Clerical Error by Zary Fekete

Emmanuel’s job was boring. He had already ridden the 200 meter line of railroad track 5 times that day. But he didn’t complain. He had only been in New Brunswick for about six months, and he didn’t want to give his bosses any trouble.

He had grown up at an orphanage in Haiti. After turning 18 he aged out and had to leave. For the next year he lived on the street. His only possession was a plastic folder that contained his identification card and his immigration application.

Last year, because of a filing mistake in the immigration processing system, Emmanuel had been approved to move from Haiti to Canada. He knew his Haitian paperwork wasn’t proper, but someone must have missed it. He felt charmed. Two days after his flight departed from Port Au Prince, the village where he had spent his entire life was buried in a mudslide. 

His flight landed in Toronto where most immigrants in Canada are processed. He was given a choice. He could stay in the city, or he could be transferred to New Brunswick in eastern Canada. The French-speaking immigration officer had tried to explain it to him.

“You’ll like it there,” the officer said unconvincingly, “The prices are low.”

“Where is it?” asked Emmanuel.

“In the east. Just north of Maine. America Maine. Many people speak French.”

Emmanuel felt he didn’t have much choice. The officer had told him that the only jobs available to refugees in Toronto were low-level restaurant jobs…and even those were in high demand. 

Emmanuel agreed and in two days he was moved into a small apartment in Bayside, New Brunswick. After unloading his stuff (it didn’t take long; he only had one bag) he was driven to the fish transport station. 

Because of a quirk in United States maritime law, any time cargo is shipped between two US-based ports it must travel on US-built transports. The only exception to this law is if some portion of the trek takes place on Canadian railways. Through a system that only the vagaries of globalization could create, fish which is caught in Alaska is frozen and then loaded onto international ships. These ships travel south to the Panama Canal. They cross the canal and then travel north to New Brunswick. The fish is loaded onto Canadian rail cars. Those cars roll exactly 200 meters down the shortest stretch of official railroad track in the world. The cargo is transferred onto trucks where it eventually crosses the border into Maine…destined for restaurants in the United States, mostly McDonalds.

On the first day the foreman pointed to a railroad car, the rear one, and handed Emmanuel a notebook and a pen. He told him to record in the notebook the exact time that the cars departed down the 200 meter stretch of track and to note exactly when the cars came to a stop. That was the entirety of Emmanuel’s job. 

At first the ease of the job made the time seem delightful. Back in Haiti much of Emmanuel’s life consisted of solving countless daily problems. Everybody in Haiti was used to a certain kind of DIY lifestyle. If there was a fire in your house you had to put it out. No firetruck was coming. If the pothole in the street grew too large it was your job to fill it. There was no infrastructure for these things.

For the first few weeks Emmanuel relished the chance to just sit on the car. He dangled his feet. He hummed softly to himself. He was astonished to feel autumn weather for the first time in his life. 

After the initial excitement of his new life wore off, however, he began to feel less and less human. As he watched the frozen pallets of fish roll into the freight yard he imagined that he and the fish weren’t so different. He and they were both here in New Brunswick because of small clerical errors.

Zary Fekete has worked as a teacher in Moldova, Romania, China, and Cambodia. They currently live and work as a writer in Minnesota. They have previously been published in Goats Milk, Shady Grove Literary, SIC Journal, and 101 Words. They enjoy reading, podcasts, and long jogs in the countryside.

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