It would be wise for you, my friend — if you want to get out of this cell alive — it would be wise for you to stop smiling.

That’s the trouble of America — you’re American, of course. Yes? Yes. The trouble of America, the sickness of America, is the smiling. Always smiling. Like this, see? Like in the Batman movies — like Heath Ledger with the green hair?

Of course you don’t know what I mean. I can tell by your face. But at least you stopped smiling, for just a moment. That’s something, eh?

OK, sure, I’ll sit. I’m making you nervous, with this pacing around? You’d pace too, my friend, if you’d seen them. You would pace too.

So, I’ll sit, then. And I’ll tell you. Oh, you’re afraid? You’re scooting away like I have fleas or something? You see an immigrant, you think, Uh oh, one of those Spics. Wetbacks, you still call us? Even if you have no idea where we’re from? Uh huh. I know your type. How could I not? Two years in America, I know your type all right. See them every day. And yet even though I’m much bigger than you — yes? — it’s me who has more to fear. From you.

Now the smile again. Stop it, please. Oh, I see. I crowd you a little, you stop. You’re afraid of being beaten. Or maybe worse. You know what they say about these jails.

OK, OK. I see how to make you stop smiling now. I just give a hint of threat, and you go into your shell like a fucking turtle. Good to know.

But I’m not joking about the smiling. Not at all.

You have a name? Tomas? It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Tomas. Well, not really. But we can be civil, maybe. I’m Gustavo. You can just call me Gui.

Now you want to go sit on the floor, in the corner? You’re still scared? Be my guest. I can stretch out on this board, then, at least a little. Better for my back.

You’re in here why, Mr. Tomas? Don’t say. Let me guess. You drink, you drive, you lose, eh? Ah — I thought so. The rumpled suit, the bloodshot eyes. You still stink, if you don’t mind my saying.

Me, I’m here because of smiles.

You don’t get it, I see. But I’ll come to that.

Probably you’ve guessed that I’m not born here. Venezuela. Probably you’ve heard of Venezuela on the news, though I doubt you can find it on a map; you’re like most Americans that way, too.

What you do know, I guess, is that the country has fallen apart. Chavez, he dies, and when he does, everything goes to shit. But back when he’s alive, he makes the Americans take water, and they don’t like it, right? Heh heh.

You’ll never see it, probably, Mr. Tomas, but Venezuela is a beautiful place. I haven’t visited since I came here two years ago. You don’t get many trips home if you work in a Go-Mart — even you know that. But the beaches, the forests, the weather—it’s paradise. I think I’m really doing something, when I come here, but I’m a fool to leave. I figure that out pretty fast. I follow a girl who comes here to school, the girl follows some other idiot — and here we are.

Thing is, I would have been OK, you see. Girls are everywhere here in America, pretty ones. But it’s not long after I get here that I start to notice the smiling.

Now you smile again, I see. I get it. You think this is funny, and I wish you were right, Mr. Tomas. But it isn’t. So stop it, please.

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