We ate lunch, which probably made my throat burn and my nose run, but I bet I had seconds. After eating, the group sat around the table talking in an animated way about various things. I was lost within the first few minutes, but I smiled and pretended to be there.
My mind wandered all over. It has always ignored a command to “stay.” From the open doorway, I watched the dirt road and the sunlight pouring onto it. A clattering old truck passed, raising a cloud of dust that hung suspended and made everything hazy. Laughing boys rode by on a donkey.
Cowboy turned to me and said, “¡Vámonos!” I knew that meant we were leaving, but that’s as far as it went. He could have been returning me to the crossing, taking me to San Carlos, or flying me to the moon. I would’ve gone anywhere with him, so why make a fuss?
We were going horseback riding, or one of us was. We only saddled one horse. Maybe there was another horse waiting somewhere. Or perhaps he was going to ride and I was going to watch him—do what?
We headed towards the river on foot with Cowboy leading Gringo. It was hilarious listening to him encourage the horse to keep moving. “Andale, Gringo.” “¿Que paso, Gringo?” “¡Muévete, Gringo!” It sounded like he was putting a “gringo” through his paces.
At the bank of the Rio Grande, Cowboy jumped up into the saddle with the speed and agility of a cricket. He held out his hand to me. I couldn’t believe it. I hadn’t yet mastered mounting the normal way and now this? Gringo looked ten feet tall from where I stood. Who signed me up for cowboy stuff anyway? I managed to mount, thanks to the help of a strong hand, but there was nothing graceful about it.
I asked where we were going because it was clear no information would be volunteered. He pointed skyward to the Mesa de Anguila. I had been up there hiking and I knew it was Big Bend National Park land. Back in those days, horseback riding was allowed in the park, but only on specific trails.
I blurted, “That’s Big Bend National Park.”
He nodded and clucked at Gringo and into the water we went.
“No caballos,” I added in case he didn’t know that rule.
“Si,” he said. “No caballos.”
I asked why we were going into the park. We had the entire Mexican side of the river to explore. Why flaunt our great big beautiful caballo in Park Service faces?
“Estoy buscando una vaca.” He was looking for a cow. Ohmygod. Was I really going to enter the national park with an undocumented immigrant while riding on forbidden livestock in order to look for another type of forbidden livestock?
Once we arrived on the American side of the river, we got off the horse and had a huddle about our mission. Cowboy explained that if park service people found the cow before he did, he would never see it again. His eyes told the gravity of the story more effectively than his words.
In answer to the above question: yes. I did not hear me backing out. I was a good girl gone bad. And it didn’t even take a long time…
We remounted the horse. On the upside, I was getting better at that. We headed up and when I say up, I’m talking about straight up. It was terrifying. Rocks were flying into the air and the horse was slipping and sliding. All the cowboy had to say about it was to “hang on,” as if that helped.
He said, “Ay, Gringo” and other encouraging words to his caballo, but his girlfriend was slipping off the horse’s rear. Remember that I was in back of the saddle AND I was not a horsewoman in the first place AND I wasn’t supposed to be there anyhow. I wondered if my sisters would even be surprised if I died falling off a steep mountainside above the Rio Grande while accompanying a handsome cowboy on an outlaw mission. No. They wouldn’t be. They would miss me, but surprised? No.
The top of the mesa is another world. There aren’t supposed to be any cattle in it. Absolutely not. Or horses. As I glanced around for park personnel, Cowboy explained that animals don’t understand that one side of the Rio is Mexico and one side is another country where they are not welcome. Well, duh.
To shorten the story, Cowboy found the renegade. He had left me lolling on a rock to admire the river while he ventured farther onto the land where neither he nor his animals were supposed to be. He came back towing a cow with a rope tied around one horn. I was horrified to see that a bull was following them. Okay, let me rephrase that. A black, bus-sized creature followed a few hundred paces behind. He snorted occasionally in case anyone mistook him for a puppy.
Cowboy gave an innocent shrug. “El toro no es mio.” Maybe the bull wasn’t his, but it was in love with his cow.
I indicated El Toro and asked, “Is he coming with us?”
“Who is going to stop him?”
That settled that.
Then, because the cowboy can’t help himself, he asked with a straight face, “You riding with me or would you prefer to take the bull?”