last slurp they noticed a delicious spin to the room. Guilt erased their “let’s get another” smiles when they saw Gramps silhouetted in the door frame. Diving under the table and peeking out behind the tablecloth, they watched him go to the bar, leaning in close to speak to the bartender.
Maggie whispered to Jenny, “What’s he doing? Maybe he’s not looking for us. Let’s be spies!”
They slid out from under the table, crawling along the wall to a place behind the bar where they could see and hear Gramps and the bartender. Only 12 after all, they hadn’t thought this through and the bartender spotted Maggie’s blonde hair and Jenny’s orange top. Huddled together, there was nowhere to go. The bartender scooped them both up from behind.
“Así, ¿qué es esto?”
Gramps blanched and hissed, “Maggie! Jenny! Diego, take them to the back room and we will deal with them there!”
Not expecting such harshness from Gramps, Jenny started kicking and scratching at Diego with Maggie following her lead. They escaped his grasp and ran out into the busy market melting into the crowd, on their own again.
Wearing newly purchased sombreros as a disguise, they headed to the border to catch a bus back home. As they walked, Maggie wondered aloud, “How will we explain this to our parents?”