The man who’s teaching me conversational Spanish wears a black ankle bracelet that tracks his movements and sets off an alarm, I guess, if he strays outside city or state lines, like those invisible dog fences.  He didn’t kill anyone or steal cars or sell drugs; the worst he did was show up to work one day, the day state police and la Migra decided to show up, too.  My teacher used to be a janitor, earned maybe six American dollars an hour for cleaning up after others in courthouses.  The ironic thing is, now he gets to see the inside of a courtroom without a mop in hand, has traded his work uniform for an ankle bracelet.

At our first lesson he teaches me how to conjugate verbs in the past, present, future (hablé, hablo, hablaré).  Pasado pretérito: He moved here years ago, long enough to raise kids, watch American TV, buy a mini-van.   Futuro: He doesn’t know where he’ll be in two months, so it’s hard to make lesson plans.  Presente: In the meantime, his daughter says, he sits at home and drives her and her two siblings crazy, while his wife looks for a second full-time job.  The oldest girl, who helps translate for her parents and reads a high-school textbook on law, is a few years younger than me (más joven que yo).  Her dad might not see her graduate from the best public high school in the city, if he’s deported.

He asks me whether I’ve ever been there, to Guatemala, and I say no. (It’s the same word in both languages, short and final.)  No, I’ve never visited his home country, but he has been living in mine for years; the tripledecker house he lives in looks like the one I’m sharing now, and I don’t understand, no comprendo, why there isn’t enough room for both of us here.