Jesus Cortez

The Song of the Owl 


Jesus Cortez is an undocumented writer and poet from West Anaheim, California. His work is inspired by his upbringing in the city during the 1990’s, raised by a single mother. Jesus’ work has appeared in Harvard Palabritas, Tule Review, the Acentos Review, and Dryland literary journal. Through his works, he hopes to shed light on the people and stories about the city that tend to be ignored by the mainstream.

IG: @staytrue_ahm

Little Nite Owl hated the summer. He despised the heat, and every summer he was reminded that vacations were for the rich. Once school was over, his duty was to help his uncle mow lawns. But after work, the streets were his refuge. And this summer he’d grown into a man—or so he thought. At fifteen, he had already seen some of the worst life had to offer. It was 1994. He had grown a few inches, had gotten some muscle on his skinny frame, and, thanks to Big Nite Owl, he’d picked up better fighting skills.

The first Friday of summer in Anaheim was always the same: more people on the streets, or at parks, young men and women standing in front of their apartments, trying to stay cool, maybe looking out for their enemies. That Friday was a short workday. Little Nite Owl couldn’t wait to finish work and hit the streets. When the work was done, his uncle Juan gave him $50 for the week. Little Nite Owl wasn’t too happy, but did not complain, even though in his mind he thought he deserved more. Juan had been taking care of his mom, two sisters and him since they were young. Now, he spent his weekends in cantinas, just as he did in Mexico. At least he had $50 in his pocket, Little Nite Owl thought—more than his friends carried in their pockets.

His uncle dropped him off on the corner of Broadway and Magnolia, and he walked the rest of the way to his apartment complex. Upon arriving, he gave his mom a kiss and handed her the $50. He jumped in the shower and got ready. He called his best friend Speedy on the phone.

         “Hey stupid. You ready?” asked Little Nite Owl.

         “Simon. Meet up at the liquor store in front of Magnolia high?” replied Speedy.

         “Hmm, I don’t know, foo. You know how shit is in that area,” said Little Nite Owl.

         “If you’re scared, I can walk to your house foo,” said Speedy a bit irritated.

         “I’m not scared, fucker…alright, I’ll meet you there cabron,” said Little Nite Owl with a nervous laugh.

         “Alright then, don’t trip. You know I got your back,” said Speedy as he hung up.


Before he left his apartment, Little Nite Owl got an earful from his mother. She hated his clothing. His baggy clothes scared her, and ever since he cut his hair down to zero clip, she could not get him to let it grow again. She knew he would not change, but prayed for him anyway .

         “Dios te bendiga cabron…y no me mires haci pinche Juanito. Nomas no te andes metiendo en problemas. Antes que te vallas, ten veinte dolares, pa que no andes en la calle sin ni un peso,” she told him as he stepped out into the streets.

         “Si si mama. No se preocupe tanto. Yo me se cuidar,” Little Nite Owl replied with a grin.

         “Hay mijo chulo, me preocupas tanto, pero igual no haces caso…” she said, as he turned and said nothing.

He knew she worried about him, but the streets were all he knew. School had been a joke after elementary school. Additionally, his undocumented status prevented him from thinking about a possible future. What hopes did he have of becoming a lawyer or a doctor, he thought? Might as well enjoy life the only way he knew. The streets were dangerous, but there was a certainty to them. He knew who his enemies were and only had a few friends he trusted. His mind was all over the place. What a weird time to be thinking about life, it’s the first Friday of summer, he thought. To quiet the voice in his head, he put on his earphones and turned on his Walkman. Oldies will keep my mind at ease, he thought. From his earphones came the voices of Smokey Robinson, Mary wells and Al Green, and he sang along to “Love and Happiness.” He walked down Magnolia, past Broadway, on Orange he turned left and then he cut through Velare Street until he reached Ball Road. He would then just walk about half a mile down Ball Road until he reached the liquor store, where Speedy would be waiting.

Once he reached the liquor store, he waited in front for about five minutes before Speedy came running, evidently worried.

         “Foo, remember that foo you got down with before school ended?” asked Speedy, trying to catch his breath.

         “That leva Casper? Yeah so,” replied Little Nite Owl.

         “I saw his two older brothers on the way here” replied Speedy.

         “Ok and? what the fuck you tellin me for?” said an irritated Little Nite Owl.

         “I’m just saying foo, what if they see you and wanna fuck you up ‘cause you fucked up their little brother,” said a now irritated Speedy.

         “Oh fucken well, come on lets go see the big homie Nite Owl, he said he was gonna be home and I wanna get drunk tonight ese”, said a smiling Little Nite Owl.

         “This foo, alright then, if you’re not trippin, I’m not trippin, lets go” said a now smiling Speedy as he put on his dark sunglasses.

They went inside the liquor store, got some chips and ice tea and walked out into the warmth of the city. The sun was still out, and Little Nite Owl was irritated, he preferred the winter. They were about to cross Ball Road onto the Magnolia high school side when they spotted a light blue pick up truck driving down Ball Road. It was the same truck Speedy had warned Little Nite Owl about.

         “Lets cut through Magnolia high, foo,” Little Nite Owl stated as they picked up the pace.

He placed his hand in his brown Dickie’s pocket, caressing the blade of his knife. Speedy put his hand in his black Dickie’s pocket, holding his sharpened screwdriver tightly.

The truck made a u-turn and pulled up next to the two friends. Little Nite Owl saw it from the corner of his eye but did not run—he did not want to show fear.

         “Where you vatos from?” asked the passenger, a strong stench of alcohol coming from inside the truck.

         “Don’t fucken worry about it, ay,” replied Little Nite Owl quickly.

         “Is that right, leva? So you’re that punk who jumped my little brother Casper?” asked the driver.

         “Jumped? My homeboy fucked him up by himself,” replied an angered Speedy, as he clutched his screwdriver.

         “Well, fuck you, foos!” yelled the driver, clearly drunk.

         “Nah, fuck you, levas. Wait ‘til my homeboy Nite Owl finds out about this,” replied Little Nite Owl as he perceived a shiny object in the hand of the passenger.

The friends tried to make a run for it. Speedy ran faster. Litte Nite Owl fell behind a few steps. He thought about turning around and throwing the bottle of ice tea at them, but as he turned he felt the weight of the truck hit his slim body. He flew a few feet. The truck made a quick u-turn and sped off into the city.

Ya ya mi xocoyote, ya no llore, ya, ya…

The young woman tried to comfort her child, but he would not stop crying. Her frustration made her cry too. She placed a wet rag on the child’s forehead, but the fever would not go down. It had not gone down in days. When she had taken the child to the doctor, he was not able to give her a clear diagnosis. She felt hopeless as she cried and held her baby tightly. She had pleaded to god and prayed the rosary with her drunken brother, but her child would just not get any better. It was still sunny, and her two older daughters played outside with the neighbor’s children. She heard their giggling and felt frustrated, but she understood that they were still children and they wanted to feel some joy.

Her daughters returned from playing outside. The neighbor, Doña Elena was with them.

         “Como esta comadre Mari? Me dijeron sus niñas que no se compone el Juanito,” she asked, as she caressed the child’s forehead.

         “No comadrita, mi niño nomas no mejora, ya no se que hacer” replied a teary eyed Marisol.

         “Y porque no va con Doña Adelaida”, asked Doña Elena, trying to give hope to a visibly distressed Marisol.

         “Y no dicen que es bruja esa señora? Hay comadrita, uste sabe que a mi no me gustan esas cosas” replied Marisol, not wanting to take her child to the town’s curandera. Her catholicism did not let her put trust in anyone else but god.

         “Pero comadre, quiere que se componga el chamaco o no? Mire que a mi muchacho lo curo, y a mi otro chamaco le ayudo cuando se fue de pelada…sus contrarios nunca lo encontraron, y pos ya ve, ahorita alla anda en el norte”, insisted Elena.

         “Pues ya ni se comadre, estoy tan desesperada…ya lo lleve al doctor, ya me heche quien sabe cuantos rosarios…ya no se que hacer” replied Marisol, frustrated and patting her child so he would stop crying. He would stop crying for a few minutes and continue. The fever would come and go, but it had been present for days. Doña Elena eventually left. The sun had gone down, and she had gone back to feed her husband who had worked in the sugar cane fields all day. Marisol had no such worries. The father of her children had left when she was pregnant with Juanito. Now that her baby boy was sick, she only counted on her daughters who were five and seven and her drunk younger brother Juan.

         “Mija, ya es tarde y tu tio no regresa…hay ese Juan, como me preocupa…queria que les hechara un ojo a ti y a tu hermana, pero no regresa…le puedes hechar un ojo a tu hermanita?” asked Marisol.

         “Si ama aqui cuido a la Ines, no se preocupe. mi tio seguro se paso a la cantina despues de la chamba” replied Marisol’s oldest daughter Xochitl.

         “Bueno, entonces si regresa, hay le abres la puerta, pero te aseguras que sea el, no le habras a nadie..regreso en un rato…espero que no sea demasiado tarde” said Marisol, as she wrapped Juanito in her rebozo and carried him on her bosom.

         “Ya ya mi niño…ya no llore mi xocoyote…” Marisol whispered to her baby boy and walked out. She covered her head with her other rebozo and walked across town, to the outskirts where Doña Adelaida lived. She hesitated, but was desperate. As she approached the door, she felt fearful. She knocked anyway. It was late, but she could not wait another day. The door opened. A short, wrinkled faced woman opened the door. She was covered in a black rebozo and a long flowery white dress.

         “Doña Adelaida, necesito su ayuda…por favor…ya se que es tarde, uste disculpe, pero ya no se que hacer, por favor ayude a mi niño” pleaded Marisol.

         “Pasate muchacha, pasate..con cuidado…pero pasate” replied Doña Adelaida with a smile. Marisol did not expect such sweetness from the woman whom the local priest had constantly called a bruja, a witch who worked with the devil. She walked inside the small one room shack. The walls were sticks and dried mud. The roof was thin old aluminum sheets. Marisol was greeted by the scent of candles and flowers.

         “Pasale mija, no tengas verguenza…quieres un cafecito o algo?” asked Doña Adelaida.

         “No no, como cree…ya es suficiente con que me atienda…si me puede ayudar pues” replied Marisol with a shy smile.

         “Hay muchacha, pos como no te voy ayudar, si conoci a Maria, tu mama…” Doña Adeilada stated with a smile, as to assure Marisol that she would help her find what was wrong with Juanito. Marisol shed a tear. Her mother died when Marisol was only ten years old, and she and her brother Juan had been raised by other family members, who, at best, neglected them. Marisol missed her mother, and whenever someone brought up her name, she was saddened.

         “No llores muchacha, los muertos nunca nos dejan…que acaso no te enseñó nada tu mama?” Doña Adelaida asked with a smile.

         “Si, pero en la iglesia dicen que son puras creencias que van contra diosito…y pues bueno” replied a seemingly embarrassed Marisol.

         “Bueno, si quieres que te ayude vas a tener que creer en estas cosas que tu le llamas creencias, pero que pa mi son cosas que me enseño mi mama y mi abuelita” insisted Doña Adelaida as she sipped on her coffee.

         “Ta bien, nomas cure a mi chamaco,” replied Marisol.

         “Haber pues dime, an pasado cosas raras hay en tu casa,” asked Doña Adelaida.

         “Pos, nada que me escame…nomas un tecolote que de repente nomas se para en un arbol en frente de mi casa” replied Marisol.

         “Pero muchacha, tu sabes lo que significa eso…es mala…” exclaimed Doña Adelaida, but was interrupted halfway by Marisol.

         “Mala señal? Si mi mama, me platicaba que cuando su tio ‘taba enfermo se paro un tecolote blanco cerca de su cama, y luego luego se murio, pero pos como le digo, pense que eran puros cuentos y creencias…” stated Marisol, with a bit of shame in her tone.

         “Pos esta bien muchacha, dejame a tu chamaco y salte un ratito, tengo que ver que puedo hacer, y tengo que estar sola con el” stated Doña Adelaida as she lit a few candles and grabbed some rue branches.

         Marisol stepped out of the wooden door. It was chilly now. She covered her head with the rebozo and waited. She wondered why she had bothered coming here. Was the catholic god she prayed to not answering her prayers because she was unmarried, what would god think after her coming to see this lady. She was fearful, but she talked herself into having faith in this woman who she had never interacted with. Hopefully all the stories she heard about her healing were true, she thought to herself. A few minutes passed, and the woman opened the door.

Marisol walked inside to the scent of rue and candles, as her son slept peacefully. After days of crying, she felt peace in her heart, and nearly shed a tear. Juanito smiled as he slept. Doña Adelaida spoke in a tired voice.

         “Mira muchacha, pa que tu chamaco se acabe de curar, tienes que vestirlo de San Martin de Porres por una semana,” she commanded Marisol.

         “San Martin de Porres? Y como le voy hacer?” asked a perplexed Marisol.

         “Pidele prestada su maquina de coser a Elena, le dices que yo te dije, y le coses un trajesito a tu chamaco, y al fin de esa semana regresas, pero tienes que tener fe que va estar bien Juanito, tienes fe chamaca?” asked Doña Adelaida.

         “Si doña, si tengo fe, voy hacer todo lo que me dijo…gracias, muchas gracias” replied Marisol as she reached for the old woman’s hand to kiss. Doña Adelaida refused and told her to always be dignified and never kiss anyone’s hand. She was just a woman who saw another woman in need of help, and since she could help, she saw no reason to do otherwise. For a week, Juanito was dressed as San Martin de Porres. The owl never showed up at the tree again.

Chamacao, despiertate…Chamaco! Todavia no te toca, levantate, abre los ojos!

Little Nite Owl opened his small brown eyes. He turned and saw his Walkman in pieces across the parking lot. His friend Speedy was next to him, almost crying, but holding back.

         “Fuck foo, I thought you were a goner, ese,” exclaimed Speedy with a sigh of relief.

         “Where’s the old woman?” Little Nite Owl asked.

         “What woman? No mames—it’s just me foo, nobody came to help,” replied Speedy.

         “Foo, I heard her voice…help me up…I straight up heard her voice telling me to get up, that it wasn’t my time to go yet ay,” Little Nite Owl stated as he rose to his feet, rubbing the side of his head. He had a few scratches on his face, and some minor pain on his head, but other than that, he was fine.

         “Foo, I don’t know what you’re talking about, it’s just you and me…come on, we gotta get you to the hospital or to your canton so your jefita can take care of you,” said Speedy as he patted Little Nite Owl on the back.

         “Nah holmes, lets go to the pay phone, these levas gotta pay,” replied Little Nite Owl, more angered than relieved to be alive.

         “Foo, I thought you were gonna die, lets just go to your canton, caile,” insisted Speedy.

         “Foo, I’m not playin—fuck these vatos! I’m gonna call Nite Owl and tell him to come pick me up…if you wanna go home, fuck it, it’s alright, I’ll handle this shit by myself,” replied Little Nite Owl as he turned to Speedy, still shaken up by what had happened and by the voice he had heard. Speedy had been his friend since Little Nite Owl arrived from Mexico, he was not about to let him down now, he thought.

         “Fuck it then, lets go. But lets cross through Magnolia high—there’s a pay phone at the liquor store on Winston and Dale. We’ll call from there, just to make sure those chavalas aren’t around,” said Speedy as he shook Little Nite Owl’s hand.

         “Simon!” exclaimed Little Nite Owl.

The two friends walked across Magnolia high school. On a tree, they spotted a white owl. They turned to each other and smiled. They kept walking and got lost in the darkness of the city. 



© The Acentos Review 2021