This is Emma.
She is 9.
This is Emma's mother & father. They are 29, and 35.
They are busy most of the day. They are not home when she returns from school. She sits in the kitchen & gets a snack from Manuelita, the Mexican maid.
Emma lives here, in this beautiful house, with a spreading lawn, and many trees & flowers behind a wall & a high iron gate.
Here is Manuelita arriving in the gray of dawn, dropped off by her son José. José is driving a pick up truck filled with rakes & shovels. He is off to his job taking care of the lawns & grounds of wealthy people.
She rings the bell at the gate & it buzzes & opens slowly for her, & she walks stiffly up the drive, limping a little.
Manuelita has a bad leg, & a hunchback, and her eyes are not so good either. But she is a wonderful person with a superb laugh & she loves Emma, & Emma loves her also.
This is Gonzales, in his white cowboy hat. He is the gardener.
Emma does not know Gonzales very well, but she admires him. He seems happy & is always smiling & laughing as he takes care of the trees & flowers.
Manuelita brings him lunch, a special lunch she cooks for him in the big kitchen, on a big plate covered with a cloth, & when Gonzales removes the cloth he always smiles, & as he eats Manuelita's food he rolls his eyes because it tastes so good.
What can go wrong in such a life?
One day Manuelita does not show up. Emma is worried, & so are her parents. Emma is sent off to school with hardly any breakfast.
That evening, Emma's mother sits her down & tells her that Manuelita is in the hospital for a stroke.
She says that Manuelita's son José had delivered the news in person, holding the cowboy hat to his chest, & that he was trying not to show his tears.
Emma lies awake most of the night.
In the morning, she sees Gonzales trimming the lemon tree in the mist of morning. He is wearing his usual white cowboy hat but his shoulders are bowed as if with a heavy weight. She wants to speak to him but she is late for school.
In the afternoon, she looks for him but he is gone. Gonzales only comes with his garden shears & cowboy hat & denim overalls three times a week.
She asks her mother for news of Manuelita & her mother says, "Shush."
The next day is a Saturday, and Gonzales comes to care for the fruit trees & the flowers.
Emma waits for Gonzales to finish his work.
In the blue of twilight, she walks across the lawn to him.
He looks at her, & his face seems full of death & sorrow.
Emma feels the heart catch fire in her chest. She reaches up & takes his hand. They hold hands for a long moment, & neither one speaks a single word, for what is there to be said? The heart knows all.
It is a moment of life that she will remember all her life.
It was at that moment she discovered that human beings, and not only the names of human beings, exist.
Everything exists in the deepest way possible, & this world is entirely real, which is why it is so painful.
This she knows, and she credits the knowing of it to Gonzales the gardener, who taught her without words.
Manuelita died. She saw José once driving by in his truck full of rattling garden rakes.
A new President was elected, a man with orange hair who did not like Mexicans.
Gonzales stopped coming soon after the election. Another gardener showed up for work, a younger man, serious & strong.
Emma asked her father about Gonzales. He told her that Gonzales had been deported back to Mexico.
Why? she asked.
Because his papers were not in order, I suppose.
They spoke of it no more than that.
Emma had just turned 13 when her parents took her on a trip to Texas.
One morning, she said that she was interested in seeing the new wall that was being built to keep Mexicans out of the country.
Emma's mother & father looked at each other. Then, with a sigh, her father agreed to drive them down & take a look at the wall.
They parked close enough to see the faces of the construction workers walking along the girders. It was a massive wall, utterly imposing, rising up in clouds of dust, cranes lifting great blocks of concrete & swinging them through space & sunlight.
Emma began to cry.
And her mother and father, too, got tears in their eyes.
But both she & they said nothing.