Reality only truly set in when the metal bars shut behind me. As I looked around the cramped, clammy cell, at all the people strewn about in all sorts of disarray, crammed into every inch of space, I knew I was in for a long night.
Not long after I settled myself in the only available space in the room – an empty seat dangerously close to the toilet – did the most absurd looking man in the cell come towards me. He had a wife-beater on, the waist part tied into a knot and exposing his stomach, and a green and yellow bandana on his head.
He threw a bar of soap down at my feet.
“Pick it, Mr. OfficeMan.”
Clearly, grammar and name-calling have seen better days in this cell. I easily picked up the soap from where I was seated and gave it back to him.
“No! No! No!” He was irate. “You must to stand up and bend over to pick it, Mr Man! Estupido, eh?! Now we try again, kay? One.. two.. three!”
The soap slid on the smooth cement floor before coming to a rest near my left shoe. For a long time, it was the only thing I could see.
“Are you serious, man?! I’ve been here for ten fucking minutes and here you are already trying to do all sorts of shit to me?” I may have half shouted and half pleaded.
“Is a jail life, Mr. Man. Get use to it!
“Listen, man. I’m only here because I got a bit too rowdy in some bar. They will let me out as soon as my brother posts my bail, okay. So please leave me alone.”
“Pick the soap, Mr. Man.”
“Where did you even get the fucking soap!? There’s no showers here! It’s only detention for chrissakes!”
“I bring my own soap, kay? Now listen you, I been here since last week, kay, so I know what is a jail life. Now, if you don’t want to pick the soap, you will join my gang.”
“See that office man friend of yours there by the corner, ya? He look at me crazy with his thick glasses and don’t want to share his drug when he getting the wheezies in his chest. You go to slit his throat with this sharpen spoon right here, kay.”
“Let me guess, you also brought the spoon, didn’t you?”
“Is a tough life, Mr. Calculator Computer Man! A man need to look out for his own, know what I mean?”
At least he’s getting a bit more creative with the name-calling, I thought.
By this time, I was already looking around at the other people in the cell, trying to see if they were all in on this joke. But between the sleeping ones and the ones who, I could tell, were desperately trying to ignore us, I did not get any help.
”Now take this sharpen spoon right here and slit him already.”
“What if I don’t want to?”
“Then, tomorrow when we out doing the hard labor, I gone jump you.”
“What hard labor?”
“You know, we be working the coal mine and shit. Then after, we gone play a football with them guards over there and we gone win. Then, that’s when a new prisinor be comin and ‘fess bout being the one who actually kill your wife.”
“After that, we escape using this sharpen spoon right here to dig us a hole. Then, we swim to freedom through all them nasty sharks.”
He was gone, drowned in a veritable cyclone of jailhouse movie clichés swirling around his brain. I took it as my chance to get away from him, and moved closer to the door, just as the guard came around.
“Cruz, you’re brother’s here. You can go.”
“Thank god.” I breathed a sigh of relief and hurriedly stepped out the cell. As I was leaving, I briefly glimpsed inside to see what the man was doing. He was now seated on the toilet seat, hunched forward, face burried in his hands.
“Aaahm tired, bohws. Ahh help Percy mouse. He a circus mouse, bohws.”
“Quite a character, eh?” the guard said as we started for the reception. “We’ve been getting less and less returnees since he arrived.”
“Uh huh.” I mumbled under my breath. “You don’t say..”