While driving along White Plains Road, a call comes in from Clark Edwards’s secretary, notifying Jende that he got the chauffeur job at a salary of thirty-five thousand per year. After calling Neni, he calls his cousin, Winston, to thank him for putting a good word in to Clark’s friend, Frank Dawson. Neni sends a text message noting that all Jende needs now are his “papers” and he’ll be “all set.”
The job offers Jende more money than he’s ever made before. This is the first step in making their dream of establishing themselves in the U.S. possible. They assume that the combination of a well-paying job and a green card with make Jende feel like a true American.
Jende’s been fighting to become documented for three years. He was in the country for only four weeks when Winston took him to meet an immigration lawyer to find a way for Jende to stay in the country permanently after his visitor’s visa expired. This had been the plan all along, though Jende never admitted this when he went to the American embassy in Yaoundé to apply for his visitor’s visa. He told the consulate that he would only be in New York for three months and even furnished proof that he had too much awaiting him in Cameroon—a job that he supposedly liked and a title on a piece of land inherited from his father—to give up on his life there.
Jende knew that, as a poor laborer, he wouldn’t be able to obtain a work visa. This description reveals the steps that working-class immigrants take to gain a foothold in new countries. Jende lies about why he wants a visitor’s visa. The irony of this lie is that the title he furnishes as proof that he plans to return to Cameroon will also be one of the things that will actually provide him with a more promising future.
Jende was determined to escape the “future of nothingness” in Cameroon. He would succeed in America and return to his home country a “conqueror.” Winston tells him that, second to marrying an American citizen, applying for asylum is the easiest path to American citizenship. Winston hires Bubakar—"a fast-talking Nigerian” with an office in Flatbush, Brooklyn—based on the recommendation of a friend of his from Atlanta who said that Bubakar is “a great immigration lawyer with hundreds of African clients all over the country.” Bubakar is supposedly expert in concocting stories of persecution to help with asylum applications. Winston’s friend credits Bubakar for getting him his green card and placing him two years away from applying for citizenship.
Like Neni, Jende imagines Cameroon as a place that is devoid of possibility. He feels powerless and passive at home but uses the active language of conquest to describe the possibilities that he imagines in the U.S. Like an actual conqueror from the Age of Exploration, he imagines a land of riches and wonders. Bubakar serves as his navigator through the American immigration system. The fact that he specializes in lying to the authorities about asylum, and often gets away with it, is an indication of how little the authorities understand politics in other countries.
Jende tells Bubakar his story so that the lawyer can use elements from his life to construct the lie that can win him asylum. When Bubakar discovers that Neni’s father had him imprisoned for impregnating Neni, Bubakar insists they use that, despite it having happened fourteen years ago.
The story that Bubakar chooses to tell is, ironically, a classic one akin to “Romeo and Juliet”—that of a young couple in love who are torn apart by warring families.
When Winston expresses skepticism, Bubakar insists that he knows more about how to handle immigration judges and that Winston should stick to what he knows: finding ways to help businesses avoid paying their taxes. The comment angers Winston and Bubakar, knowing that he went too far, quickly makes peace. Jende continues with his story, saying that his and Neni’s daughter died in infancy. Neni’s father didn’t want Jende to marry Neni because he came from a poor family. Bubakar suggests that they weave a story about how Neni’s father wants to kill Jende because he doesn’t come from a particular social group. Winston doesn’t think it’s plausible, but Bubakar insists that they trust him.
Bubakar insults Winston, despite the fact that Jende is visiting Bubakar on Winston’s recommendation, because he’s probably intimidated by Winston’s more prestigious and lucrative career. Bubakar thinks that the story about warring social groups will work because of how little he thinks the immigration authorities know about Africa and their likely assumption that tribal conflicts occur all the time. To Winston, the story sounds implausible because he understands Cameroon’s sociocultural context and knows that such a thing wouldn’t happen in practice.