Don Jose Gonzalez had entered the United States illegally by running across the Arizona desert. Many years later, he settled in a house shared with his sister in South Central Los Angeles, almost under the junction of freeways 110 (Harbor) and 91 (LAX).
They allowed me to park my RV in the driveway by the garden, where I stayed for some time before I was able to acquire the proper vehicle to tow the RV into Mexico. Without meaning to, I couldn't help but notice Don Jose´s puzzling evening routine: from the window in my camper, I could see him sitting in his car for long hours drinking beer all by himself until bed time, when he disappeared into the house.
After having observed this behavior for several days, I went from feeling indifferent to being mystified by his tranquil and rather sad countenance. Don Jose had a peaceful demeanor; intelligent and modest, he was without a doubt a serious and respectable gentleman who didn't beat about the bush. This last feature proved crucial for it gave necessary credibility to a narrative full of the paranormal, which he confided in me next.
“It all started when I was 9 or 10 years old”, he began. “I woke up one night and found a man standing at the foot of my bed staring at me. I reasoned it was just a meandering drunkard friend of my papa´s who had gotten lost while roaming the house. Without giving it a second thought I went back to sleep.
“However, this apparition appeared again on a different occasion; I found him staring at me without uttering a word. This time I tried, unsuccessfully, to make out his features which were darkened by the dim light of the room, but after some time, I grew tired of this game and resumed my sleeping.
“Many days went by, until one sunny afternoon, while helping my mum with chores around the house, I caught sight of a fleeting silhouette which disappeared the moment I turned my head to look at it fully. Hastily, I ran after it into a closed hall, certain I was going to find the intruder and he would have no escape; but nobody was there!
"These encounters multiplied as I grew older; I used to run into that “man” (I knew it was the same entity that stood across from my bed every night) every so often; each time, it would flee, taking care to hide his face. My mum suspected something but I didn't want to sound an alarm by telling her there had been a shadow accosting me since childhood.
“As the years went by, the apparition became so commonplace that any remnants of fear or discomfort faded away. It became a familiar part of my childhood continuing through my teenage years; and it wasn't until well into adulthood that everything was finally revealed.
“It so happened that, by then, whenever the apparition appeared at the foot of my bed I no longer bothered to even glance at it. I knew it was there, peering out from that obscure face, empty and mute, but it ceased to hold any interest from me.
“On one occasion, perhaps perceiving my boredom or tiredness, it awoke me as always at dawn but this time, to my amazement, the silhouette was standing by my headboard. And it started talking! For the first time, I got to hear, in sheer awe, its cavernous voice: ‘There´s a hidden treasure under the pigsty and it´s for you and no one else in your family!’
“I didn´t believe it. I thought it all was a ruse by the same stale illusion which had failed to come up with anything new or interesting. It seemed to be a new trick to capture back my attention, who knows for what reason. It annoyed me; I felt that it insulted my intelligence because only a fool would believe in such a travesty.
“But the appearances, (or, should I say the visits) now became more frequent and insistent. The “man” continued showing up by my bed looking fixedly downward and repeating the tale of the treasure, adding every time that I was the sole beneficiary within my family while urging me to go recover the stash.
“By this time a friend had invited me to go across the border with him to the United States, to which I eagerly said yes for the convenience of getting a better job, but also for the opportunity to leave behind that cursed shadow which had now caused me to doubt my mental stability (I knew common folk did not have such experiences, and certainly not for such a long time).
“Then, as if aware of my imminent departure, the entity became frantically physical, to the extreme of picking me up from bed! I was awoken by the movement of being carried on his incredibly strong arms to the pigsty while “he” mumbled that the bounty of doubloons that was exclusively mine; he said it had been buried by my ancestors with the instruction of bestowing it to my mother´s eldest son, and so on.
“Well, by now I was intrigued. Not so much by the famous treasure but by the sheer strength an apparently flimsy shadow could muster. I had barely finished this thought when all of a sudden, we were in the pigsty surrounded by pigs. Pointing at them, the “shadow” said: ‘Look!’
“It took me a while to understand what was going on before I witnessed the impossible: some pigs were pushing gold coins through the dirt floor with their snouts! I just stood there in awe after realizing that the tale of the buried coins was real!
“I lost track of things and passed out. When I came to, I was was back in my bed. The memory of everything that had taken place in the sty came back to me as if in a dream, and that took away some credibility. Maybe that feeling boosted my decision to take the trip with the “pollero” to cross the border.
“I told my mum everything for the first time; about the sightings by my bed since childhood, and later by the headboard. I detailed how I was carried in his arms to the pigsty where I was shown the evidence verifying just what the “man” had said.
“At first, my mom only crossed herself in awe while rolling her eyes upward as if readying them for eye drops. But as the tale progressed, particularly when reaching the part about the “coins”, her ‘Oh-my-gods!’ and ‘Jeez!’ gave way to a shine in her gaze that projected greed and fake dismissal.
“‘Nonsense!’ she said. ‘You had a bad dream from which you have luckily awakened, and in quite a timely manner so that you don’t delay your departure to the United States!’ Soon, she had helped me pack my luggage and did everything possible to hasten my trip. I knew why she acted that way and all I felt was compassion. I thought that I´d be happy if she found the coins; and even if she didn't, at least an illusion would keep her busy in that barren land.
“So, I proceeded with my trip and left the ranch back in Michoacán. I crossed the border and settled in this land of gringos. It has been 27 years and I just hope to be taken back to my birthplace when I die to be buried by her side."
“But, what happened to the coins?” I asked, appalled at the indifference with which he regarded the prospect, although vague, of becoming rich. “Did your mum find it?” I asked hysterically!
“Well, my mother never said a word of what went on since I left, but I got to hear accounts, mainly gossip, from other folks in that little town. You know what they say: ‘Small town, big hell’.
“Please”, I said, “tell me! Did your mother become a millionaire? What did she do?"
Don Jose stared at me a bit longer than was comfortable and declared in his gentle and controlled voice that once her son left for the States, his mum hired a team of day laborers, gave them shovels and sacks, plus two donkeys, to remove the soil from the premises lest the neighbors noted something was amiss.
The men dug and dug but only found dirt. After a while the lady became impatient with the lack of results and went back to the kitchen, cursing and leaving the workers to continue the arduous excavation, but with too little hope of ever finding anything other than rocks and dust.
“Almost detached from what was happening at the pigsty,” said Don Jose, “mum resumed her kitchen chores; annoyed by the treasure fiasco, she almost forgot the peasants to whom she had promised lunch so as to spare them a trip to downtown.”
“That´s why it was no surprise when she saw them go by with bulky sacks carried by the beasts on their way out to rid the load and have lunch on their return. But after a long time went by, she decided to go to check on the pigsty, only to find a big sinkhole and no shovels, or sacks, or donkeys, much less a treasure made of gold coins.”
The laborers never came back nor were ever seen again around the place. It wasn't clear if they had found anything. However, a rumor spread that someone saw them in a faraway land, having become rich and powerful landlords. Meanwhile, Don Jose´s mother died, tormented by remorse and regret.
Don Jose rounded up his account with his head hanging down. Finishing the last of his beer, he kept saying how sorry he was while trying to wipe the tears sliding down his cheeks and merging with the beer in his mustache. Then, he got up and went in for another beer.