I WAS SO scared and awestruck by that girl's slow, deliberate steps forward. I could even hear myself panting for her as I watched.
"Mi'ja, what are you doing?" Mami asked me. "If you're done with your homework, get ready for bed."
"Wait. You have to see this."
"No, I don't."
"Yes, Mami, you do," my little brother, Ernie, said, padding in from the bathroom in his pj's. Last I knew, he was watching soccer on his phone, but he must've gotten the same alerts as me. "Something weird is going on at the Wall," he reported.
Mami hated all the notifications and interruptions from our phones, even if we had saved up and paid for them with our own money. But when Ernie came in and made that announcement, Mami stopped wiping the kitchen counter and marched over to stand behind me at the table.
"¿Qué es eso? I can't even see. The screen is too small," she sighed.
Mami loved to tell us how when our family first came to this country, we watched the same show, all together, on a single television. Of course, that was before the government took over the broadcasting system. Before they censored any newscasters who disagreed or said too much, any movies or shows that seemed unpatriotic. If we wanted to see anything honest or original these days, we had to watch someone's livestream on the dark web. Which is what we were doing now. The three of us pressed our heads together, watching the image blink in and out because of the poor connection. The camera panned around, showing faces caught between hope and panic.
"I don't like this," Ernie said. I didn't either, but we couldn't turn away from the screen. We couldn't move. We could only gape at this staticky footage as that gutsy girl planted each foot down—one, two, three.
There were shouts from the crowd of people in Tijuana gathering behind the barricade:
¿Qué estás haciendo? ¡Cuidado!
An airhorn blasted. Another green zombie shouted through the speakers:
Get back behind the fence! he bellowed. You are not permitted on US soil. We repeat, you are not permitted on US soil!
The girl paused and raised both of her hands in the air to show that she meant no harm. She squinted into the bright West Coast sun with a sort of half grin. Her arms were loose and gawky. I wondered if she was born with this kind of wild bravery or if she'd just already lost too much to care.
She stepped forward again.
"Why's she doing that?" whispered Ernie. "Why isn't she listening to them?"
I tried to mumble some sort of response, but my tongue felt too big for my mouth. I flipped to another livestream in Tijuana—they were all filming this girl now. Some from so far away, she looked like a speck creeping across the frame, in between the concrete posts. Others zoomed in so close, I swear I could see the hairs in that girl's nose. Yes, we were watching her on a screen from thousands of miles away, in the safety of a dusky Vermont evening. But my whole body was trembling for her. I wished I had even a smidge of her courage.
There is no trespassing in the demilitarized zone!' the zombies ordered again. We repeat, no trespassing in the demilitarized zone!
"Dios mío," Mami said in a low voice, clicking her tongue. She made the sign of the cross, and I swallowed hard. Mami was as tough as they came, the creases around her eyes holding on to all her worry and pain so that she could always face the world with composure. If she was asking God for help, then this was definitely a moment of truth....