Behold the Dreamers - Imbolo Mbue Page 0,1

by the young ambitious senator, but immediately sat upright when he remembered where he was, why he was there, what was about to happen.

“Do you have any outstanding tickets you need to resolve?” Clark asked as he sat down.

“No, sir,” Jende replied.

“And you haven’t been in any serious accidents, right?”

“No, Mr. Edwards.”

Clark picked up the résumé from his desk, wrinkled and moist like the man whose history it held. His eyes remained on it for several seconds while Jende’s darted back and forth, from the Central Park treetops far beyond the window to the office walls lined with abstract paintings and portraits of white men wearing bow ties. He could feel beads of sweat rising out of his forehead.

“Well, Jende,” Clark said, putting the résumé down and leaning back in his chair. “Tell me about yourself.”

Jende perked up. This was the question he and his wife, Neni, had discussed the previous night; the one they’d read about when they Googled “the one question they ask at every job interview.” They had spent an hour hunched over the cranky desktop, searching for the best answer, reading much-too-similar pieces of advice on the first ten sites Google delivered, before deciding it would be best if Jende spoke of his strong character and dependability, and of how he had everything a busy executive like Mr. Edwards needed in a chauffeur. Neni had suggested he also highlight his wonderful sense of humor, perhaps with a joke. After all, she had said, which Wall Street executive, after spending hours racking his brain on how to make more money, wouldn’t appreciate entering his car to find his chauffeur ready with a good joke? Jende had agreed and prepared an answer, a brief monologue which concluded with a joke about a cow at a supermarket. That should work very well, Neni had said. And he had believed so, too. But when he began to speak, he forgot his prepared answer.

“Okay, sir,” he said instead. “I live in Harlem with my wife and with my six-years-old son. And I am from Cameroon, in Central Africa, or West Africa. Depends on who you ask, sir. I am from a little town on the Atlantic Ocean called Limbe.”

“I see.”

“Thank you, Mr. Edwards,” he said, his voice quivering, unsure of what he was thankful for.

“And what kind of papers do you have in this country?”

“I have papers, sir,” he blurted out, leaning forward and nodding repeatedly, goose bumps shooting up all over his body like black balls out of a cannon.

“I said what kind of papers?”

“Oh, I am sorry, sir. I have EAD. EAD, sir … that is what I have right now.”

“What’s that supposed—” The BlackBerry on the desk buzzed. Clark quickly picked it up. “What does that mean?” he asked, looking down at the phone.

“It means Employment Authorization Document, sir,” Jende replied, shifting in his seat. Clark neither nodded nor gestured. He kept his head down, his eyes on the smartphone, his soft-looking fingers jumping all over the keypad, lithely and speedily—up, left, right, down.

“It is a work permit, sir,” Jende added. He looked at Clark’s fingers, then his forehead, and his fingers again, uncertain of how else to obey the rules of eye contact when eyes were not available for contact. “It means I am allowed to work, sir. Until I get my green card.”

Clark half-nodded and continued typing.

Jende looked out the window, hoping he wasn’t sweating too profusely.

“And how long will it take for you to get this green card?” Clark asked as he put down the BlackBerry.

“I just really don’t know, sir. Immigration is slow, sir; very funny how they work.”

“But you’re in the country legally for the long term, correct?”

“Oh, yes, sir,” Jende said. He nodded repeatedly again, a pained smile on his face, his eyes unblinking. “I am very legal, sir. I just am still waiting for my green card.”

For a long second Clark stared at Jende, his vacant green eyes giving no clue to his thoughts. Hot sweat was flowing down Jende’s back, soaking the white shirt Neni had bought for him from a street vendor on 125th Street. The desk phone rang.

“Very well, then,” Clark said, picking up the phone. “As long as you’re legal.”

Jende Jonga exhaled.

The terror that had gripped his chest when Clark Edwards mentioned the word “papers” slowly loosened. He closed his eyes and offered thanks to a merciful Being, grateful half the truth had been sufficient. What would he have said if Mr. Edwards had asked more questions?