The fire crackles behind me. It is chilly and the night is dark and quiet. Light emanates from the TV in front of us playing Iron Man in Spanish. Boris, Trin, and I are sitting in the living room of Boris’ house unwinding from a busy day.
“What was one of your scariest nights when you were living on the streets?” I ask Boris.
At the age of 11, Boris was turned out by his single mother who was struggling to make ends meet and could no longer care for him.
“Oh the guerrillas! My buddy and I were almost taken by the guerrillas in Colombia,” he exclaims as he sits up and leans forward, his face filled with animation.
He goes on to recount the story and I can almost feel the breeze growing colder as he tells the story of two young boys huddled in the back of a sheep truck that was climbing a mountain outside of Cali, Colombia, the darkness penetrating and fog descending as the jungle closed in.
Boris and Kervin, then eleven and nine, were both living on the streets of Bogota when they decided to head out for places with more food and better opportunity. They set out to go to Cartagena. After hitching multiple rides they fell asleep in a truck. When they awoke they found themselves bound for Ecuador and having been convinced by other riders that Quito was better they continued toward Ecuador.
Along the way they snuck into another large truck and hid among the sheep and chicken in the back. The truck had joined a convoy of about twenty other vehicles traversing the dangerous mountain pass on the way to Cali, Colombia. There the lull of the motor and the warmth of the sheep had them once again slumbering.
Maybe it was the movement of the truck ceasing that woke Boris that fateful night. The convoy had stopped.
“I woke up. It was cold, and I needed to pee. I was confused,” Boris says in a disoriented manner, as he re-enacts the moment.
“I tried to get up but a hand covered my mouth and pulled me down,” he says, miming the motion with his own hand.
Kervin had pulled him down and motioned for him not to move and to be quiet. With his eyes he pointed out the slatted sides of the truck to the man with an assault rifle and a mask on his face. The man was walking slowly beside the truck, inspecting it, only a few feet from where Boris was hiding. Hiding in the darkness, so that they would not be discovered.
The convoy had been stopped by a guerrilla group. All of the drivers and passengers from the cars were being ordered at gun point to leave their vehicles and pile in the back of the truck where Boris and Kervin were hiding. The truck being the largest vehicle was being used as a holding cell by the guerrillas.
The car that was in front of the convoy decided to try make a run for it. With tires spinning, the car began to pull away. The heavily armed men opened fire.
The driver was immediately shot and killed, and the car flipped. The guerrillas pulled out the other passenger out of the car and threw him into the back of the truck. He had been shot in the leg and was bleeding all over. He moaned for help and writhed in pain as Boris and his friend watched from their hiding place in horror and fear for their lives.
Boris and Kervin knew that if they were discovered they would not be let go.
“We had no papers so we would have been forced to become child soldiers,” he says as the fire from the woodstove reflects against his bright eyes.
The other drivers attempted to help the bleeding man who was screaming so loudly that the guerrillas pulled him out of the truck, stripped him of all his clothes and dragged him off into the dense jungle.
Silence descended and everyone waited in fear. As time passed they began to wonder if they should leave. Eventually everyone slowly climbed out of the truck to make their way back to their vehicles.
Suddenly someone yelled out that the guerillas were coming back and everyone scrambled back into the truck again.
After much harassment eventually the convoy was released by the militant group. The vehicles slowly began to break up and head down the road. Boris and Kervin still hidden among the sheep gazed at the car flipped beside the road where a man died before their eyes.
They did not sleep the rest of the way to Ecuador. For two nights they lay awake with fear and shock but tinged with relief that they were living to see another day.
Eventually they ended up in Quito. With only cardboard as a bed Boris slept on the street shivering in the cold night after night in a city eight thousand feet above sea level.
“Scariest night of my life,” Boris says as he shakes his head. He goes to the fireplace to put more wood on the fire.
“The Spirit was looking out for me that night,” he adds.
It is late and we are all tired. Boris bids us “buenas noches” and heads up to his room. Trin and I watch some TV for a few more minutes, but soon turn in for the night.
To be continued . . .