Only after a number of unimpressive musical acts did one take the stage that drew Jo’s full attention. For most of the show, she’d roamed aimlessly around the parking lot, standing amid the activity to stare at the Wall, stare at the wall of protesting Indians, stare into the distance, all the while half-heartedly looking for Angel, who she felt she needed to see. There were a few different men-with-guitars, a woman singing a cappella in what Jo thought must be Chinese and, in a diabolical turn, the Double Barrel bartender took the stage to blow through a didgeridoo in an endless arrhythmic drone. Even Larry, Jo noticed, who was normally so indulgent and forgiving when it came to his annual showcase, grimaced beside the stage, anxiously looking up at the dreadful dreaded woman and then out to the crowd, as if he expected things to turn ugly. All these acts caught her attention now and then, but it wasn’t until she heard the eerie, tearful wail of an accordion that Jo found a seat and really listened.
On stage stood the pair who’d played for her two nights ago, and they opened with the same song, or one similar enough. Jo found herself wishing Micah were there to translate again, but quickly corrected herself: she was probably one of the only people around who knew too little Spanish to understand the song. If she really wanted it translated, she could very well ask just about anyone. Instead, however, she simply sat there and listened to the simple melody: just enough, she reasoned, to carry the story without distraction.
Jo watched especially the child. He looked uncomfortable in his tight white suit, and she wondered whether he actually enjoyed what he was doing. He couldn’t have been more than eight, so he might very well still be in the thrall, Jo supposed, of his father’s passion, loving it because he loved him. But there did seem to be an authenticity to his stoic gaze, and as he beat his little rhythm Jo swore she saw tears well up in his eyes. Did he too miss his father’s brother? But no, he couldn’t, reasonably. The Wall had gone up long before the child had been born. Perhaps it was just the power of the sentiment, or the transference of ancient misery visited upon his family, his people, his land. Then again, it could have just been the dry air.
There was a second song like the first, then a third, and by the end of the forth, a general quietude had descended over the festival. Cheers still regularly exploded from Gramps’ booth on the far side of the lot, but now they seemed to come from nowhere and disappear back into nothingness, like a whale breeching in dead-calm waters. To Jo, the state was almost blissful, and she felt suspended in time, the immanent Border Run! show held at bay by this man’s loneliness. But for the fifth song the father and son were joined on stage by a bassist and two men with trumpets. These newcomers didn’t have the outfits, but they seemed comfortable with the arrangement, and in fact began to play first, a quicker, lively number.
As Jo watched the heavy mood lift from the crowd, she noticed Angel sitting less than ten feet away. How long had he been there? She went to sit beside him, righting a chair that had been upended.
“I didn’t want to leave things like they were last night,” she said.
Angel acknowledged her silently, smiling, but kept his eyes trained on the musicians. “You know what they’re singing?”
“It’s not a corrido, is it?”
“Si, si. They’re singing about smugglers. Gangsters who used to come across the border from Sonora in trucks filled with heroin and guns.”
“Oh come off it,” Jo said, chuckling.
“They’re singing about paying off the border patrol with hookers and cocaine. One smuggler gets killed by a rival gang, but the rest hide out in a house near Tucson with a basement full of hundred dollar bills, stacked to the ceiling.”
Jo was speechless. Why was Angel telling her this?
When the song was over, the applause dwarfed the sounds coming from Gramps’ booth, and because Jo was looking around in astonishment, she failed at first to see that Angel himself was standing, applauding and whistling.
After the crowd had died down, the band began to play another song, just as lively, but Angel leaned over to Jo and embraced her.
“I have to get to work,” he said. “You be safe.”
“Angel, I don’t understand.”
“It was good to see you, Miss Jo.”
With that he stood, and after letting out another loud whistle, turned and nudged through the growing throng of people who’d gathered around the small stage. Within moments, Jo was surrounded on all sides by people standing, arms raised. Her head was stomach-level, and she stared at the extended guts pressed against the buttons of thin, dirty shirts. The stomachs twisted, shook and bumped, as though no body rose above them.