Licencia de Manejo


Licencia de Manejo

Mamá used to drive a truck the color of tapatio hot sauce. A sauce that to this day my
parents use liberally on anything they can put it on. “El caro de chile Americano,” my dad used to call the truck, American-made and yet inhabited and used by Mexican-born people. We don’t own the same car anymore, but I swear there are moments I can see its ghost in the driveway, a creepy figment of memory that won’t stop haunting my mind.

The tapatio truck was the car we took every time we went to church when I was little. My parents are semi-religious; days pass by like fallen leaves building off of each other, until one day, there are too many leaves, too many days where God has not been mentioned and we must go to church in forgotten penance.

Maybe it was a weekday in June, or maybe a weekend in July around four to five years ago when my mamá woke my brothers and I up to go pray to the Lord. I wore a dress that reached my knees, and dress shoes with small heels that I was only ever allowed to wear for church. We had breakfast quickly before we entered our tapatio truck, the church a 15-minute drive away from our house, near enough that we could leave at a later time, and yet far enough away to sing songs on the radio at the top of our lungs.

The service went by slowly, seconds dragging on into minutes that would just not complete the hour it lasted, and yet looking back, it is not the longevity of the service that my mind latches onto but rather the car ride home. Cumbia norteña was playing, my brother garbling nonsense in his car seat beside me, Mamá telling me it was my turn to wash the dishes when we got home, when red and blue lights and a wailing siren shattered the illusion of safety my mamá worked hard to provide for us. Papá wasn’t with us; he had gone to work that day, those overtime hours something we desperately needed. I remember the terror, and sadness, and utter hoplessness on my mamá’s face as she had to pull over 5 minutes away from home.

As my mamá turned the keys slowly out of our car, she didn’t stop to look for a drivers license or some sort of identification, she just sat there, waiting for the police officer to knock on her window, ask his questions, and give her a ticket. Police officers are scary; maybe not on purpose, but with their silver badge, and domineering aura, they terrified younger me.

As the silence of the car engines filled space, I looked out the back of the car’s window, seeing a bald, white, young-looking kind of officer walk up towards our tapatio truck. As he knocked on the door, and asked his questions, and issued a ticket, my mamá was preparing to leave when he abruptly said, “I’m sorry, Ma’am, but you’re not gonna be able to drive this vehicle home. Without a license, we simply cannot allow you to do so.”

She blinked, her hand inches away from her car keys. “Ok,” I remember her saying, her accent showing naked in a simple word, face impassive as she was thinking of what to do next. The officer didn’t leave; he stayed parked there, purely out of choice, as we stayed parked there, purely out of force.

It was getting hot; the car slowly heated up, the temperature making me nauseous and sick when my mom said, “Andale, todos salgan del caro,” telling me and my six-year-old brother to get out of the car.

While we did so, she unbuckled my baby brother out of his carseat, and my brother and I stood there, wondering what she was going to tell us to do next. As she shifted my baby brother on her waist, Mamá put her hand on my shoulder: “vamos a tener que caminar a la casa. Tu papá no nos puede recoger, y está muy caliente para quedarse aquí.” In no uncertain terms, she was telling me we were going to have to walk home. We were in the neighborhood already; but a trip that takes five minutes by car takes more than thirty minutes by foot.

As we started walking, my shoes digging into the soles of my ankles, my hand slipping from my younger brother’s hand, mamá started crying. I’m sure we looked ridiculous, a crying woman wearing an extravagant dress, walking in 3-inch heels carrying a baby dressed in a cute little suit, with 2 younger kids trailing behind her. Nothing about us screamed “going for a walk!”

I remember the sun glaring at us, so harshly it felt purposeful, like the world was punishing us for something I did not know of. I remember the wild grasses of the yards we passed, leaving behind house after house of lively people celebrating the summer, on a day when my happiness was melting down into a puddle of confusion, sadness, and despair. I remember asking my mamá why the police officer had essentially prohibited us from using our car, and being answered with a choked sob. By then, beads of sweat were collecting on the back of my neck, calluses forming on the heels of my toes, and my dress starting to swish irritatingly on the skin of my thighs.

Out of nowhere, a car slowed to a stop beside us; a police car, out of all the possible types of cars. It wasn’t the officer from before who rolled down his window though, it was another one. As we locked eyes, he turned to my mamá and said, “Miss, what are you doing walking home in those types of shoes, on this kind of day?”

My mamá stared at him for a second, before stuttering out what had happened a few minutes prior. The officer looked lost in thought for a second, before he smiled at us, and said, “Hop in.”

I could count this day as the first and only ever time I rode in a police car– as the day where coincidence gave me the experience of a bad cop and a good cop– or as the day where a police officer told me he liked my shoes. He drove us home that day, and I remember smiling up at him with everything I had in me.

“Que Dios te bendiga,” my mamá said to him, a prayer. As we entered our house, and my mamá called my papá, my nose started to bleed. I looked at my shoes, and noticed they had little scuff marks on the back of them, the product of walking too much in them. Grabbing a scrap of toilet paper, and plugging it up my nose, I sat down next to my mamá as she started to pat my hair, and asked her when we were gonna be able to pick up our car from the side of the road.

About the Author

Haile Espin was born in Greensboro, North Carolina. She has written since she was a child, stories about mermaids, wilted lilies, and bad Monday mornings. When she isn’t writing though, she’s holed up in a library somewhere, reading.