Vis-à-vis

by Ernest Jean Angeles

“I’ll be back,” said the consul. I assumed she was the consul. Though for a job title that sounds as official as consul I had imagined her work space to be a large room with wooden panels, and an ornate wooden desk in front of an American flag. Instead she sat behind a glass window like those at the bank. Maybe she wasn’t a consul. She could just be the lady that does the interview for immigrant visas. Or maybe she just happened to be doing immigrant visas that day. Maybe she also did tourist visas. Maybe sometimes she didn’t do visas at all and would file reports or make phone calls. Before I could think more about the intricacies of the profession of the lady who may or may not be a consul she had returned.

“Good morning,” I said. Showed your proficiency in English right away. Good job.

“Good afternoon,” she replied. Showed your incapability to tell time. Excellent.

The lady was white, blonde, and she was most likely American. I was, after all, interviewing for a visa to the United States of America. I was in their chancery. A man dressed in military uniform with an American flag on his shoulder walked past behind her. These were my clues.

“John Vincent Aguirre?”

I handed her the documents that my mother’s lawyer had sent me and the documents that I had passed from person to person in the consulate. Okay, she had to have been a consul. The place was a consulate. Or was it an embassy? Did that make her an ambassador? No. it did not. Why wasn’t it called embassador, or ambassy?

She took her time looking over my documents. I caught myself rubbing my hands together. I had been inside with the air-conditioning for quite a while. I considered whether I would prefer to stop rubbing my hands or to not lose a finger to frostbite. I didn’t choose frostbite. Instead I folded my arms around my torso and hunched.

“How are you related to Maria?” She said, her eyes still on the papers I handed her. I felt my eyebrow shoot up. I did not know any Marias, My mother, who had petitioned me, was named Leonora.

“Leonora is my mother.”

“Maria Leonora?”
“Yes.” I thought of my name. Nobody called me John, or John Vincent.

“And who is Robert?”

“Robert?”

“Robert Miller?” It was her eyebrow’s turn to shoot up.

“Oh, you mean Bob.” I was tempted to say I don’t know. I’ve never met him. I’ve seen him on Facebook. “He’s mom’s husband.”

“So he’s your stepfather?”

I have a father, he’s mom’s husband, I was tempted to say. Instead I said “yes.”

“Where do your parents live in America?”
“My mother lives in Denver, Colorado,” I said. The lady lifted her gaze and saw my shivering attempt to curl up into a ball while remaining seated with my feet on the ground.

“It gets pretty cold there.” She smiled.

“I’ll bring a jacket.” Dad had already bought me one.

“Do you have any correspondence between you and your mother?”

I pulled out old birthday cards that my mother had sent me as a child, and decaying sheets of legal pad that used to be my letters to her. I slid them to her, careful not to let the sheets incur too much friction as I feared they would disintegrate like job opportunities for a Filipino major in America. The lady went through each briefly. Her eyes darting from the top to the bottom of each page. She checked the envelopes they had been enclosed in.

“We didn’t really send letters much after 2005,” I said as she looked over the last of the letters. “By then we had a computer.” By computer I meant an Xbox and Halo 2.

The consul-slash-ambassador-slash-interviewer lady didn’t answer. She had found a childhood photo of me enclosed in one of the letters. She looked at it and looked at me.

“Aw, you were cute!” She didn’t have to put emphasis on the past tense. “Do you have photos of you together?” I started to pull out an envelope from my bag. “Just show me the oldest and the newest.”

I only had two anyway. I handed her two photos: One was of me when I was about two years old, sitting on my mother’s lap with my finger in my mouth and my ass in a diaper. We were in the living room of the old house at Las Piñas. My mother had her arms around me as she smiled at the camera. I imagined it must have been my father taking the picture. The other was taken a few months ago. My mother had her arms around me too as we stood with my back to her inside our town’s local photo studio. My finger was not in my mouth. My ass was in slacks that had a button down shirt tucked into them. My mother had make-up and a dress on. The man behind the camera was the same guy who visited my school every year to take our ID pictures. The lady took one glance at each photo, one glance at me and slid me the letters and photos back.

“How old are you?” she asked.

“Now, I’m twenty.”

“And when’s your birth date?”

“1993,” I said, “November 28th.”

The lady was quiet for about half a minute. She riffled through the papers some more. She flipped a page, flipped it back.

“Um, you’re missing a few documents here,” she said.

“Really?” I feigned surprise.

“Do you have the medical report from the hospital?”
I did, They were in a brown envelope on my desk at home. I apologized and said it must be here somewhere, and that I was sure I had it. I opened my bag and rummaged through it for the envelope that was sitting on my desk. Except it wasn’t on my desk. The brown envelope was in my bag’s usually empty back pocket. I pulled it out and looked at the papers inside. Medical report. Dad must have placed it there.

I handed her the papers without a word. She looked through them and said everything seems to be in order. She signed something. Stamped something. Typed something on her computer.

“Alright, congratulations, I’m gonna grant you a single-entry visa.”

The sun greeted me with a blistering reminder that I was still in Manila as I stepped out of the air-conditioned America building analog that was their embassy. I walked past the armed police men and the other folks who donned document binders and envelopes much like the ones I did. I walked over to the vendor and bought a cigarette.

“How did it go?” said my father’s voice behind me as I stooped to light my stick.

“Well, they’re gonna lemme to America.”

“Good,” he said. “That’s gonna be good for you.”

“Did you pack the brown envelope from my desk?” I asked.

“Well, it looked like something important you forgot to pack.”

“Yeah, almost did.” I threw my cigarette on the ground and stomped the embers dead. I thought he expected me to say thank you or something. “So, where did you park the taxi?”

“Down the other side, we have to walk a little bit.” he pointed across the street. “Do you want to go somewhere?”

“Nah,” I said. “I wanna go home.”

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