Imaginary cousin

The late-night call frightened us, of course. It could only be an emergency at that hour. I sat, heart pounding, listening to a conversation in Spanish. Had something happened to a relative in Colombia?
This was in the early 2000’s, when we had just moved to a remote rural town in Virginia. The call came from outside the closest Walmart, which was 40 miles away. Back then, a phone directory listing names and addresses hung from a chain in every phone booth.
“I don’t have a cousin Felipe,” my husband said. “Nobody in my family lives in Mexico.”
After hanging up, he explained the call. The person had said that Felipe Ibañez was with him, had just arrived from Mexico, and we could pick him up if we brought the money he owed for his trip across the border.
The call left a lot of unanswered questions. Why would someone travel from Mexico to Gloucester, Virginia? Were we the only Ibañez family in the book? Or was that even his name? Did this person actually exist? Was someone just dialing every Hispanic surname? What would happen if someone showed up with cash? Would there be an immigrant waiting to go home with us? Or a lone robber with a gun?
Sometimes I still think about that imaginary cousin. Maybe he could have helped keep the goats from the rose garden. He might have gotten a job at the fish factory or the crab-packing plant and come for dinner every Sunday. His children would be graduating from high school now. We’d have a big party in the yard.
Twenty years ago, you could get a lot for a few hundred dollars.

This reminiscence was inspired by VJ’s Weekly Challenge on scams.


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