She flicks through my documents, eyes narrowing.
Once, twice, three times.
A paper clip is placed over the thin wad of papers.
The burly, surly policemen behind the frosted glass laugh amongst themselves; their voices turning steely and abrupt when a reedy voice interrupts.
My breathing is shallow, my palms sweaty. I try to look interested in photos of sunny scenes behind her head, hoping it makes me look nonchalant and unworried.
I remember the scene with Gordon Jackson and Richard Attenborough in the Great Escape where all their good work was undone by a sneaky ‘good luck’.
If my interrogator says ‘good luck’ I´ll raise my eyebrows and reply “¿QUE?”
It was the last stage and I wasn’t going to blow it, but there’s always, always an unknown factor.
Two hours earlier we’d turned up at the police station. The world was still in darkness but we’d been told to arrive before 7am and they held all the cards we needed if we ever wanted to escape.
We were directed to a tree 25 metres away where a nervous man stood smoking a cigarette.
“Primera,” A tree trunk of a policeman pointed at the man.
We stood in the darkness, watching early neurotic blackbirds get the worms, unsure of what would happen next.
After twenty minutes another policeman came and led us back to the station and into a tiny, unfriendly room with one poster on the wall – a picture of a finger pressed against a pair of lips.
By this time there were about seven of us; nobody spoke.
One of the policemen called out ‘Hernandez’ and Mr Primera shuffled outside. Moments later he returned. We were next. It was only to write our names against numbers 2 and 3 on a white piece of paper. The policeman’s finger pointing at the paper looked muscular and threatening.
After that nothing, just a weighty silence. Nobody but nobody was comfortable. The oppressive setting made us all appear shifty and suspicious, yet I’m pretty sure everyone around me was as innocent of any crime as we were.
After another fifteen minutes a door opened and a severe looking women did the rounds asking for passports and adding our names to a numbered sheet. It was a different sheet from the one that the policeman had made us sign. Nobody seemed to know what was going on, yet asking a question was, well, out of the question. One young girl tried and was brusquely waved back to her seat. I wondered if there would be problems found regarding the validity of her documents.
Another wait before the woman appeared again, this time with a mountain of papers in her arms which were handed out to everyone, ourselves included, accompanied by a rapid fire series of instructions in Spanish.
The slightest indication that we didn’t understand and the game was over.
She asked us for a photocopy of our passports. I’d pre-empted this and already had two to hand. She looked briefly at them and came back with.
“First page as well.”
They always, always catch you out. But she wasn’t the dragon we expected. Not one single person had all the correct documents, so our little convoy made its way to a photocopying shop thirty five metres away. There are always photocopying shops thirty five metres away from places like that. Then it was on to the bank where we coughed up €21 for the stamped and numbered documents that might give us our freedom.
They just had to meet with the female funcionario’s approval first.
She scanned the papers a final time and extracted two green pieces of paper from a box. My heart beat faster at the giddy thought we might actually have done it. She slipped them into the photocopier, pressed the print button and handed us our ‘release’ papers.
It was over. We’d passed through the system again. We had brand new residencias. They were our jade discounted passports to other worlds.
“Is that it?” I asked in Spanish, trying to keep the relief out of my voice. “Do we need to come back in five years?”
“No, that’s it,” she replied. There was a hint of a smile. “It”s permanent.”
The smile widened… “unless the law changes of course.”
Of course – the law always changes.