“This is what distracts me and gives me peace,” Vargas says. “At least for a while, you forget your problems.”
Vargas — gentle, parental toward his friends — left a southern Mexican town 16 years ago when he could barely feed his three young daughters. He intended to stay in the United States a year, but his youngest has Down syndrome, and he stayed to pay for her care. He sends home $200 a month. Now, he has a 5-year-old son with his partner here, and no plans to leave. “I left my daughters when they were young. I don’t want to leave my son when he is young.”
García — energetic, always making plans — was a taxi driver in Honduras before coming to the United States six years ago. He sends money to support his 16-year-old daughter, who will enroll in a Honduran university next year. After saving $10,000 more, he hopes to return in a year.
Every weekday from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., the men load cardboard onto a conveyor belt at a Baltimore recycling plant for $8 an hour.
García then packs bread in a bakery from 10:30 p.m. to at least 2:30 a.m.
Saturday García sleeps. Sunday he fishes.
“I come to pass a tranquil time,” he says.
They stuff the big fish into the trunk of Vargas’s old, green Buick LeSabre and transport it to the nearby apartment of friends, where one of them, Margoth Arita, will cook the soup.
García cleans the fish in the kitchen sink and slices it crosswise into medallions. Arita chops onions, carrots and celery into a big pot of boiling water, then adds saffron seasoning and the fish. She pours in a liquified mixture of tomatoes, garlic and more onion.
On other occasions, they fry the fish. Once, a friend made Anacostia catfish ceviche.
As the soup simmers, word spreads. More than a dozen friends gather in the living room for dinner and to hear García tell the story of how two plucky heroes landed the leviathan of the Anacostia.
Arita sets out a plate of cilantro, hot peppers and limes, and a stack of warm corn tortillas.
The broth tastes rich and spicy. The fish is a little chewy, and quite filling.
“Very rich,” says García.
“A delicacy,” says Vargas.
A neighbor produces a homemade caramel cake for dessert.
García leans back contentedly, his hands on his belly.
“That’s a lot of people fed with one fish,” he says as night falls.