April 20, 2018 | Rome, Italy | °C

The Detained

By Olivia Kate Cerrone
Published: 2017-01-02

"Never got it," Mitchell said.

"I submitted it last week," Jean said.

Mitchell shook his head. "Don't know what to tell you. A man's got to wait his turn like everyone else."

They gave him a new work assignment in the mess hall as a server. Jean parceled out scoops of overcooked peas and Sloppy Joe meat, steam rising from the aluminum platters, coating his face with greasy moisture. Thoughts of Elyse plagued him. How much time was left before they forced him on a plane to Haiti? Afterward, when he told Anel, the same bright, unhinged look returned to his friend's eyes. It no longer frightened Jean.

"If you want them to listen, you got to get yourself heard," Anel said.

•

The men sat in their cells the next morning and waited there through breakfast, then shower time and rec hour. Several announcements appeared over the loudspeaker and were ignored. Soon the guards stood before them. McLaughlin bent over Jean's face, close enough to reveal the black fillings in his molars. The heat of his nicotine breath probed Jean's skin like dirty fingers.

"I will put every one of your immigrant asses on lockdown," he said.

They waited through the threats. The air blew colder from the vents, and the hot fluorescent lights burned hard throughout the night, making it impossible to sleep. Hunger spasms twisted across Jean's midsection, nausea drawing out each hard-won hour.

"All we have to do is make it past seventy-two hours," he said, echoing Anel's instruction. "That will demand some outside attention."

•

Before the second day reached evening, the guards came for Jean, pulling him from his cot and binding his wrists in cuffs. They escorted him to a new floor, past foreign corridors to a new cell with only a toilet and a slender cot. A ceiling camera captured the totality of the space. Solitary.

The first week passed without harm. Three times a day, a canteen-grade meal arrived through a small plastic window in the door. Often, Jean drew out Imad's portrait, and studied the reimagined lines and contours of his own face. His greatest challenge entailed keeping his mind distracted. Once, he discovered a layer of mold growing on the underside of his meat patty. He drank milk but refused the rest.

"If you don't eat, we will stick a fucking tube down your throat and make you eat," the guard said.

Jean ignored them. Ennui spread through his limbs, making his movements thick and slow. He tried to sleep away the hours, distorting his sense of time. Voices bent through the walls, hushed murmurings, like his mother caught in the trance of prayer-chant, enraptured by spirit voices. In Haiti, she'd given him ritual baths to cleanse him of demons when his father's beatings weren't enough. Jean's thoughts twisted in question, replaying that night outside that bar in Revere, when a man drew a knife on him. He fought back and served time for it. Perhaps Anel would soon rat him out. Jean thought again of his daughter's soft round cheeks and her warm applesauce scent. The silk skin of her feet as he pulled on her tiny socks, working them over her toes as she squealed in delight. The night ICE arrested him, Elyse watched in quiet bewilderment from the living room floor with her favorite fleece blanket. She blinked her wet eyes but did not cry.

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