Driving with Aliens in Tijuana
by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
I sit behind the counter and hum a bolero. Humans come in and out of the gift shop. Aliens pause to look at plastic cacti and cheap maracas.
A young guy stops in front me. The man isn’t very touristy. He’s wearing a black suit and a tie. Hair slicked back. Sunglasses. He’s with an alien resembling a large octopus.
“My friend likes your voice,” the man says.
“Thanks,” I say.
“Would you like to make a lot of money?”
I raise my eyebrows high.
“His species has a peculiar method of vocalization and a complex language system,” the young man says quickly. “Human voices and speech interest them. A lot. We’re spending the week in Tijuana and he wants you to hang out with us.”
“You’re kidding, right?” I ask.
Despite living in Mexico’s Only Authorized Intergalactic Zone and the brochures with nice, smiling blond people hugging an alien sitting on the rack up front, I’ve never heard such a request before. I’ve never even seen an extraterrestrial from the other side of the counter. They come in, pay, leave. I stay, restock the maracas, flip through magazines.
A guy once walked into the store and he had a shirt that said “Schrödinger’s cat is not dead” and I asked him what that meant. He said it was a paradox and explained the cat was dead and was not dead at the same time.
Some days I feel I’m the cat and I’m not sure if I’ve been gassed with poison.
“Nope,” he says and slides a pre-paid credit card towards me. “Check the balance.”
The sun blazes outside, incessant. The radio sings about September and going away. The old fan is whirring behind me.
I stare at the man and the alien and I’m wondering if I’m currently dead-alive or alive-dead.
I’ve never been in a black sports car. Much less a sports car with an alien in the back seat. I look out the window and hum as we drive up a hill, away from downtown.
There’s an illusory calmness about the city when you watch it from afar. You can’t see the drunk crowds moving through Avenida Revolucion. You can’t hear the men whistling at the girls in mini-skirts. You can’t spot the 16 corpses with plastic bags around their heads laying on the side of the road. Tijuana is a city of drugs, crimes and whores. Of factories churning out cheap merchandise for off-world export, and the even cheaper workers locked inside.
You can’t see that at night. From afar, there’s only the city lights and the slopes of the land.
“How long you been working for it?” I ask Rollo when we have a brief pause and the alien lets us turn off the stereo we’ve been blasting all day long.
“Two years,” he says.
“Do you spend all your time translating?”
“No. Some of this, some of that. I’m his boy Friday. I run errands. I get lunch.”
“What does it eat?”
“Kittens,” he says very seriously.
I give him a horrified look and Rollo cracks a smile. He chuckles.
“You believed me,” he says, fingers tapping the steering wheel.
Traffic is very slow in Tijuana. The alien doesn’t want to walk so we inch forward. It’s alright. I’m kinda enjoying myself.
“What should I know?” I say. “I’m not even sure what species he is.”
Rollo makes this weird sound that’s like “kotch’o.” I try to repeat it, but I can’t say it. The alien in the backseat laughs.
At least, I think it laughs. It ripples and snorts, tentacles quivering slightly.
The alien repeats the sound Rollo made. Kotch’o.
I try again. Fail miserably. They both laugh some more.
The alien tries to teach me a simple phrase. Kikawi kotch’o. I try it again and I do alright.
Rollo smiles. I think the alien smiles too.
The alien likes to drink and go to nightclubs. We stop at a karaoke bar around 3 a.m. and I sing four songs in a row.
They don’t have boleros. It’s a pity. I make do with 1980s pop music.
The alien twitches its tentacles and nods at me. I’m getting to know it better and I think I’m understanding its non-verbal cues now. Slow blinks. Fast blinks. Low growls. Tentacles still or agitated.
The alien’s colour has changed from purple to a shade of blue that’s like a perfect sky; the sky of the desert, far from the city limits.
“It’s the booze,” Rollo explains when I sit down next to them and someone else grabs the microphone. “The equivalent to our blushing mechanism. He’s too warm.”
“Is it dangerous?”
“It’s alright,” Rollo says. He orders a bucket full of ice cubes and when they bring it to our table the alien rolls the tips of his tentacles in it.
The alien isn’t thrilled with sake, so we end up leaving not long after that. Rollo drops me off at my place and they drive back to their hotel.
In the three days we’ve been hanging out I haven’t seen Rollo wear anything except perfectly tailored black suits. Today’s jacket has an almost imperceptible grey pinstripe. He’s got another rental car. It’s white.
“Hey, you ready?” he asks.
I feel my aunt’s eyes burrowing into my back from the window of our apartment. She doesn’t like this arrangement. Last night, after the karaoke, she yelled at me.
But it’s a lot of money.
I’m itching to get away from home and nod curtly, slamming the door. I look towards the backseat.
“Where’s your buddy?” I ask.
“He’s got a hangover,” Rollo says.
“I didn’t know aliens could get hangovers.”
“Well, something like that. He wants to hit the opera tonight. Last time we were on Earth we went to the Met.”
“I’ve never been to the opera,” I say.
Once I heard a group of Russians singing at a cafe. I’m not sure what they were singing. It wasn’t boleros and it wasn’t in Spanish. I don’t know what the Met is and before I met Rollo I didn’t know the right way to say après-midi. Hell, I didn’t even know what that meant, but Rollo says lots of fancy words. He rolls with Italian and German, and then he shrugs and says dela vkusa and J’ai oublié, and I ain’t got much of an idea of what it’s all about. It’s very cool.
“He’s crazy about it,” Rollo says. “We’re going to buy you a dress for tonight.”
“What, you kidding?”
“That’s super,” I say.
I feel a little ashamed walking into a nice store in jeans and a t-shirt. Rollo seems to be in his element. He orders the employees around and demands to see several black dresses.
“Why black?” I ask.
“He can’t see colour,” Rollo says.
“Dogs can’t see colour either.”
Rollo gives me a weird look. I’m ashamed of having said that. I’ve compared his employer to a pet. Even though he looks a bit like an octopus, he ain’t one.
“What’s his planet like?” I ask, trying to change the subject.
“It must live in an aquatic city with glass bubble-domes,” I say.
Rollo smiles. “Now why would you say that?”
I saw a drawing of something like that. Atlantis, it was called. I shrug.
“His planet is cold. But we live on the third moon of Ishvera. It’s a bit warm there. He’s got most of his business in Ishvera.”
“What kind of business?”
“Import and export,” Rollo says and he presses a pair of black, high-heels into my hands. “Try these on.”
I get to wear my hair up that night. I’ve never worn my hair up before, not even for my quinceañera party. My aunt said it cost too much to rent the salon, so I ended having cake and soda at my apartment.
I get to eat caviar and drink wine. I arrive home at four in the morning, singing so loud I wake up all my cousins.
I’ve picked up a Kotchei-Spanish dictionary and I try to find the phrase for “good morning.” The alien looks very pleased when I try to say it and I’m beaming as Rollo hands me a glass of tomato juice.
It’s the first time I’ve been in their hotel room. It’s huge. The living room is twice the size of our apartment and there’s a piano by the window.
The view from the balcony is still a shitty grey sky with shitty grey buildings, factories left and right. Not as bad as Mexico City, but then nothing is as bad as Mexico City. They say Tijuana is the country’s Authorized Intergalactic Zone because Mexico City was so polluted the aliens dropped dead when they landed there.
“We’ve got to get some of that coloured marijuana,” Rollo tells me as we sit out in the balcony.
“What, to smoke it?”
“To drink it. We’ll make a tincture out of it.”
“Oh,” I say. “He can’t smoke?”
I drink my juice and nod.
If you squint your eyes, from the balcony’s angle, Tijuana doesn’t seem that bad. A gazillion times worse than Ishvera – I’ve been looking at pictures of it – but not puke awful.
Rollo must be thinking the same thing I’m thinking ‘cause he turns towards me and smiles.
“He’s considering taking you with us.”
“What? Seriously?” I ask, almost spilling my juice over my lap.
“Yes. He loves your voice. He thinks you’re aesthetically pleasing.”
“What? No. I must be butt-ugly to them.”
“The exotic factor. All that hair and the big eyes.”
Hair is all I’ve ever had. Black, thick and long. I’m no beauty queen. Perhaps that doesn’t matter to the squids.
“You’re not hairy,” I say.
“How do you know?”
I elbow him. We laugh. Rollo teaches me Kotchei words. I can’t remember half of them by the time I get home. My aunt yells. I slam the bathroom door shut and sit on the toilet, staring at the wall.
We spend the next day listening to opera in the alien’s hotel room. It’s incredibly loud. Rollo explains what each piece is about, the name of the composer. At least, he does for a while. It’s hours and hours of singing, so eventually he stops.
Room service brings a mountain of food. We drink mezcal. We switch from opera to punk. I fall asleep.
I wake up after midnight and the living room is quiet. The couch is comfy but my aunt will kill me if I don’t get home before dawn. I’m guessing Rollo’s asleep and I feel bad waking him, but I need a ride home.
I stumble towards Rollo’s room and slide the door open.
He’s not asleep.
At first I’m not sure what I’m seeing. Tentacles and limbs in a bizarre arrangement. My slow brain eventually catches on the fact that the alien is fucking Rollo. It’s like a bad horror movie. Like the reverse from those magazine covers that had them green Venusian girls fucked by Earth’s astronauts.
The alien turns its head to stare at me with its great double pupils.
I walk back to the living room.
In the morning Rollo takes me home. It’s a silver car. The white one’s gone.
Rollo’s quiet. We stop at an intersection and I turn to look at him. He tilts his head to the side and glances at me with a silent question mark hanging over his head.
I want to ask him if it hurts. I want to ask him if he hates it. I want to ask him if he likes it. I want to ask him if he misses other humans when he’s sitting on that third moon. I want to ask him if it’s humiliating. I want to ask him if he’s happy.
I want to ask him if it doesn’t matter because we’re in Tijuana and we’re all getting fucked.
I want to ask if we’re dead-alive, like the cat who got gassed. Or if it’s alive-dead.
I want to ask him.
The light changes to green.
I never ask him.More stories like this by topic: Authors of color, Characters of color, Latin America, Latino/a authors, Mexican-Canadian authors, Mexico, Women authors