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  • Above my bunk in the hallway was a barred window which looked out on a concrete courtyard and on the other side I could see the heavy wooden door that the visitors came through. That door opened from the inside and a great squeal of rusted hinges would announce one who would step through from the outside and look about squinting into the bright sunlight -- it might be a lawyer, a social worker, a brother, a wife bringing food or a messenger whistling and calling someone’s name.

    Through my window, I could watch visitors enter and leave – a few on weekdays, whole families on Sundays. On some Sundays, I would watch and wait for F., my lover, my closest friend, my savior. She would have written to me to tell me when she might come and then the days between would be filled with both the excitement that I would soon see her, and the dread that I might not.

    On the days, when the door squealed open and F. stepped through, I would stub out my cigarette, swing away from my window and barge through the crowded hallways to join the waiting receiving line of men. Dread and doubt were silenced as I thought of what I might first say or do to let her know what her being there meant to me.

    She would smile and hand me a bolsa of the books and toothpaste and socks and tea that I had written asking her to bring. And then we would walk quickly to a less crowded place where we might hold hands and look at each other and cry a little and kiss, even though others might be watching. Then we would crowd into one of the food stands and eat tacos and drink sodas and enjoy them like the best food we had ever tasted. Or we would push back through the crowded halls into a corner of my cell block and spend the day talking about friends back home, or what the lawyer had said, or what we would do with the rest of our lives once we were gone from this place.

    But on many days she might not make it through that door. Because if the bus had broken down, or the commandante was being a prick, or there were too many visitors already inside, or her dress was too short, or she had forgotten to take the makeup out of her purse, or if her name was not on the list, or my name was on some other list -- the reasons were endless and always unpredictable and they would keep her out. She might get a message to me, or sometimes not, and then I would just not know.

    On those days, I would stand at the window, waiting and watching all day. Every visitor…one by one…all the day. I stared, and smoked, and waited. Freshly shaved by the barber, wearing a clean shirt and pants, shiny shoes, I would watch as others' friends, wives, or families came in carrying little baskets of simple food or fresh clean clothes or books or remedies, or cheap guitars to play throughout the day, and always, growing babies playing in this now too familiar hallway.

    A gringo, I had been a novel sight at first to these local families, but over time we became friendly and they shyly nodded at me as they passed me at my window. They would often invite me to sit with them on the crowded bunks and share a simple meal. I might take a handmade taco or a piece of fruit, smile my thanks, and quickly return to my window to see if F. might have yet come through the big door into the courtyard.

    At days end, If she had not made it in, these kind families would also notice, and as they passed me leaving for their homes, they might pat my elbow and give me that quick smile that those who already know waiting offer to one who is just learning to wait.
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