I’ve always been a travieso.
Can we go to Disneyland mama?
No you know that.
Stop being a travieso.
It was fun arguing with mom about things I already knew.
Like this one Thanksgiving.
I asked if we were having turkey.
She pretended to not hear me.
I asked again as she rolled the tortillas.
She stopped and glared at me.
I was being a travieso again.
She wouldn’t go to church.
The barrio kids got turkeys with their families,
but mom wouldn’t go.
She said we were perfectly fine with what we had.
So instead we would have a regular dinner,
frijoles, arroz, pollo con mole, tortillas,
but with homemade queso fresco and tres leches cake to make it special.
I thought she should’ve just gone to church.
I didn’t want to push it so I went outside to play.
At the end of the block,
in the corner of the cul-de-sac,
a garbage bag laid with something inside.
Garbage was strewn everywhere in my neighborhood then,
but it was the size and smell that made this bag stand out.
I swear that bag was breathing.
A putrid essence was emanating from that mysterious receptacle.
It stopped breathing as I approached.
Even the smell went away.
For some reason,
I knew what was in that bag.
Grabbing a branch,
I slowly opened the bag’s mouth.
I’ll never forget the look on that dead bird’s face.
I heard someone call out,
but it must have been the wind.
I shut the bag quick,
worried that the dead bird would fly away.
Suddenly I felt alone with it,
me and the big ugly dead bird left to fend for ourselves.
I wanted to poke it,
to awaken it.
I wanted it to breathe again,
like it did when it was alive.
But I didn’t want to be a travieso.
I raced over to my friend’s house,
on the other street.
She was always nice to me.
She would be having turkey for Thanksgiving,
and it made her sad that I wouldn’t be.
Her parents were always nice to me too,
allowing me to visit and sometimes giving me clothes.
Of course you can go out and play they said.
She didn’t want anything to do with the bird.
I forgot how she didn’t like coming to my block,
but this was important to me.
I needed her more than ever.
But she was scared of the size of the bird.
To her it looked like the turkey her family bought,
but bigger and more wild,
I told her I wanted to awaken it,
but she started to cry and begged me to not touch it.
It was as if she didn’t believe me when I told her it was breathing earlier.
It was as if she couldn’t understand how this bird ever existed.
Her doubts hurt me and alienated me from her,
all because of this bird.
She went back to her house on her street,
and I to mine.
Where have you been?
Just playing mama.
No one mama.
Don’t lie to me.
I just don’t like you playing with that little girl.
I asked her why not,
but I already knew why.
She doesn’t understand you.
She doesn’t understand us.
I was just playing.
You should play with the other kids.
But they’re mean!
They hurt others.
They’ve been hurt themselves,
that’s why they hurt others.
But you can help them.
By showing them that there’s nothing to be afraid of.
Show them how to fly.
That they matter.
Don’t listen to your mom,
she is going to get you killed.
By sending you to those wolves.
They’ll prey on you.
You won’t have a chance.
I’m just playing papa.
Keep playing to yourself.
Don’t start something you can’t finish.
Don’t be a travieso.
The barrio kids were awake and found the bird in the bag.
It was breathing through the bag again,
this time faster than before.
You gonna poke it or what?
I don’t know.
Don’t be a bitch.
Don’t say that.
They swung at me,
but just as they did I leapt over to the bag,
picked it up and shook it with all of my strength.
The most beautiful bird broke loose.
It spread its wings and shot up into the heavens.
Then it floated back down to earth.
As it landed,
it looked at me and smiled.
I smiled back.
I had forgotten about the others,
but they were still there,
just quiet and afraid like mama said.
You can touch the bird.
It’s here for all of you.
It won’t hurt us?
It won’t hurt you,
One by one they walked up to touch that majestic bird.
I had never seen those kids so full of life.
They always knew what their destinies held.
They saw it on the TV and in the books at school.
In the music their primos cruised to.
this turkey whose name was Chalchiuhtotolin,
proved fate wrong.
As each child touched the bird-god,
a new bird came bursting forth from the bag.
Hummingbirds and hawks and owls and eagles!
Each with ancient names that somehow made sense,
somehow resonated with each and every one of us.
We were able to dream again,
me and the other barrio kids.
I was shook awake by my mom.
Dad was there too,
I could smell the Brut cologne.
I was on the lawn near the dead bird,
which was still in the bag.
One of the others pointed past my mom.
I saw a large spotted cat perched in a tree.
It slowly disappeared as we locked eyes.
Dad was angry because we were playing with a dead bird.
I told you!
I don’t want you near those kids anymore!
we’re not afraid anymore,
we can fly now.
The bird isn’t dead.
You’re going to catch a disease!
It was okay I thought,
he just didn’t understand.
Mama was standing behind him,
smiling at me.
The barrio kids were around her.
I looked at them all,
and we knew the truth.
We were never the same.
We still talk about that day, and tell the ancient story of the ancient bird that was awakened on our block to the new barrio kids.
If being a travieso meant spreading my wings and liberating myself, then I was a proud travieso.
That day I was grateful because I had Thanksgiving turkey for the first time in my life.