Sinesio lives with his family in Mexico in a "ramshackle colonia," a collection of makeshift dwellings with tin, wooden, or cardboard roofs. The squalid shacks are surrounded by muddy pathways, which regularly turn into rushing arroyos because of the incessant rain. Each day when he arrives home on the autobus from his job in the mattress sweatshop, Sinesio's wife, Faustina, takes a brief rest from ironing the "shirts and dresses of people who could afford the luxury" to unlatch the door and let him in. She then returns to her work until it is time to begin cooking. Dinner is always ready when their three children arrive.
On this day, Sinesio trudges in and puts his "tattered lunchbag," week's wages, and a lottery ticket on the table. Faustina angrily berates him for squandering his meager earnings on "paper dreams," but Sinesio ignores her. He picks up an envelope with a U.S. stamp on it. In the envelope is a letter from his brother Aurelio, who has made the arduous journey over "two mountains" to cross the border to America. Aurelio has secured a job in a canning factory and is making good money, though his expenses are high. He writes that if Sinesio will come and join him, he is sure he can get Sinesio a job too.
As Sinesio sits pensively, Faustina nags him, which is a reminder that his miserable job at the mattress factory will never pay enough for them to survive. When she pauses to observe the rain seeping in from the "heavily patched glass" on the door, Sinesio speaks up, "gruffly and with authority." The decision is made: he will leave for America—el norte—in two weeks.
The rain stops, and Sinesio goes outside to help a neighbor widen a ditch to keep the water from flooding. The children come home, and Faustina tells them that Papa will be going away. The children know exactly what that means: many of their friends' fathers have already made the fateful journey; after their own father goes, many others will do the same.
During the following days, Sinesio secures his family and home in preparation for his departure. He tells everyone, "One year, no more," but in truth, he does not know when he will return. On his trip home on his last day at work, the autobus is packed. Two young men are looking at a newspaper and talking loudly about a lottery prize that has gone unclaimed for a week; they conjecture that the winner probably does not even know that he has won a hundred million pesos.
Sinesio remembers the lottery ticket he had bought. When the men disembark, he...
(The entire section is 672 words.)