Arturo Mendez Has Reached Gorilla Island by Robert Hinderliter

Abigail Sheaffer (c) 2017

Mr. Mendez has cleared the Moat of Illusions! He is performing exceptionally well. If he completes two more testing zones, his citizenship will be secured.

As Mr. Mendez docks his canoe and prepares to transition to the next testing zone, I’d like to thank all of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Officers for being here today. It’s important to ensure that citizenship tests are conducted legally and fairly, and we couldn’t do that without ICE’s guidance and oversight.

Mr. Mendez has now disembarked his canoe and entered the Gorilla Island testing zone. Please note that the thirty minute time limit has been initiated. Information on this zone can be found on page 47 of your procedures manual, and, as always, I will provide audio commentary. As you can see, the island is small – approximately 4,000 square meters, or slightly larger than half of a soccer field – and thickly covered with vegetation to mimic a subtropical rainforest.

This testing zone’s primary obstacle is an adult male gorilla, a silverback, in peak physical condition. He has been bred for aggression and is intensely protective of his environment. He will perceive the presence of a human on his island as a territorial challenge. In addition, shortly before Mr. Mendez’s arrival, the gorilla has been fed a meal laced with methamphetamines. If you observe him in the sub-display, you can see by his present behavior – pacing, grunting, beating the ground, and so forth – that he is extremely agitated.

As you are aware from reading the manual, the gorilla has also been fed a balloon containing the password for the testing zone’s exit. Should Mr. Mendez acquire this password, he can open the tunnel door at the center of the island, and thereby transition to the final testing zone.

I’d like to remind you that Mr. Mendez has been extensively briefed on every aspect of today’s citizenship test. As per ICE regulations, all briefings were conducted in English. Any failure in comprehension will hinder his chances of passing his test, but so far Mr. Mendez has demonstrated a clear understanding of every testing zone. Here, too, he seems aware of the island’s hazards. Notice the caution with which he is proceeding. Observe him dropping a shredded leaf to ascertain wind direction. Now he is crawling westward around the island’s perimeter, hoping the wind from the east will conceal his smell from the gorilla.

Mr. Mendez’s destination, as you surely realize, is the assistance item box on the far northern side of the island. As it would be unreasonable to expect Mr. Mendez to retrieve the password from the gorilla’s stomach with his bare hands, the assistance item for this testing zone is a hunting knife.

As Mr. Mendez slowly makes his way along the beach, please relax for a moment and help yourself to the cashews and figs on the table. I understand that this has been a long day, and may be much longer yet, but I know you all share our commitment to a fair immigration process. Your time here has been, and will continue to be, truly invaluable.

Speaking of time, you’ll notice that Mr. Mendez will periodically – as he’s done just now – check his bracelet. The countdown timer you see above the main display is visible on Mr. Mendez’s bracelet, so he can monitor his remaining time. Should the countdown reach zero, as some of you observed with yesterday’s applicant in the Ice Labyrinth testing zone, the bracelet will detonate, terminating Mr. Mendez and resulting in a denial of citizenship. As you know, should Mr. Mendez expire during this test, his wife and son will be awarded a monetary recompense to help them through their mourning period in their homeland.

If you observe the top right corner of the main display, you’ll see the assistance item box coming into view. As Mr. Mendez approaches the box, you will also notice, in the sub-display, that the gorilla seems to be oblivious to Mr. Mendez’s presence. His agitated pacing in the island’s interior has not changed since Mr. Mendez’s arrival.

And now Mr. Mendez has reached the box! The box is affixed to a concrete foundation and cannot be moved. It can be opened by completing a series of trivia questions via a touchscreen. These questions constitute the secondary obstacle of this testing zone. There are six questions, and Mr. Mendez seems to be wasting no time! Look at how quickly he identifies South Dakota on a map. See how he immediately enters 1776 as the year the Declaration of Independence was issued. Next, he has no problem selecting the meaning of the 19th Amendment.

The fourth question seems to be giving Mr. Mendez trouble. He must choose the correct order of the first five U.S. Presidents. He’s selected Washington, Adams, and Jefferson and is now deciding between Monroe and Madison. See how he glances to his right – I believe he can hear the gorilla’s movement. There is no cover by the box, and he knows his position is very vulnerable. Back to the touchscreen, he’s made a selection…and he’s correct!

Now Mr. Mendez is asked the number of Representatives in the U.S. House. Oh! He has entered “100,” and that is incorrect! An alarm is blaring from the box! A red light atop the box is flashing wildly.

The gorilla! Observe the sub-display quickly, the gorilla has – and now here coming into the main display! Storming from the underbrush onto the beach, and I believe he has – yes, he has spotted Mr. Mendez. Falling back from the box now, scrambling away across the sand. Can he make it? The gorilla is charging – can Mr. Mendez reach the water? I don’t think – oh my! Remarkable. Mr. Mendez has reached the water. Gorillas have a natural aversion to water, so Mr. Mendez is safe for now, treading water just offshore.

The gorilla is beginning his threat display. See how he rises bipedally, beating his chest. Listen to his enraged hooting. What an imposing creature. Now he is slapping at the ground, tossing handfuls of sand into the air. Look at that musculature. This particular specimen weighs 485 pounds. Mr. Mendez is swimming in place, keeping his head down, wisely avoiding eye contact. The question now: how long will the gorilla guard the shore?

In the aftermath of this narrow escape, I would like to remind everyone that Mr. Mendez is attempting this citizenship test of his own free will. He was clearly informed of the dangers of the application process and of the current 4% acceptance rate. The life of an immigrant in America is a trying one, and only those with great mental acuity and physical dexterity can be trusted to provide a safe and comfortable future for their family, as well as contribute socially and economically to their new communities. The test may be rigorous and, yes, perilous, but it has proven to be extremely effective at reducing the immigrant population to only those most suited for life in America – the cream of the crop, if you will.

But now look at this development on the main display! The gorilla seems distracted by the alarm from the safe. Perhaps the loud noise is upsetting him. He is pounding on the flashing light. Now he is trying to lift the safe from its foundation. The sound must be piercing…and look at this! The gorilla is retreating! He has lowered to all fours and is moving back to the island’s interior. What a fortunate turn of events!

Mr. Mendez can now safely swim ashore. He is approaching the box again – of course! An incorrect answer triggers the alarm but does not prevent the box from being opened. Mr. Mendez can still answer the final two questions and access the assistance item. Can he correctly name Delaware as the first American state? He can! And now for the final question, he’s asked the last day to file taxes. April 15th – he’s correct! Should he pass this citizenship test, that will be an important date to remember.

And with that, Mr. Mendez has passed Gorilla Island’s secondary obstacle. The box opens, and now he has acquired the hunting knife. He glances at his bracelet – still 11 minutes remain.

Now Mr. Mendez must retrieve the exit password from the gorilla’s stomach. He has begun moving inland, slowly making his way through the foliage, keeping low, stopping often to check for sound or movement. Perhaps he will be able to use the gorilla’s disorientation from the alarm to his advantage. As you see in the sub-display, the gorilla has retreated to the south side of the island. He seems distressed, rocking on his haunches beneath a tree.

Mr. Mendez has spotted the gorilla! What a huge advantage. And he’s angled his approach so that he can advance from the west, the wind blowing his scent away. Look at how cautiously he’s approaching, measuring each step. Twenty feet away now. The gorilla still seems unaware. I believe the alarm is masking the sound of Mr. Mendez’s approach. Fifteen feet away…ten… The gorilla is looking down, holding his head in his hands. Five feet away! Mr. Mendez is raising the knife…

Oh! The gorilla has looked up! Oh no. Mr. Mendez has frozen. It appears as though he’s made…yes, Mr. Mendez has clearly made eye contact with the gorilla. The gorilla has risen to his feet. See how he towers above Mr. Mendez. Their eyes are locked together.

I can’t imagine Mr. Mendez’s terror right now, looking into those eyes, seeing his fear reflected back at him. Could he be thinking now of their ancient common ancestor, and of the different paths they took – through jungles and cities, across endless millennia – to come together in this moment? Is he thinking of the chaos of the universe, the wild vagaries of fate that flings some lives into this world as poor humans in distant lands and others as frightened beasts in a cage, some as kings, some as cripples, some as worms in the earth? At this moment, who can say?

Mr. Mendez has dropped the knife. All strength seems to have left his body. It will be very difficult to salvage a positive outcome at this point.

And now the gorilla has closed the space between them. Oh my. Oh my. Gentlemen, you are welcome to look away if you’re feeling squeamish. Mr. Corolla, you’ll find a sickness bag folded in the back of your procedures manual. Oh my…

At this point, we’re going to turn off the displays. The test has been concluded. Mr. Mendez’s application for citizenship has been denied. As those of you who have monitored previous tests know, sometimes the results can be gruesome. We take no pleasure in this aspect of the application process. This country, of course, was founded by immigrants, and nothing makes us happier than to see a test completed and application approved. Unfortunately, today it was not to be.

Remember, however, that Mr. Mendez’s wife and son, who have been watching a live feed of today’s test from their nearest American embassy, will not return to their home empty-handed. The financial gift they will receive, roughly equal to Mr. Mendez’s airfare to the Immigration Testing Center, is a symbol of our condolences and continuing goodwill. Maybe someday, when the boy turns 18, he too will apply for citizenship, and he will use his father’s unsuccessful application as motivation to succeed.

This concludes today’s test. A quick reminder: those of you registered to observe tomorrow’s test, please report to the Testing Center at 9:00 a.m. Oh, and before you go, please help yourselves to the figs and cashews. They’re imported. Thank you again, and have a pleasant evening.

Robert Hinderliter‘s fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Phoebe, Gargoyle, Fourteen Hills, SmokeLong Quarterly, Hobart, and other places. He teaches English at Chosun University in Gwangju, South Korea.