I left the airport in the late morning severely hung over after the beers and tequilas at the Angus. On cruise control I ambled along the hangars and warehouses of the freight companies and customs brokers next to the terminals. After passing these I continued along a high wall in front of a relatively old and abandoned neighborhood with the poetic name Cuchillo del Tesoro, the Treasure Knife. The houses were all finished, thee stories high, or more, and the area had a consolidated look. However there were practically no shops, and little graffiti along this wall separating the neighborhood from the airport. It somehow all seemed a bit dusty, though there was little of the rubble associated with building that I was by now accustomed to.
I had now passed Iztapalapa and Ciudad Nezahualcóyotl, as well as Valle de Chalco and Chimalhuacán, some of the areas with the worst reputations. Nothing had happened to me.
As the sun lingered over the dusty asphalt by an abandoned basketball court I was beginning to feel that the edge of the city was not as bad as it was made out to be.
My cell phone rang. I took it out of my pocket and wandered up the basketball court, discussing exactly the point that I was finding the trip less dangerous than I had thought. I aimlessly paced the basketball court in front of the empty street, with the vast white wall along the airport behind me.
Suddenly a police-car stopped in front of me on the street. I put the phone in my pocket. A single officer stepped out of the car. He was alone, in his thirties, fit and wearing aviator sunglasses, fully uniformed, a Mexico City cop. He ordered me to come over.
He asked me what I was doing there. Bleary from the hangover I started to explain that I was on a walk around the edge of the city. He cut me short and asked me to empty my pockets. As a journalist in Mexico one is often stopped by the police. Never have I been so thoroughly frisked. I emptied my bag down to the last scrap of paper.
With brisk unsmiling politeness he asked me to empty the pockets. He himself never touched a thing. In a street market I had bought a little military looking telescope thinking that it might be of use, it was Chinese-made with black rubber coating. He took it in his hand looked at it quizzically, laughed and handed it back to me shaking his head.
He called off a second unit. He ordered me to turn my bag inside out. A small lap-book, a camera, my wallet, a change of clothes, and two books lay on the pavement beside me. The street was empty and there was no traffic. We were alone as planes roared into the sky just behind the wall.
Then he asked me for my ID. I was carrying the small green booklet of my FM3 migratory paper and handed it to him. Fear was beginning to clear my mind. He opened the booklet. He immediately saw that the document had expired. I was in the country illegally.
He told me he would have to take me to the police department. I told him that I had just walked 13 days to get here, all of it on foot. The whole point of this project was that it all be on foot. If I got into the car it would ruin the concept. I could not get into the car.
I said it was true that my FM3 had expired, and I was sorry about that, but I was meaning to put that right.
He asked why I hadn’t fixed this problem earlier.
I looked up at the sky. I couldn’t think of anything to say. Finally I sighed and admitted that it was a lot of paper work and I just hadn’t gotten around to it. I was very bad at that kind of thing. I’d take care of it as soon as I got back.
He insisted he had to take me to migration authorities. I explained to him again why I couldn’t get into the car. He waved away even the slightest suggestion of a bribe. I told him of the different places I’d walked through and had just spent the night in the airport. I could not get into the car under any circumstance. Finally he gave in. He would let me off with a warning.
He ordered me to walk inwards to the nearest large avenue and continue my route along that avenue until I was out of Cuchillo del Tesoro.
This is a very dangerous neighborhood, he said. In this neighborhood, this abandoned basketball court where I was nonchalantly telephoning was the most dangerous place. Suppose somebody came up to me while I was aimlessly looking at the sky talking and stabbed me and took my telephone. Who would get the blame when they found my body? He would.
He insisted I walk inwards to the avenue. Sobered I cut three blocks inwards among the empty streets and decaying houses. I wondered who had called the police.