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When they reached the open road, José turned to Cheryl. “Did you pass immigration without problems?” he asked.
“It was scarier than I thought, but I got through. Although they looked up Antonio’s name in the black binder.”
José stared at her. “We have to hurry, soon it will be curfew,” was all he said.
With renewed urgency he pressed hard on the gas pedal. The pickup sped along the lonely highway. Only then did Cheryl begin to wonder why the immigration official had asked about Antonio. After all, she thought, Antonio was safe in Toronto, what could the army do to him now?
Cheryl turned her attention to the passing scenery. In the distance towered the barren volcano she had seen from the airplane — its rounded peak reflecting the last streaks of reds and magentas that marked the end of day in tropical paradise. On both sides of the highway she saw clusters of shacks with rusted tin roofs, groups of children with loads of firewood stacked on bent backs, tiny women balancing large ceramic water jugs on their heads. The occasional whiff of frying pupusas teased her hungry stomach while lively cumbia music blared from huts as they sped past.
The sun was close to setting. José was obviously concerned although he tried to disguise it by pointing out sights along the roadway. Despite his calm exterior and casual conversation, Cheryl sensed his nervousness and noticed his fingers squeezing the wheel. His eyes darted from the road to the rearview mirror.
Cheryl, quite the opposite, was finally beginning to relax and enjoy the ride, proud of having completed the first part of her mission — of safely getting into the country.
She became aware of the roar of an engine coming up from behind, and at the same time José was pressing harder on the gas. She looked back and saw soldiers in a military jeep pursuing them and in its front seat she recognized the piercing hollow eyes of the immigration officer.
“Duck down! Now!” José yelled at her. She crunched low in her seat. She heard bullets cracking the air and felt the sudden jerk of the vehicle as José lost control. She heard the sound of crunching metal. The last thing Cheryl saw was the sun setting against the volcano.