I Was a Number!

I touched my forehead. The fever was gone but my whole body ached and I was cold.  I managed to drag myself downstairs, in the bathroom and took an luke-warm shower.

The mirror in this bathroom was much better, it did me justice, I thought. No bags under my eyes, and the dimples were back and the face didn’t look like a deflated balloon anymore. Age reversal thanks to rest!

I choose a white blouse and buttoned it all the way up, as I remembered the owner’s eyes lingering on my breasts. My entire attire spoke out loud: Not available!

There were no customers in the restaurant downstairs, but the owner was there, wiping the counter with a wet cloth.

“Oh! Good morning sunshine” He said and walked around the counter to meet me.

“Good morning, could I have some coffee, please?”

“Anything you want, Princess! How about an omlette and toast?”

“Just coffee, I just need coffee…please”

I sat at a table and he sat next to me:

“Listen, sweetie, if it’s about money, don’t worry, it’s on the house. For Heaven’s sake, I know you come from Hell! Are you here to defect?”

“Okay, may be a piece of toast too? Thank you for the offer but I must go get my money, is there a bus around here? The cab was too much.”

Silence. More silence. He grabbed my chin and looked me in the eyes:
“Are you going to defect?”

Oh, now I’ll have to lie and say no, or should I tell him and perhaps he could tell me what to do…”

“I don’t know, may be yes may be no,” I said. “What do you care anyway?”

“I see… you don’t trust me, that’s okay. If you do, you’ll have to go to the German Police Station and tell them you want political asylum.  They will take you to a camp on the outskirts of Frankfurt, where people wait for visas to go where ever they need to go,  or where they are accepted, where they have relatives or friends… some want to settle here. I had an uncle, but he died.”

He stood up and let go of my chin. He smiled and I smiled back.

“I’ll make you an omlette on the house!” He said and walked away slowly.

I have to go to a German Police Station? my thoughts raced… I want to go to America, why would I even want to live on an emigrants’ camp and wait… for a visa? I had a visa to get out of Romania and a short, tourist visa to be in Germany…. Perhaps the process was more complex than I thought it would be…

“I need to go to the American Embassy, remember? I told you I needed to get my money and pay you the rest, remember?” I shouted. He was already cooking and it smelled good, like the eggs from my grandmother’s house.

I stood up, took my coffee, and walked to the counter, closer to him:

“So… where do I catch the bus to the American Embassy?

“When you go outside walk to the right and take the first left, the bus station is right around the corner get off at…”

He told me where to get off and without my asking continued to tell me where the Police Station was too, and I wrote it all down on a piece of paper he handed me.

The cashier at the American Embassy counted twice the Marks she handed me, than she put the money in a white envelope and handed it to me:

“Have a good time! Enjoy your time in Germany!” she said and smiled.

I walked out slowly. It was already late.  I sat on a bench and looked at the address of the Police Station.  Should I go now, or wait till tomorrow?  I thought. I didn’t want to go, what was I going to say? In what language? I didn’t speak German…. I really didn’t want to stay in Germany in a camp. How did a camp look, anyway?  I couldn’t pretend anymore I didn’t know the process, but I didn’t like it at all!  I had to do what I feared most: Say it out loud, I  was not going back to Romania! I still could change my mind and go back, but I was not going to…I had to make a clear statement, to take a real risk.

I stepped into the German Police Station. I looked around and it was empty. The Policeman at the window showed me the clock on the wall:

“Bitte Sheon, 5:00 PM”

I looked at the clock and took out my passport. He figured I didn’t get it and put his hands in the shape of a cross and said:

” Closed. Tomorrow.” and showed me 8 fingers.

Oh, there must be a God, I thought, to give me one more night to think it over.  It’s not like I didn’t do it, I did go and it was closed! A sign!

Back in my small damp room, I couldn’t stop thinking of the meaning of it: The Police Station was closed for a reason, to give me more time. I did not believe in coincidences, I still don’t. Really, I kept thinking, what if I didn’t go back to the Police Station and instead went to the U.S. Consulate and tell the American Consul I wanted to defect.  After all I was different from other emigrants.  I had been working for the American Embassy for eight years, I wanted to go to America, where I had friends, I knew the language I… really didn’t want to be in Germany!

The following day I was at the U.S. Consulate early, yet, others were earlier than me.  I stood in a long line, patiently, as the Marine at the desk was checking people’s belongings and asking them questions.

He searched my purse.

“Where are you going?” He asked routinely for the purpose of my visit at the Consulate.

Where was I going? I thought, and  I raised my eyes.  On one of the doors, to the right, I saw a sign:”Special Section.”

“I am going to the “Special Section!” I said.

He raised his eyes, and as if making sure he understood correctly, repeated:

“Special Section? Do you have an appointment? Why are you going to the Special Section?”

I looked behind me,  as the line was longer and longer and a few curious people came closer to me, while others tapped their foot impatiently.

I leaned closer to the Marine and whispered:

“Sorry, I can’t tell you… it’s personal.”

“Okay,  but it’s in reference to what?” He said as loudly as he could, or so it seemed.

Oh! Now everyone looked at us!

I leaned back and whispered: ” Sorry, it’s special, I really can’t disclose, it’s confidential!”

As people were getting impatient, the Marine gave up on me and called for help.

“Miss, please step to the side and wait here!” he said, and I followed his directions.

As I stood there, waiting, I looked around to discover this was a busy place: I saw two people speaking in Russian, and a large group of Afghans.  I recalled our trip to The Soviet Union and how the Russians invaded Afghanistan, but here they were all together in search of the same goal: Freedom.  Standing there and watching the crowds of  wishful emigrants I had a revelation, which I didn’t like: Perhaps I wasn’t special, I was one of the many, and what was I going to tell whoever was coming from “The Special Section” to help me!

“Miss Mihalis? I understand you have a special, confidential problem, how can I help you?” I middle-aged man with thick glasses asked me.

Who was he? He didn’t introduce himself, why would he? He was definitely from “The Special Section”, and that’s all that counted.

“I, I am Romanian, I work for your Embassy in Romania… and I … am not going back! I need your help because I worked for your Embassy for eight years and I don’t want to be in Germany. I want to go to the U.S. I need political asylum!” I blurted out.  That was it! I was done!

He didn’t show any emotions at all,  only his blue eyes flickered for a second behind the thick glasses.

“Follow me,” He said and showed me to a small, clean office.

I sat down and he asked for my passport. Then he disappearred and I waited, and I waited and I waited some more. How long? To me it felt forever!

“Follow me,” The Consul would like to speak with you.”

I followed him through the maze-like long corridors crowded with people. I felt hopeful, at least they didn’t send me away!

The Consul was a younger, blonde man with steel-like eyes.  He smiled and shook my hand vigurously. He even introduced himself, I good sign, I thought.

We sat down and I was offered coffee. This was a good sign too!

The Consul asked me questions. My name, how old I was, for how long did I work for the Embassy, was I married, did I have kids? No? Why not?

After almost an hour of questioning, he determined  I definitely was who I claimed to be, it all checked out. He told me I’ll have to wait, it wasn’t  a simple process.  He gave me the name of an inexpensive Bed and Breakfast near the Embassy and told me to move there and wait for his phone call.

“How long would I have to wait?” I asked, worried my money wasn’t going to last long enough.

“I don’t know,” he said, “I do know you’ll have to get a sponsor from America and a number, and we are out of numbers now. If I were you, I’d call some friends in America to find a sponsor, you cannot leave without having a sponsor. Frankly, it’s easy to smile and make jokes, but when it comes with becoming a sponsor… well it a lot of responsibility! I hope you have real friends in the U.S.”

Oh… I thought,  I had to have a sponsor and a number… would it seem really dumb if I asked him why? Would he change his mind that I was deserving to emigrate to the U.S.?

“Okay, what would a sponsor have do exactly, so I can explain my friends when I call and ask.”

“I sponsor signs a contract that they guarantee for you. We cannot let people in the country without jobs, without a place to stay. A sponsor takes responsibility for you in writing! And each  U.S Consulate around the world is assigned a certain number of people from each nation who may emigrate if they qualify for political assyilum, and you do, but we are out of numbers now. You’ll have to wait.”

His explanation came as a blow to my head, it ruined my last hopes of being special.  Suddenly I understood my future depended on strangers in a Consulate, that I had to find a friend who really was a friend to assume responsibility for me.  I understood this was not the adventure I was dreaming about, but the reality of life, my life that I chose believing I was special but…

I was  just a number!

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