“I have no weapon,” I say, kicking myself when I realize I shouldn’t have said that. He has what looks like a hunting bow, turned on its side with a rifle butt stuck on the end. And I have nothing.
“I can see that,” the man says. “What are you doing out here?”
“I am lost,” I say, again before my mind can stop my mouth. “On purpose. I am lost on purpose.” I nod, confident that I have deceived him.
“Ha!” the man laughs. “You’re a strange boy. The sun making you sick, or were you born that way?”
“I’m not sick. The sun is my friend,” I reply, not sure what to say anymore.
“The sun is your friend is it? Right. Born that way, then,” he says.
I do not know what he wants or what he is doing here at the ruins of the caravan but I am afraid to ask. I have plenty of guesses. Basureros find tragedy and pick clean whatever is left. Sites of great battles, bandit attacks, or the leftovers of a great disaster. They live on the edges of the known world and treasure what other men toss aside. For that they are deplored. Even the lowest dredges of society find room in their heart to pity the Basurero. He slings his strange looking bow over his shoulder, making his baubles jingle as he does so. His eye looks me over. Judges me. In his mind he is already several steps ahead of me.
“I have nothing worth stealing, Basurero,” I say. I hold my hands up as if to show him.
“I don’t steal things, boy,” he says sharply. “I collect. I rediscover. And right now I have first rights to this. I took a survey and I know I didn’t see you until just now so you can wait until I’m done. You can have your pick of the spoils after that.”
“I do not want to disturb them,” I say.
“If you’re not here to scavenge, then why? You’re not a nomad,” the man says. He seems curious, but angry all at once. Maybe it is just his voice.
“I was on my way somewhere. Just passing through with these folks when we were attacked,” I say.
“Really. So you are out here alone,” the man says.
“Yes,” I say, resigning myself to my fate. “I am going to end up like Baco and Rosita soon.”
“That’s Baco there, the one with the broken spear in his back. Rosita is the one there crushed under the master wagon,” I say, pointing them out.
“Don’t tell me their names! You’ll jinx me,” the man says. He visibly shakes, rattling the assortment of baubles he is wearing.
“Sorry. Oh, why am I apologizing. It doesn’t matter. I am going to die soon,” I say sitting down. The man rubs where his beard would be.
“When you do, can I have your things?” he asks.
“I guess, though I don’t know why you’re asking me,” I say.
“It is customary,” the man says.
“Just leave the things that have Rio written on them,” I say.
“Because that’s my name,” I say.
“Aye! Stop that! Pendeho. You’re ruining my score here.”
“Sorry,” I say. I feel calm. Maybe it is the heat cooking my brain bones, but I feel more serene than I’ve felt in a long while.
“Where were you going if you don’t mind me asking,” the man says as he pulls someone’s cloth shoes off their feet.
“I was going to Esmeralda,” I say. The man stops for a moment, then continues what he was doing. “I know, it’s a myth, it doesn’t exist, it is gone now and only a ruin. I’ve heard it all before. I don’t care. I am going to see the city of heroes with my own eyes. Or, I guess I was going to see it. I promised I would.”
“You seem pretty sure the city is real,” he says.
“I’ve never been more sure of anything,” I say.
“It would be a shame if such a fanciful journey were to end so soon,” he says. I give him a blank look, my brain bones still cooking. “I am headed north. Trade me something and I’ll take you with me. I can only go as far as Sanhles depending on the markets, so you’re on your own after that.”
“I have nothing worth trading,” I say.
“You’re a very honest boy, aren’t you?” he asks, though it’s not so much a question than a statement. “That bag. What do you have in there?”
I clutch my bag. It holds everything I have left in this world. Things I cannot trade.
“These will have to wait for my death before I part with them,” I say, suddenly finding new strength in the face of this stranger.
“Make your decision quickly. I’m not sticking around for long,” he says.
I panic. I cannot give him Rodrigo’s bag or all of this will have been for naught. The story of Dead Eye Fukuda comes to me. Of how he was able to negotiate his way out of a den of thieves and murderers with his wit alone. An idea takes hold.
“I have something. Wait,” I say. I go back to the wagon. As Providence would have it, the satchel I am looking for is there. I run back with it in my arms. “Here,” I say.
“A bag full of water skins,” the man says, amused.
“Yes,” I say, holding my breath without realizing.
“I feel like these weren’t yours,” he says. I swallow nervously, though there’s not much left to swallow in this heat. “They might be worth something. I’ll take it.”
“Thank you,” I say, sighing with relief.
“Sure. Now, help me fill these sacks. I still have to make a living,” he says.
And that is how I met Silvio, my oldest and best friend and guardian to my first born child.