Chapter 51

I wake up and notice the lights are out. Everyone else seems to be sleeping. My back is stiff from sleeping sitting up. I move my head and my neck complains. There is a funny taste in my mouth and feel my clothes to see if they’re wet. I check my hair, face, butt—nothing. I must have just slept with my mouth open again. I’m learning that sitting next to the toilet is one thing, sleeping next to it is a completely different experience. This must be one of those things you learn in jail that makes you street-wise. I rub the back of my neck and reflect on how much wiser I feel at this moment.

The lights turn on and the sound of several people walking down the hallway wakes up a few of the others.  As the door to my cell is opened and the new guys come in, even the heavier sleepers wake up to the shuffling and half-hearted greetings of tired and defeated souls.

There’s a juice box by my feet and it doesn’t look opened. I take the straw out of the plastic wrapper, punch it through the box and drink it all in a few seconds. I must have been really thirsty. It’s hard to say what I feel, really. Fear, an unfamiliar environment, and a pretty dismal future; those kinds of things tend to push out the lesser senses, like hunger, thirst, even bowel movements. I haven’t had to go to the bathroom the entire time I’ve been in a jail, and I haven’t seen anybody else go either. I’ll bet guards were constantly ferrying prisoners to the bathroom until they installed one in the cell. Then nobody has had to go ever since.

Trying to see a bright side, I guess it’s encouraging to see our invaders treated like this. Maybe they’ll think twice about sneaking into America again. On the not-so-bright-side, my own country thinks I’m one of these . . . guys.  This is so depressing. I feel that familiar cold satin glove grip my heart, and my attitude drops way below sea level. I really feel like crying right now, but I can’t. I gotta keep it together, or these guys will eat me alive.

Some people just stand around, not having room for much of anything else. I find myself unusually fortunate to have a nice comfy cement wall beside the toilet, where nobody else wants to be. Location, location, location! I feel like the Donald Trump of jailhouse real estate. Thinking about his hair, I pat my head to make sure I don’t have toilet hair.

A guard comes to the door and calls three names. Three guys go over to him, and they disappear around the corner. A little while later the same guard returns and calls three more names. They are escorted out of the cell and around the corner. My old familiar dark blanket swallows me whole, as I wait for the inevitable. I wonder where we go from here. Some place worse? Court?

“Jose Martinez, Julio Rodriguez, Pancho Villa.” The room is filled with a mixture of laughter and louder rumblings. All eyes are on us and I bet everyone in this cell is trying to figure out which one of us is Pancho Villa.

I drag myself up slowly, and try to look as non Pancho Villa as possible but my legs are asleep and my back and neck are stiff. I don’t move very . . . human-like. I shuffle and fall over to the door with about as much composure and grace as a paraplegic mummy.

Me and two other guys, are led into a small room, and the door closes behind us. The front door opens, and we are led out into a hallway and told to stand behind a yellow line painted on the floor. I lean against the wall until my legs wake back up. The other two guys look at me like I’m some kind of circus freak. It doesn’t bother me, I’m used to it by now.

All my life people have reacted strangely to my name. Kids made fun of me in elementary school and in junior high they asked me Mexican trivia questions, like I was supposed to know all things Mexican. Frickin’ idiots never stopped to look at themselves; in school and learning all things American.

My life didn’t really start to get interesting until high school. Last year, the popular kids began teasing me by giving themselves famous names like, “Elvis,” and, “George W. Bush,” and my personal favorite, “Yogi Bear.” Not the cartoon—the baseball guy. Yes, these were mental giants that were making fun of me. That dweeb didn’t even know Yogi Berra was a baseball player; he thought he was an old-time stand-up comedian like Abbott and Costello. The only reason he had even heard of Yogi Berra, was that somewhere he had heard one of his famous one-liners, and he liked to work it into almost every conversation you had with him, “where’s room 403? Just go down that way, and when you get to a fork in the hallway, take it.”  Who knows what ocean of humiliation I’ll be dunked in again this year.

The florescent lights in the ceiling are the only light we get in this windowless building, and they’re giving me a headache. At least I think it’s the lights.

One by one, we are taken out of here. When it’s my turn, I go inside and walk over to a window where a guard asks me my name, and then looks at me cross-eyed when I tell him. The only way I’m gonna get out of here, is if someone takes the time to actually look it up!

Will they ever realize that I’m an American, or will they continue acting like the dullards back in high school? Either way, I think I’m gonna need a lawyer. Hey, that’s it! A lawyer could help me get back home. Courts listen to them.

“Okay, Francisco . . .”  He says some stuff in Spanish, and I don’t have the patience for this right now.

“English. I speak English. I’m an American.”

“Yeah, right. You are registered in the system as, Francisco Villa, previously deported to Mexico from Arizona just a few days ago. If you thought that was a good name to use as an alias, I hope you think it’s funny ten years from now, because you’re stuck with that name now.”

Does he mean I wasn’t stuck with that name before?

“Seems now you smuggle drugs for a living?”

“No, these guys with machine-guns made us do it.”

“Who are these guys? Where did you meet them?”

“I don’t know who they were; I just met them in Tijuana an hour before they made us carry those backpacks into the tunnel. Hey, can I speak to a lawyer?”

“No need, we’re letting you go.” The guard hands me a ripped plastic bag. It looks like the same one I saw the other guard put all my stuff into, but my name must have fallen off. I look inside. There’s a bunch of white clothes inside. I guess this is going to be my new jail clothes. There’s a plastic bag with my phone numbers, and my St. Christopher’s medallion . . . I look at the guard.

“What’s the matter?”

“I don’t understand. What’s this?”

“That’s your stuff. We’re sending you back to Mexico. You’re no use to us.”

“My stuff?”

“Yeah, tus cosas.”

“But these are not my clothes.” Should I be complaining? I’m not going to prison.

“Are you sure?”

I look at the inventory stapled to the bag. “Do these look like Levi’s? And where are my boots?”

“If you’d like to file a complaint, you can see the officer at the front desk the next time you pass through.” He puts on a big smile.

That’s it? No boots and somebody else’s clothes? What the hell is going on? How hard is it to hang on to a plastic bag of clothes for a few hours?  “So I can go?”

“I can arrange an extended stay for you, if you’d rather.”

Shit. What else can I do? I pull out the clothes. Somebody is playing a practical joke on me. The pants and shirt seem to be made out of the same white cotton, and there’s a wide black cloth belt. I guess no one wanted my underwear, those are still here. I shoulda burned my shirt and pants too; I’d probably still have them. I’m gonna be barefoot without these Flip flops. This just keeps getting better. I change clothes quickly and the guard leaves.

When I finish getting dressed, I look at what I’m wearing. I feel like I’m going trick or treating. The guard returns, “Hey Pancho!” He tosses me a large, sombrero. I catch it before it hits me. He’s smirking at me, obviously getting me back for my smart-ass name. My father is lucky he’s dead, because if he weren’t—I’d kill him.

I walk out the door into a hallway and stand, barefoot, on the green line like everyone else. After a few more of us are gathered together, we are led out into a yard surrounded on three sides by a high chain-link fence with curly barbed wire all around the top. Daylight is just beginning to gain a foothold on wherever the heck I am.

All the other guys stay away from me. They must be laughing at the gringo with the Mexican clothes. Someone here has got to be wearing my father’s clothes. They are all I have left of my dad and I pity the guy who is wearing them.

When enough of us assemble, or when they run out of deportees to put in this holding pen, we are led into that small truck again and we go for another ride, this time without handcuffs.

Mike J Quinn About Mike J Quinn
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