It took exactly forty-seven seconds for the prison door to slide open. After spending six years, four months, fifteen days, ten hours, twenty-three minutes, and thirty-nine seconds behind bars, you would think I learned patience, but you’d be wrong. I learned to wait. Patience is different than waiting.
My lawyer was there to greet me with his politician’s smile when I walked out a free man. “How does it feel to be exonerated?” he asked.
I stared right through him for five whole seconds but didn’t answer the question.
He had never served time a day in his life and nothing I could say would make him understand. On top of that, his efforts didn’t set me free. While he cleaned out my savings account, I gave information to the Feds until the case broke, and they arrested the real criminals. Now he wanted to stick me in front of the cameras and bloviate about saving innocent people. I never even smiled for the camera, and saved my energy for more important matters.
When the press conference was over, he pulled me aside and put on his courtroom face. “She’s here in the US now. She wants to see you Jack. She wants to apologize.”
She was Beatríz – chocolate skin, brooding black eyes, and even blacker hair. She told me she loved me. She told me she wanted to marry me. I believed her, right up to the point when she betrayed me.
I wanted to see her too, but not to apologize.
I jumped in a cab and headed for the rendezvous location so I could hear her apology, or something like that. The sky was a crisp blue with puffy white clouds, the perfect kind for cloud chasing, just like the day they hauled me to jail and clipped my wings. All I ever wanted to do was fly, but jailbirds don’t fly. They flap their wings in the yard like some fat chicken, but never get off the ground. Beatríz had betrayed me, and her betrayal kept me on the ground for six long years. Now it was time for payback.
The cab pulled up and I saw her sitting in front of the Starbucks with sunglasses on. She stood when I got out of the cab, and for a moment I thought she was going to rush over and hug me. I think the look on my face stopped her.
She took off her sunglasses when I walked up. “Hola Jack, it’s good to see you,” she said.
I stood there with my arms folded and didn’t say anything.
She reached out to touch me but drew back her hand. “I’m very sorry.”
I glared back and sat down. I was trying to decide if a Starbucks cup could be used as a deadly weapon. Several other people sat at nearby tables engrossed in their phones. I wished I had insisted on meeting somewhere private, someplace without cameras, or witnesses.
She sat down across from me and slid a cup across the table. “It’s dark roast, just the way you like it.”
What did she know about what I like anymore? How could she possibly think that an apology over a cup of coffee could set things right between us? I ignored the goodwill gesture and asked, “What do you want?”
She looked at me with brooding eyes. “I know you’re angry, but it really wasn’t my fault.”
“Angry? Not your fault?” I began to mimic her pleading voice from six years ago. “Por favor, Jack! It’s just one suitcase. My cousin is in the hospital and needs these things. You don’t even have to take it to him. Just get it on the airplane and a family member will pick it up in baggage claim. Please!”
I was happy to see a tear roll down her cheek. My rage searched for a way to extract revenge on the spot, but six years of learning to wait kept me from it. I waited at least a minute for her to speak.
She wiped a tear and said, “They threatened to kill my family if I didn’t convince you to carry that suitcase for me.”
I knocked the cup of dark roast off the table and stood. “So you chose your family over me? I was expendable? You didn’t trust me enough to let me in on the secret?” I leaned forward and grabbed the small metal table at the edges gripping for something to control my rage. “You stole six years of my life!”
I stood there grasping the table and clenching my teeth as hot breath surged in and out of my nose. She put her face in her hands and began to sob. I wanted to somehow extract six years of pain in sixty seconds. I noticed that a man sitting nearby stood and began recording with his phone. I glared at him, like only a convict can, making him cower and mind his own business. I released my grip on the table and sat down again.
I checked my watch. I had waited six years, four months, fifteen days, twelve hours, forty-one minutes, and eighteen seconds for this encounter. The exact moment of my revenge had arrived and in the end it felt more hollow than an empty prison minute. I looked up at the sky, the delirious burning blue, and longed to escape the heavy emotions that had kept me on the ground. I realized that revenge would only serve to ground me again, and I could never spend another second as a jailbird or another minute unable to fly. The moment I had waited for was not to be filled with revenge, but with release of the past that weighed me down like sandbags on a hot air balloon.
I stood to go. “I don’t care anymore. I just want to get on with my life.”
Beatríz slid an envelope across the table. “He loves airplanes. He has your eyes and looks just like you.”
My pale hand trembled as I reached out for the sealed envelope. A knot formed in my stomach and worked its way up my throat as I tore it open and revealed the photo. I cradled the photo in my hands and gawked at the almost six-year old face of my son. He was holding a red toy airplane.
Time flies. My son had been alive six years the first time we went flying together. It was worth the wait.