March 21, 2018 | Rome, Italy | °C

The Detained

By Olivia Kate Cerrone
Published: 2017-01-02

Jean realized Devi's absence the next morning as he stood in his boxers, leaning against the washing machine, and waited for his uniform to clean. Only one pair was allowed. He ignored the derisive looks of those who passed through the rec room. Mitchell, who manned the Plexiglas station earlier that day, confirmed Devi's fate. He tossed Jean a towel but spoke nothing of the incident. Mitchell was cool that way. He often let the guys stay in bed at night when he did headcount, noting off each man with his silver mechanical clicker.

Jean nodded in thanks and draped the towel around his shoulders. He thought to ask about the status of his request, but Devi's absence muted him. How much Khmer could Devi speak? Jean wondered whether anyone in Phnom Penh or elsewhere in Cambodia might receive him at the airport. He'd never see the man again.

McLaughlin approached him, his small blue eyes twinkling in the middle of his wide, pink face. "You're supposed to be working," he said.

Jean crossed his arms and gazed at the Plexiglas station, where Mitchell sat, busying himself with some paperwork, ignoring them.

"Mess hall needs to be cleaned," McLaughlin said.

"Yes, sir," Jean said. He remained still.

McLaughlin's lips curved into a knowing smile. "The boys tell me you pissed all over the cell last night. Really stunk the place up. How about we start there first?"

"No one opened the door for me when I pushed the buzzer."

"Next time push harder."

Jean bit down on the insides of his mouth. He thought of Imad and looked away.

"Go fill one of those buckets and get moving," McLaughlin said.

Instead, Jean remained still and continued to stare past Mitchell and the other guards at the desk, who now eyed him with suspicion, and focused upon the metal automatic doors that sealed off the outside world. His chest emptied.

McLaughlin shot a hand over Jean's shoulder and tore him away from the washing machine. Jean pulled away from him. One of the guards stepped out from behind the desk. McLaughlin chuckled. A cold clarity broke over Jean. He turned for the mop and bucket nearby.


He made his decision later that week. A deportation officer visited the detention center during rec hour, making rounds with those requests printed on a list. Jean's name was not called. The guards behind the Plexiglas window only regarded him with boredom.

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