Unit 01 The Permit………………………………………1
I think the building must have been used as a farmer’s winter store, for I found piles of forgotten dried chestnuts and grain in rotting barrels. I tried the chestnuts but they tasted sour, Paulo said he would bring me food, but that was three days ago.
Yesterday, I heard a car engine getting closer, and climbed up to hide in the beams of the patched roof. But the men just looked in quickly through the worn-out windows and broken doors before they left. I clung to the dusty wooden beam, feeling it would bend under my weight, and tried to make no noise. My arms and legs grew numb, then began to tremble. I longed to move, but I waited until I heard the policemen drive off.
I know that they will return. When we began the final part of our journey, we were warned that the police patrolled the land around here regularly. They are always searching for us, or others like us; the coast of Morocco (摩洛哥) and the Presidio (要塞) of Ceuta (休达，摩洛哥北部港市) are only ten miles away across the Straits.
That is how I got here: squeezed in with fifteen other men in a shallow boat meant for eight, with the cold waves reaching over the sides and the night deep and black as a tomb. I have never been more scared. I prayed all the way across, and thought about my family. I told myself, over and over, that I was doing it for them. That trip took almost all of my money. All of the money I had saved in Ecuador (厄瓜多尔) . The boatmen left us on a beach in the middle of the night. We lost sight of them but we could still hear their small engine across the waves. Six of us started walking inland but the others waited for the contacts, the friends of the boatmen, as they had been told.
We were lucky: we met Paulo. We found the town and waited until the first bar opened; I went in alone while the others hid in the orchard nearby. When I asked for a cup of coffee, the young barman (侍者) looked at me and nodded. He made the coffee, then disappeared into the back room. Cold and without strength, I wrapped my hands around the warm cup, not caring whether the barman had called the police, not caring about the next moment, just about the present.
But the man had called Paulo, who came and helped us. Paulo was always smiling, always happy. He was from Seville (塞维利亚) , a busy city of many people, and he knew many people. Paulo found work for us. I made good money on the farms. I picked cabbages, beans, cucumbers and peas. I picked great round yellow squashes (南瓜) that smelled of rich perfume when you broke them. The farmers hired us by the day, and were content. The local people would never work for the wages we are paid. But there were many farms, and many crops to be picked. We were welcomed.
I shared a small clean house in the town with seven other workers. We had journeyed from Ecuador, Colombia (哥伦比亚) , Venezuela (委内瑞拉) , even Argentina (阿根廷) . Paulo found the house for us - he knew the landlord and arranged a good price. We lived well, with enough food and sometimes wine. I earned more in a week than I could in three months back home if there had been work to do there. I sent most of the money that was left to my wife and parents, and wrote many letters to them. Then the government changed the rules so that we needed work permits.
I queued with hundreds of other workers, waiting for the application forms. We sat on the stone benches beneath the trees and read the forms. Some of the other workers are from small villages and towns, and cannot read as well as I can, so I explained to them that the government wanted our birth certificates, driving licenses, passports and many other documents. Many of the workers had perhaps one or two of these documents, but most had none. I helped the others complete the forms and we gave them to the clerk. He looked at our documents, stamped the forms many times and told us that they would be sent to Madrid (马德里) , and our permits would be returned in two or three months if the forms were approved.
We had to wait. Even Paulo and his friends could not help us.
The first month was not too bad as most of the farmers continued to use us; their crops were rich, waiting to be picked. Then some men from Madrid visited all of the farms, and maybe half of the farmers stopped using us. The farmers told us that they were sorry, and we understood them.
So the second month was worse: only a few of the farmers would use us, and those that did pay very poor wages. We shared what we had, and ate once a day: rice, porridge(粥), bread, cheap food that would fill our stomachs. We began to stare at each other, and wonder which of us would find work. There were fights in the morning, between different groups of workers, when the farms’ supervisors (管理人，监工) came to choose who would work that day. But still we had some hope.
We lost the house in the third month, as we had no money for rent. We were able to get some food from the charity kitchens around the town, and the church, but we found always a long queue and very little food. We took our bags and blankets and slept in the fields. Then the weather became cold and we slept where we could, huddled together, in old forgotten buildings and alleys (小巷). Sometimes I dreamed of my family, and when I awoke, I wished the dream could continue.
The people of the town stared at us from the sides of their eyes as they passed us. They clenched(握紧) their hands and muttered, and some of them spat on the pavement. A few of us were attacked and beaten in the dark, and driven from the parks and streets. All of the time, the Police told us to move on, move on.
It is the end of the third month when it happens.
The farmers hired coaches and send them into the town. From four o’clock in the morning we waited in agitating silence, hands pushed deep into pockets, our hats pulled down tight against the cold and the watching policemen.
By the time the coaches arrived, there are hundreds of workers waiting in the darkness. We pressed forward as the doors opened. The supervisors stood on the bottom steps of the coaches and asked, "Who has the permit?"
The men with permits hold them up and were allowed onto the coaches.
Some of the workers were from the countries in Europe and did not need permits, so they were allowed on when they showed their passports. I went from coach to coach until I saw a group of Chileans (智利人), who I knew have no permits, climbing aboard a waiting coach. The leader of their group spoke first with the foreman and shook his hand, then they were taken on. I stood before the supervisor.
“You have the permit?”he asked me. He was broad, stout (肥胖的)and filled the doorway of the coach. His fat neck spilt from the upturned (向上翻的) collar of his leather jacket. His hair was shaven close to his head. I explain to him that my application was rejected but I would try again.
“Come back when you have a permit,” he told me. He frowned as he inhaled (吸入，吸气) a smoke and looked down the avenue to where the policemen were watching the coaches. I explained to him that I was a hard worker, that I had eaten only once in three days, that I was eager to work and send money to my family.
He looked at the policemen, who had started walking along the pavement beside the coaches, and glared at me and says, “Go to Madrid and tell them.”
The Chileans were laughing and pointing at me through the coach windows.
The supervisor tossed his half- finished cigarette into the gutter(排水沟) by my foot. At the moment I stabbed him in the stomach. He bent down with a small cry.
The policemen looked at us and I began to run away from the coaches, into the dark side streets. I heard loud running steps close behind me, and the roar of car engines.
I slid into the shadows of a shop’s back door, behind two tall metal containers that stank (发出臭味) of rotting meat and spoiled foodstuff (食品). I gasped, and each breath burnt. My heart hammered against my chest.
I waited for a long time until the sounds of the cars and people faded. I walked slowly to the end of the alley and looked out, but the streets were empty.
I had run almost to the river; I could hear it rushing in the darkness beneath me.
My right hand felt cold. I looked down in the yellow light of a street lamp, and saw my hand still clenched into a fist. It looked like the hand of another person, not part of me. A short blade, no longer than my thumb, stuck out from the fist. The blade, my fist, and my sleeve were all stained dark red.
Paulo gave me the knife when I picked artichokes on the farms. The short thick blade is very sharp, made for cutting the plants’ stalks.
I scrambled down to the banks of the river and threw the knife into the river water. I heard it splashed far away. The river touched my feet. I bowed down and washed my sleeve and hand, although the water was so cold, like ice, that my hand became numb. Then I walked back up to the street.
I found some of the other workers hiding in the deserted warehouse we had found. One of them went to find Paulo, who came and told me about the old farm buildings near to the coast road. I waited until darkness before I followed the road out of the town, throwing myself into the ditch if I heard a car approaching.
The weather has been clear and I have seen the coast of Morocco every day. Across the blue sea, the land is a strip of dark brown and gray, and looks close enough for me to touch. Maybe I could find an old tractor tyre tube around the farm and float across the Straits? Or maybe I could walk along the shore and steal a boat?
I do not want to become a thief. I am an honest man who wants only to work and support his family. But what can I do?
I will wait here for Paulo and listen to him. He will tell me what to do for the best. I know that he will help me.