By June of 1980, Reyna and her siblings have been living at Abuela Evila’s house for six months. They have stayed mostly on their grandmother’s property, only venturing outside on Saturday mornings once Evila and Élida have gone to the market. These weekend mornings, they play in a nearby abandoned car, pretending that they are driving to El Otro Lado. In their imagination, it is just on the other side of the mountains that encircle the town of Iguala.
Reyna and her siblings play at escape when their grandmother isn’t around—they long to get away from her cruelty and join their parents from whom they have been separated. The children don’t yet know they’ll be separated from their parents for much, much longer.
Every other week, Mami’s mother, Abuelita Chinta, comes to visit them, and every two weeks their parents call them on the phone and they are each allowed to talk for two minutes. One night on the phone, Mami tells Reyna and her siblings some news: she is going to have a baby. That night, Mago worries aloud that Mami and Papi are replacing them with a new child. Already, the three of them have been living at Abuela Evila’s house for eight months, and now that Mami is pregnant, she surely won’t return to have her baby in Mexico—not when she could give birth to it in El Otro Lado and give it the gift of American citizenship. That night, Mago cries herself to sleep, and Carlos wets the bed while Reyna tries to tell herself that her parents won’t forget her.
The news that their parents are having another baby together and bringing another sibling into their lives does not fill Reyna, Carlos, and Mago with joy—rather, it fills them with dread as they begin to worry that their parents are trying to replace them so that they can stay in El Otro Lado forever.
The next day, Mago is despondent. She pulls out a world map and shows Reyna the distance between them and their parents on it. When Reyna reminds Mago of what Mago told her in the shack about always being connected to their parents, Mago admits that she “just made that up to make [Reyna] feel better.” Reyna grows angry and leaves the house, hiding out in the shack and tracing a circle around the spot where her umbilical cord is buried.
Mago is angry at their parents’ perceived betrayal, and wants Reyna, too, to feel as bad as she does. Reyna, in turn, feels betrayed by Mago, and lashes out in anger.
A woman from town named Doña Paula arrives with water—every few days, she brings water from the community well. She has her sons with her, and dotes on them as she goes about her errands. Mago and Reyna become jealous of the boys, and when Paula suggests all the children play together, Mago tells Reyna to go into the kitchen and get two tortillas. Reyna does so, and when she returns with them, Mago fills the flour shells with horse feces from the nearby corral. She then bullies Paula’s sons into eating the tacos, insisting they’re bean tacos.
Mago and Reyna are so angry and so hurt that they begin taking their fear and pain out on any child with a mother, angry at what they view as ostentatious displays of affection.
When the boys run back to their mother smelling of feces, Paula chastises Mago and Reyna, but they have already started running away. They climb up into a tree and hide to avoid Evila’s wrath. No one can get them down, and when Carlos arrives home from school, he climbs up into the tree with his sisters. Together, the three of them worry aloud that their parents will never come home. El Otro Lado is a magical place, and anything that comes from there, Reyna knows, is coveted. Now that her parents have tasted life in America—and are having a baby there—she fears they’ll never return.
Mago, Carlos, and Reyna seek solace in one another’s company and openly air their fears to one another for the first time. Their bad behavior is sure to get them in trouble, but that’s not what they’re focused on right now: they’re trying to be good and supportive of one another in the face of so much misery and uncertainty.
Carlos tries to distract his sisters from their sadness by telling jokes, and they laugh together until Tía Emperatriz comes out and forces them down. That evening, Abuela Evila makes each of the children cut a switch from the tree, and then beats them with the branches one by one.
Evila’s abuse continues, and even escalates as she forces the children to become participants in their own beatings.