From inside a cell, one can make out the sound of marching footsteps, melancholy tunes, and a faint light in the distance. When the light flickers, the shadows of singing guards holding flashlights dance across the darkened walls. The song keeps Mateo and his co-workers company and helps them brave the cold. They continue diligently until the first ray of sunshine breaks over their facility. They turn off their flashlights as a fresh batch of guards enters the grounds.
Their shift is over, and they retreat to their quarters. They eagerly remove their insulated jackets, gloves, and tall, pleated hats, and head to the coffee machine. Their bodies and mind yearn for repose after their long night shift. The five guards including Mateo wait in line patiently for their coffee, and then plop onto the tattered old couch, which is smeared with black marks. The couch sags beneath each man’s weight, letting out a gasp of exhaustion whenever it is sat on, a desperate plea for retirement.
But due to the sad state of the economy, budget cuts, and harsh economic measures, the sofa is the jailor’s last priority. The guards turn on the radio. Mateo is delighted to hear that it will be a sunny day with only partial clouds. Such weather is a rare delight in San Francisco, a city plagued by damp fog and gray skies.
Mateo’s wife is scheduled for a C-section today at noon, and he is looking forward to discovering whether he will have a son or daughter. He sips his coffee at the window, fervently hoping that it will be a smooth and easy operation.
Mateo’s thoughts are interrupted by a buzz over the intercom. One of the guards gets up to push it. Albert, the jailer, is on the other end. He asks for Mateo to come see him before he takes his paternity leave. Mateo picks up his belongings, and his car keys, eager to head home once his meeting with Albert is done. His companions wish him luck, and the rusty old door swings shut behind him as he heads towards the Albert’s office.
Mateo is a Hispanic man of average stature in his early thirties. He has a slight paunch, which he tries to keep under control with exercise and the occasional diet. He walks briskly towards the main building, as he does not want to keep the jailor waiting. His mind is filled with thoughts of his wife and baby. He reaches the door of Albert’s office, which bears a burnished copper plate that reads “Albert Silva,” in gold letters. Prior to knocking, he nervously adjusts his collar and shirt.
Albert’s bellowing voice immediately invites him in. Albert is a tall, athletic man whose well-defined muscles bulge below the neatly rolled up sleeves of his shirt.
He signals Mateo to sit down and finishes signing off some papers. There are new cuts coming in prison, which Albert has to confirm via his signatures. Once done and papers put aside, Albert smiles and asks Mateo, “So how are you feeling? You will be a dad in a few hours.”
Mateo shrugs his shoulders, and his forehead becomes sweaty, but he sounds positive and excited, “I have mixed feelings right now. I guess when I will hold the baby in my arms; I will realize my responsibilities.”
Albert laughs and assures him, “You will be fine. I am sure you will do as good a job being a father as you do here, at work.”
Mateo feels confident and sits up straight saying, “Thank you!” He is quick to add, “I hope I do as good a job as you have done with Leonardo.”
Albert beams with delight hearing his son’s name and responds, “Oh! That boy knows what he wants to do with his life. He is one determined fella.” He continues, but with remorse, “Although I hope that his goal in life meets his destiny.”
There is silence in the room as both the men reflect on their past and the turmoil.
Albert is quick to press the fast-forward button and comes to his present by pulling out an envelope from the drawer. He puts it in front of Mateo. Mateo’s thoughts get distracted after seeing that cover.
Confused and nervous Mateo asks, “What is it?”
Albert pushes it towards Mateo and says, “Open it”
Mateo opens it with shaky fingers because getting a pink slip right now would be really bad, pulls out a typed letter and starts to read.
I appreciate your diligent service to this county jail, and from January 2013, I would like to give you a 5% annual hike in your salary; making it to $43,475.
Hope you keep up with your hard work and continue to make a difference in all our lives.”
The letter ends with Albert’s signature.Overjoyed and overwhelmed with gratitude, Mateo stands up tearfully thanks Albert.
Albert stands up as well and clarifies, “This was supposed to be handed out in December, but I thought you needed it now to welcome a new life in your lives. You have 3 weeks of paternity leave, go ahead and bond well with your child."
Shaking Albert’s hand and with his good wishes still ringing in his ears, Mateo shuts the door behind him and takes a deep breath, full of happiness and relief. He walks towards his car with measured steps even though he wants to run and show the letter to his wife.