The Captive’s Tale
I came to the states from Mexico in 1985. Came over with two buddies, having heard tales of work and wages. Crossing the border was not as difficult then as it is now, and we were young and adventurous, not having much of any idea what to expect. Guillermo knew of an amigo of a cousin who lived in NC, so we made our way there where we were welcomed to stay in the little 2-room tenant house with some 10, maybe 15 others, and we were welcomed as day pickers with them in the fields. We spoke only Spanish, but managed to communicate mostly through gestures with the English-speaking farmer, and we picked up a word here and there: truck, sack, beer, tractor, money, boss, cows, gas, hot . . .
Evenings, and especially weekends, we would unwind by drinking a few beers and telling tales of Mexico. One night I was driving into town to pick up more beer, and I ended up in jail. The officer who arrested me spoke only English, and I didn’t understand what he was trying to say to me, or where or why he was taking me. I was locked in a cell, talked to by more men I couldn’t understand, and then left alone.
A couple of hours later the deputy brought in a young woman, in her teens or 20’s, who could speak some Spanish. She interpreted between the man and me, explaining to me that I had broken some United States laws and that they would be keeping me a while. They treated me kindly, gave me a Bible and some books to read in Spanish, and the deputy later even brought me a pen and paper when I requested them.
Left to myself, I couldn’t stop thinking about the young woman. She was so pretty and so nice, and I had never met an English-speaking person who could speak Spanish. I’d hardly even seen a woman since I left Mexico, except one who belonged to one of the other men, and you know I missed them! Surely God must have brought her to me. With no one around but God, I prayed. I prayed that I could talk to the woman again. Then I had an idea. I’d write her a letter. No, I didn’t know her last name, but I’d throw the letter out the cell window and hope it would find her. I prayed, I wrote, and I threw it out onto the ground.
The Sheriff’s Tale
In the 1980's a small rural town like ours didn't have much real crime. Somewhat like the fictional Mayberry, we might answer an occasional call for some kids having a little too much fun, maybe a hunter who shot a doe out of season, or a little more often, a Mexican migrant worker drinking behind the wheel.
There weren’t many Spanish-speakers in NC then – just a few seasonal crop workers from Mexico who would show up here for part of the year and migrate to Florida during the winters. They were appreciated for their labor and left to their own different but mostly harmless ways of life. The only interpreter in town, whenever we needed one, was the local Spanish teacher. It wasn’t unusual for one of the deputies to call her in the middle of the night to come down to the jail.
Such was the case that night in 1985. The offender was brought in about 2:00 in the morning, so I wasn’t at the jail, but I think he was arrested for DUI and driving without a license, and maybe a third charge too. I'm not sure. Too long ago. Anyway, the man refused to respond to the arresting officer in English and pretended not to understand him. That’s the game they all like to play. They can understand when they want to.
The next day I was walking around the grounds, partly as routine, partly to get outside, and I picked up a piece of paper with some scribble on it. It looked like it was probably Spanish. It was on the ground underneath a second floor jail cell window. I started to toss it in the trash, but remembered that my grandson was taking Spanish at the high school, and in mere curiosity I stuffed the note into my pocket to see if he could read it.
No, he couldn’t understand it, he said as he studied the scribbles, but he asked if he could take it to his Spanish teacher, and I said OK and forgot about it.
The Teacher’s Tale
Students were always bringing me things to translate. That day one of my students had a dirty crumpled piece of notebook paper and asked if I could tell him what it said. I looked at it and quickly looked back at the student to see if this was a joke. No, he was clueless. I felt a Twilight Zone kind of chill.
“My Dear Darling Miss Kati,” it said it Spanish, “You are so beautiful. Since you came to see me I haven’t been able to think of anything else. I pray to God that this letter will somehow reach you.”
It did. Unbelievably it did. I hoped the eerie chill running down my spine didn’t show in my face.
“Where did you get this?” I said, trying to look uninterested.
“My grandpa is the sheriff, and he found it behind the jail.”
“It doesn’t really say much of anything. Do you need it back,” I said more as a statement than a question, playing as nonchalant as I could, and pretending I would just throw it into the trash. It worked.
I kept it for a while, maybe as a reminder. Of what, I’m not sure. Or maybe just in case one day 30 some years later I might want to write this story.
Note: based on a true story, but some of the details are fictionalized