Paraíso by Donna Obeid

para Victor

They built the wall to keep us out, a spiral of wire and shards at the top so we wouldn’t climb it. But we didn’t climb at all – we dug beneath. Word of mouth spreads throughout the towns. Eleven thousand dollars gets you there. Paraíso.

You pay with your promise and a nod to the Tuesday border guard named Jesús, a cross-eyed, silent hunchback who meets you at midnight and walks you to the bunker door. On the other side is a hole with rungs straight down to the center of the earth.

The tunnel goes on for days. No light, save for the holy candles marking the way. You feel an espíritu following you. You hear the cities above: clubs booming, highways roaring like ocean waves. Halfway, a humming harpy sells you candy, pink pills, and tequila from her propped open suitcase; then smiling, she pulls back a strung-up sheet and offers you her blind daughter dressed in black lace. Afterwards, it’s your mind that gets you through the rest, the harpy’s mix like fire inside you, the girl’s whimper still echoing in your head – Te amo!  Te amo! – the thought that even if you don’t make it, at least you’ve been loved.

The end is an old miners’ cage. You step inside, press a blue button, and the metal bars lock shut, rising and shuddering before clicking open again. Then you are there. You gasp for air, crying. The light stings your eyes. The sky sibilates from things you cannot see. Paraíso is a thorny field of blackberries beside a highway of hurtling semi-trucks. You squat alone all day, eating half as many as you pick until you feel sick. Mosquitoes feast on you; the skin on your neck turns to leather. You comprehend nothing of what anyone says. Dinner is beef in a can. Bed is a blanket in a dusty shed. Destiny is what you find at your finger’s end.

Wait – first you must be sure.

Because the bunker door is coded, it seals behind you and cannot open again, not even a crack, not even if you bang for your life and scream out to Jesús to give your promise back.

Donna Obeid holds a BA in English with an Honor’s Concentration in Creative Writing from the University of Michigan, and an MA and MFA from American University. Her work has appeared in Carve Magazine, Detroit Metropolitan Woman, Flash Fiction Magazine, Hawai’i Pacific Review, The Malibu Times, and elsewhere. She lives in Palo Alto, California.

Watch and listen to Donna Obeid read Paraíso