Valentina (fiction)

By Esmeralda Arrizon-Palomera

Valentina never exceeded the speed limit. This meant that she was constantly glancing at the speedometer to make sure that she was not speeding. She was not concerned with the possibility of getting into a traffic accident in the two seconds that it took her eyes to shift from the road, to the speedometer, and back to the road again. She worried that driving over the speed limit could get her pulled over. She knew that if she were caught driving without a driver’s license, she would have to face serious consequences.

That morning, Valentina decided that she had to be especially careful because she would be carrying with her the forged documents that she needed in order to be able to work in the U.S.

At nineteen years old, Valentina had only been driving for five months. She wanted to wait until she absolutely had to. She bought her 1994 dark green Toyota Camry a year after she had graduated from high school. The car was in good condition except for the passenger’s side window that could not be rolled down, and a few scratches on the driver’s side door. She spent a total of three thousand dollars that took her about six months to put together. Valentina had carefully chosen the Toyota Camry because it ran well, it did not look too old, and it was not expensive enough that if it were impounded, she would feel as if she had lost a great deal of money.

That morning, Valentina left her home at 11AM. The minute she got in her car, she rolled down her window, checked her mirrors, pulled the car seat forward, picked a radio station, and then she put on her seatbelt. Valentina always did this before she turned on the engine. She believed that if she did everything she could to drive safely, she could decrease the possibilities of being pulled over.

Valentina had been pulled over once before. It happened the day before she turned seventeen. Her boyfriend Armando who was twenty-one years old at the time picked her up to take her out to dinner to celebrate her birthday. The plan was to eat dinner and then drive to Armando’s apartment where she would spend the night for the first time. In the four months that they had been going out, Valentina had come to know Armando as a mature and responsible man with whom she thought about spending the rest of her life. She knew that Armando had walked across the desert at the age of eighteen. She knew that he was the oldest of four, that his father left his family when he was only eight years old, and that for the last four years, Armando had been working in a produce plant cutting vegetables for eight dollars an hour to support his mother, and his three younger siblings who lived in Mexico. In the short time they’d known each other; they developed a kind of closeness that could only be achieved by recognizing themselves in each other’s stories. They shared the desire to visit a country that neither of them had seen in years; both felt estranged from their life in the U.S., and neither felt free to pursue their dreams.

Armando was a careful driver, not as careful as Valentina, but still very careful compared to all the other boys she knew who tried to outrun other cars on the streets. They were two blocks away from his apartment when they heard the sound of a siren, and saw the red, white, and blue lights spin through the darkness of the night. Armando pulled over. He became tense. A male officer stepped out of the patrol car. As he approached Armando’s car, Armando took out a Mexican driver’s license that he had gotten when he lived in Mexico. The officer knocked on the window and signaled Armando to lower it. “Do you know why I pulled you over?” he asked. Armando looked at him and then at Valentina who began to translate. “Dice que,” the officer interrupted her. He then signaled the other male officer in the car to approach him. “Tell him that in the state of California it is illegal to drive without a driver’s license.” The second officer translated. Armando said, “tengo una licensia de México” as he handed it to him. The first officer caught a glimpse of it. His eyes radiated contempt. He turned to Armando said, “This is not México.” The second officer asked Armando for proof of insurance, “tiene aseguransa?” Armando said “no.” The officer then instructed him and Valentina to exit the car. Valentina asked the second officer, “What’s going happen? Is the car going to be impounded?” “Yes,” he said as he handed the Mexican driver’s license back to Armando. They stood on the sidewalk for about thirty minutes. After the car had been impounded, they walked the two blocks to his apartment, but Valentina did not stay over that night.

Everybody who went to work in the mornings had already left. The bus stops were empty and there were very few people out on the street. Valentina drove down Vernon because she knew it was the quickest way to the Alameda swap meet. Whenever Valentina drove up and down that street she took notice of every detail. That day, the streets looked much like they always did. They were wide and surrounded by old buildings, some with broken windows and others tagged on the sides. Trash covered the side walk and the entire street was filled with the smell of dirt, and sweat. The temperature must have been above ninety degrees. Valentina felt her long, dark brown, wavy hair against her moist neck, shoulders, and back. She felt suffocated inside her car. She opened the windows in the back, but that did not help very much because the air was hot, and the sun light burned her skin.

That particular morning, Valentina was not concerned with the view; her only concern was getting to the Alameda swap meet and finding someone from whom she could purchase a social security and a resident alien card to replace the one that her father had gotten for her a few months earlier. Valentina had never been to that place before. In fact, she never thought she would have to. For years her parents had been telling her and her sisters that if they did well in school, they could get a scholarship, go to college, and after that, they would find a good job. Her father said that by the time her oldest sister Rosaura finished high school, the paperwork that he submitted requesting legal residence for the entire family would have already been processed. That did not happen. It had been three years since Rosaura graduated from high school and their papers are nowhere in sight.

Valentina knew that this was the place where she could purchase what she needed because her older sister Rosaura had purchased her documents three years before. In her family, this was a rite of passage. Valentina knew that when her youngest sister Julia graduated from high school, she would have to do the same. By this time, Valentina had stopped waiting for the paper work to come through and magically change her life. For too long, she believed that she could do nothing about her situation. For that reason, Valentina decided that she would go by herself to the Alameda swap meet and purchase the documents she needed.

As Valentina was approaching the small, almost hidden street before Alameda where she was supposed to turn, she noticed a police car was right behind her. At the sight of the police car, Valentina tensed up and turned down the radio in an effort to make herself less noticeable. She decided to drive past the street where she was supposed to make a turn. She circled the swap meet two times; the first time to let the police car pass, and the second one, to make sure that there were no other patrol cars behind her. In the four months Valentina had been driving, she became very good at scoping out any patrol cars that were in close proximity to her. In the first two months, Valentina’s  heart would jump out of her chest at the sight of a patrol car. She learned to avoid them. Sometimes she’d make a turn, or she’d let them pass her, and sometimes she’d park somewhere on the street until she lost sight of the patrol car. Slowly, Valentina learned to remain calm.

As she entered the small street, Valentina became afraid she would not find anyone working because that day was a Tuesday, and she knew that every Tuesday, all the swap meets were closed. She noticed that the street was unusually quiet; it was empty except for two cars that were parked on the street, and a few men that stood scattered on the sidewalk. She drove very slowly. As soon as she entered the street, she saw that the men who were standing on the side walk started to signal. Some of them held up their right hand as if they were holding an identification card while others said, “micas, seguros.”

Valentina continued to drive past the first stop sign. As she drove past the second stop sign, she nodded at one of the men standing on the side walk. She parked her car and remained inside. As the man crossed the street and approached her, Valentina pressed the lock button on her door. These men looked like some of her relatives; a couple of the men she saw resembled her father. She felt this familiarity with them but still, that familiarity was not enough to make her feel safe. She was afraid because she knew she was outnumbered by the men and because she knew that she was breaking the law; she understood that the transaction she was about to make required a certain degree of distance and emotional detachment.

Valentina did not understand why, but at that moment she began to think about Armando. She had not seen him since that night. He called her once after that to let her know that he could not see her anymore. Valentina was surprised to discover that she felt relieved to know that she would not see him again. That night changed the way they saw each other. Both had been humiliated. When Valentina saw Armando’s vulnerability, she realized that he could not protect her the way she expected him to. She thought that Armando had realized this too. The truth was that Valentina had felt relieved because to see Armando again meant that she would have to confront her own vulnerability as an undocumented woman living in the U.S. At that time, Valentina did not want to do it because thinking about it made her feel hopeless.

The man who approached her car must have been in his early twenties. He looked nothing like Armando, but he had the same look of dread in his eyes that she had seen in Armando the night they were pulled over. He said, “Tenemos la targeta rosa y la laser.” “What is the difference?” Valentina asked. The man responded that the pink card expired in five years and that the laser card expired in twelve. Since the cost difference was only twenty dollars, Valentina decided to pay the sixty dollars for the laser card. “Con el seguro le saldría a diez mas,” he said. Valentina decided to pay the extra ten dollars for the social security card. “Es para usted?” “Yes,” Valentina answered. The man explained to her that if she did not have a photograph with her, she would have to step into the shop and take one. Valentina knew this and had decided to take the photograph of herself the day before. She took out the picture and handed it to him. “Esta sirve,” he said. He explained that it would take about two hours for the resident alien and social security cards to be ready. “Where do I pick them up?” “Aquí mismo,” he said. “Mire, si quiere déme su numero, y yo le hablo cuándo estén listas.” Valentina gave him her cell phone number and he agreed to call her when the cards were ready. She drove off as soon as the man stepped back. This time, she did not even bother to check her mirrors.

Valentina understood that she had just broken the law, but she did not feel that way. She was scared because she knew just how much she would loose if she were caught, but having done this by herself made Valentina feel empowered, she felt liberated, and for the first time, she felt that she could take control of her life.

When Valentina returned, she was not as anxious as she had been two hours earlier. She knew exactly where to turn and who to look for, this made her feel calm. She arrived ten minutes before the two hours. This time, no cars were parked on the street. When she had parked, the same man she’d made the deal with approached her and said, “Van a ser unos cinco minutos.” Valentina sat in her car, anxiously waiting for the five minutes to pass. She imagined that at any moment, a handful of patrol cars would show up and arrest every single person, herself included. She thought about circling the block for five minutes, just in case. But she decided to stay.

Those five minutes felt like an eternity to Valentina. When the man approached her car for the last time, she was glad to see him. He handed her the documents along with his business card, and she handed him the money.


One Response to “Valentina (fiction)”
  1. Charlene says:

    I could picture everything you were describing, so beautifully described. How amazing if we read this in our literature classes. gracias.

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