Its odd to think that our paths are crossing in and around a suitcase. To sift through the sheets of text you left behind in the case is quite a different experience from seeing images of them on John’s blog. On the screen, the words are loose, their meanings hard to discern. In my hands, they come to life in a cryptic kaleidoscope of meanings. I’ve being trying to shuffle the sheets and put the words in order so as to build the narrative of what you left behind. But, of course, the stories defy me. Sometimes you break into a language I don’t know, that must be yours, and mostly you keep me searching.
In strange, unseizable flashes, though, the meanings and references of what you indicate explode before me. All those words around airports and immigration I’ve known them all my life. So many flights, so many landings, so many departures and so many arrivals, so many tense, interminable pauses at immigration. While the officer looks closely at you and the papers you present. As if they must surely be fake. The colour of you skin, your hair and eyes all tell him so there are about a billion of you all wanting to come here from one country alone, aren’t there? And so he or she asks why you wish to live in the UK or how it is that you got your right of residence or how long you plan to stay or why you have not applied for naturalization as yet. As if everyone who wishes to live in the UK would have naturalized themselves by now! But for a split second your fears turn wild and you begin to doubt the authenticity of your own documents. Like when the sniffer dogs come round and graze your shin or when they ask you to wait on the side, seated on a sofa, or worse still, take you off to a separate room, one with glass walls that appear as mirrors on the outside, so no one can know that you are inside, and then take your passport and go off without saying why. Then… that moment of relief when the stamp comes down and he or she gestures asking you to move on. I have arrived! It’s only then that you dare text home to say you’ve landed. But still you wonder about those three Tamil guys you sat next to in that strange room and what happened to them.
So many other thoughts come tumbling out too. I recall that other man I once met on a border, who had no papers and got stopped. Who then lived for two and a half years in a makeshift camp for people like him. The illicit ones. The conversation with him was so predictable. Without papers. I want a better life. Stateless. Nowhere to go. What next? The same old story over and again. What else could we have talked about? He asked me to help him and I could not. Sister, do something, please help me if you can. I want to work. Make a good life. I could not. I could not help. You see, I didn’t bring myself to tell him. We were on two different sides of the border. Legal versus illegal. Who said when you went back to see him in a desperate bid to ease your conscience, ‘They give us food. Breakfast, lunch and dinner. But still I’m hungry. I’m always very hungry. I feel I haven’t eaten for two years because my food is rice. Here they give me only bread.’
Margareta, your words spark journeys. Real, imagined, broken ones. The road is never straight. It is scattered. Broken. Splintered… like our selves.
[Text by Parvati Nair, © 2008]