It’s that time again.
A friend told me it seems like I’m always renewing my residency. I agree.
But this time was supposed to be easy. I waited for my appointment, full of confidence. Of course, my confidence may have been due in part to the fact that the immigrants in front of me had their dubious paperwork shoved into crumpled plastic page protectors. I, on the other hand, had my blue passport carefully tucked behind a stack of crisp, typed forms, neat photos still in their protective sleeve, and an appropriate receipt matched with a tax form. Bring it on.
But it was I who slinked defeated from the office, ready to throw my hands in the air and tell Spain, “FINE! I’m DONE being legal! So there!”
I was able to stifle that impulse. And I’m not done being legal, of course. But it did take several hours of rigorous cleaning and a listening ear or two before I was inclined to persevere.
Which, in turn, led me to a management office. And then a second management office. And finally, per directions, to a right hand turn by a children’s shoe store and down an alley to a hole-in-the-wall lawyer’s office which mercifully listed “immigration” on the plaque beside the front door.
I stepped into the dim office to find the waiting wall lined with sub-Saharans, North Africans, and Asians. Congratulating myself on finally being in the right place, I took a seat.
The man at the front desk didn’t acknowledge me as he gave slow, clear instructions to a client. So I had time to look around. The attempt at decor was shuffled aside for the sake of productivity. Stacks of paperwork in wild piles. Artwork lost behind taped up notices or a whiteboard. A bookcase filled with untouched manuals and a silent essential oils diffuser.
It was a bit messy, but not dirty, I decided. And it held a slight odor of the people who were crushed inside.
Five minutes later, when the clerk had finished, he turned to me. I explained my situation, finishing with: “Can you help me?”
He took my card. “Maria, we have an American here!” he chirped. I must have been the first. Actually, I almost assuredly was. North Americans are an endangered species in Mytown. And how many of the seven or eight of us would have stepped foot in this office?
Only the desperate ones.
The lawyer peered down at me from her desk. I shuffled my neat stacks of paperwork, aware of the dozens of eyes now trained on me from the waiting wall.
The clerk made a copy of my card and asked some questions. But could they help me?
It turns out, they could, but it would take several more trips to the office. Several more surprised stares from the other clients as I joined their ranks. Several more long stretches of leaning against the waiting wall and studying the half-hidden artwork.
Then on one visit, the clerk removed the whiteboard to let me study more than just the fringe of the painting. On another visit, I was witness to a fight that the clerk helped diffuse before it escalated to the point of no return. On another visit, I bumped into a family I knew which helped to pass the time. That same visit, I took advantage of the clerk’s warm, North African culture to negotiate the fee. And on that last visit, he handed me a neat stack of stamped papers tucked in a plastic page protector. Success.
That was only step one. I will have to return. Being a legal immigrant is not for the faint of heart, no matter where you are in the world. But I’m full of confidence again. Bring it on.