Friday, December 11, 2009

The Asylum Seeker

He paced the small room with tired feet. Tiredness seemed to rest on his shoulder blades like a woolen jacket he’s afraid of losing. He returned to his sweat soaked bed, springs creaked weakly into life as he lowered his bulk on them. He sniffed the air; the whiff of rotten mushroom and the stink of dirty linen-on the bed, the arm chair and inside the laundry basket-hung heavily like a blanket in the room. The air stood still. He rose weakly, tread his way to the window and pushed back the louver. He suck in a draught of wintry air, the air seemed to mock him as it passed through his nostrils like a pair piercing icy needles. He groaned and sighed, he climbed on the bed. He gave a long look through the window and saw the grey winter sky lined with a pocket of blue clouds; perhaps, his mother could see the blue and grey part in the sky and read the sign. How could she when he never told her? He chided himself but he knew it was no use, he would live regretting everything his life, Mariam, her unclaimed son, his mother and home. He was as a brute. Mariam had once said that he had no emotion. He had tried to contradict her; he did not behave the part. They dated for three months but end came when she came and told him she had been bleeding since their last act. Cyrus had simply stared at her without, not a word of consolation or “ I am sorry”, he only stared at her. That was how he lost the only person who really cared about him-he still pined for her but he knew it will be for Mariam died during the stampede in Senegal.

Whether Mariam died with or without the child…there was no way to tell. He looked everywhere but it was futile and he got no result. Maybe he got what he deserved. He was a too self-absorbed, he cares about nothing but himself. he ran away from Bathurst to Goree Island where a band of circus players had arrived for a show. He joined them and was allowed to take care of their monkeys and for a better part of the year. he constantly was moving from place to to playing with the circus along the Sene-Gambia. Immediately after the civil war that witnessed the overthrow of President Ismaila Hamdi, Cyrus was already on HMS Gibraltar- a stowaway. He arrived in Bristol with nothing to his name but he was, deep inside him, happy to be away from home. The country had been crippled with years of civil war, corrruption, and leadership incompetence. Now he thought to himself he has arrived and would soon sort himself out properly. In the first few days, he lay around the harbour begging food and sleeping among the various disused warehouses that dotted the harbour. Life couldn’t have been more precarious with a certainty of death from cold; he got to Bristol during the winter and the cold was cutting at that time of the year. But he was an exceptional character, only exceptional death can kill Cyrus. He battled with cold and hunger the first few weeks and soon enough he got too used to it, such that no other kind of life seemed appealed to him. He woke everyday; he loitered to the harbour and helped them carry a couple of boxes of confectionaries. The money he earned from these chores went to his feedings. Cyrus was a big eater, though for days on end he might go on without food. But when he has money, Cyrus eat big meals. He made eating some kind of festival to be celebrated when he could afford it. After the fourth week, Cyrus was arrested, he was taken to the foreign office, where he was made to sign a stack of papers; content of which he found too bulky to spare the luxury of reading. He hurried through the papers. He was taken to a single room apartment in a tenement already populated by immigrants from war ravaged countries: the building where he was taken was really an assemblage of unfortunate people with various degrees of deformities- souvenirs from ill motivated strife, the cause of which the people hardly understood. As he was being led into the building, some of the occupants of the buildings came out to see the latest addition to their number. He was given an official title: an asylum seeker.

The system eventually seemed to have recognized him, he thought. He was told he could go around as freely as he liked provided he reported at the foreign office as at when due. He was left alone as soon as the key was given to him. He was left with a strict wording “You must report at the foreign office every month!”

Last month he was there. When he got there he was given a form to fill. For the first time he became aware of his colour; for he was required under compulsion to fill in his colour in a box provided for such on the paper. He wanted to question the wisdom but he thought better of it. He reasoned if these strangers could be kind enough to give him stipend and a shelter without knowing him, then he had no gall whatsoever to question the wisdom of such magnanimous establishment.

“Mr Cyrus!” the orderly summoned him into the inner cubicle that served as the main office.

“That’s my name” He said as he sat down in front of the white man.

The White man plucked his moustache in a familiar gesture, then tapped the stack of paper in front of him with a pencil. He seemed to be reading through his heart but his steely blue eyes were saying nothing, yet the white man never shifted his gaze, but fixed it on him. As Cyrus sat there watching the strange man with his steely eyes, he felt as if a laser beam was piercing his heart and ripping it apart, yet the man said nothing, not for the first few minutes.

He cleared his throat through a lengthy ritual, picked up a paper cup on his table and flipped a glob of phlegm into it. He shot him the steely gaze again. Cyrus was now afraid. Has he done something wrong? He had broken the front door’s handle, back at the hostel, but no one had seen him. Perhaps someone had seen him and had informed the caretaker and the man decided to tell on him. No! That couldn’t be. His mind kept flipping. Work? Work? That’s it! But he had not been working since the foreign office started giving him the monthly allowance. Whatever it is, he’ll never allowed anyone to push him around, he muttered to himself. He was not the type to obey anyone but now he’s at these people’s mercy. His mind wandered back to the broken door handle again. It can not be that! The deviant of his head echoed. His mind was in tumult, the efforts to suppress the wandering thoughts were very visible on his face. He shifted his feet restlessly.

“They are all wily wimps.” Captain Winchester thought to himself. He was one of the few in the foreign office who shared in the belief that taking care of asylum seeker was a waste, a mammoth waste. As a means of getting back at them, he loved to make them feel loathsome. He knew that the most abject a man could descend in self devaluation was to feel inferior and he knew how to make these gits feel inferior; these undesirables are nothing but burdens. This is another of such burden, on the shoulder of the Queen, all in the name of absurd diplomacy. He just couldn’t find peace with all these mindless gobbledygook the homeland has been taking from these minnows.

“You make yourself available here every month!” he pinched his beard and rolled the tip of the pencil in the bushy edge. The slimy remnant of greenish phlegm coated the side of his mouth.

“I know about that, Sir!”

“Don’t start getting liberties with me!” Winchester smacked the table with his palm. “Don’t talk if I don’t ask you to, all right?”

“Yes sir!”

“Fine! Every body is happy now” he resumed. “You don’t work until you’ve gotten your permit, all right?”

“Yes sir!”

Without asking him to leave Winchester barked for his orderly. The young man flied into the cubicle looking like someone who had been eavesdropping on their conversation.

“Call in the next person” said Winchester pulling his moustache in that accustomed gesture. Cyrus took the cue and left the office. He walked almost half the way before hopping on the bus. He sat at the back. He met an old woman sitting there at the back but as he was sitting she abandoned the seat and went to the front seat; she was muttering under her breath and some of the white folks in the bus all turned to look at the nuisance.

That was his first acknowledge encounter with the diplomacy of narcissism. They avoided him quietly on the bus. At first, it was too much for him to take and he was already getting homesick. The problem was he couldn’t get himself to think of anywhere as home. Not even Nigeria where he had a mother. His mother was a rheumatic old woman. His mother was an overprotective woman, she had lost so much to the civil war. She was always over pampering him. Cyrus didn’t like that. How could she turn him into a whimpering sissy? He was not a girl deserving of her protective fang all the time. Sometimes a man has to learn to do his fight. But his mother would go out and fight in his name, fight for him. There were times he was simply cordoned from playing with other children by his mother, she thought he would be beaten by the other children because of his spare frame. His mother succeeded in scaring away other children from playing with him. He was like a scourge, the other children learnt to give him a respectable distance. He was used to being the odd one but never has his oddness so nakedly seen, never has he been so rejected in life. He felt it but his insensitivity would not allow him to see the picture lucidly like other person in such station might have seen it.

He looked out through the window again the snow flakes were coming down in gentle shower, some flakes drifted in through the opened window. The heating system has broken down and the caretaker did not seem to be in a hurry to start work on the repair. He has lodged that complaint over a month before he got bedridden, yet nothing was done about it. The flakes came down in showers, even more flew in through the window. The room became colder; he could feel the cold seeping in through the pore of his skin and sinking deep into him. The stench became frozen and solid even to the nose. He drew himself up, painfully he closed the louvers. As he lowered his trunk, he grabbed his chest; he felt the lump in his lung expanding, his breath had become more punctuated and uneven. He clutched the chest tightly but that did not ease the pain. His rib cage ached tensely, he lowered himself onto the bed, he coughed but no sound came forth. This seemed to please him in spite of the pain. He winced, cough again. As the air issued forth, a malodorous stench came out and enveloped the room in an invisible coat.

The sky has lost its gloss, it has taken a grey sheen, and the flakes were still pouring down as if angered. The roofs of the tenement lining Ashcroft Avenue on both sides have adorned new coats of white on their smudge-covered roofs. He could hear happy clatter of children in the street pelting one another with snowballs, reminiscent of African rain with children begging the rain to come back again. As the evening darkened, orb of light traversed the horizon as far as he could see. Twilight, trekked into the night, a dark night, for the stars also went into hiding. The cold grew more intense; he wrapped himself in the duvet cover, his hand searched for the black head warmer. He donned it. His mind wandered to back to the conversation he had with his friend, Hassan. They had met during his first stay at Bristol Harbour. He was an Egyptian. Hassan had told him they could still find a means of taking him to St. George. He needed health insurance card to access the facilities at St. George, but neither he nor Hassan had one. Hassan left after their discussion, hoping to see another Egyptian working at the tube station that had a card, to take care of his medical need since he could not afford the luxury of a private clinic. He fell into sleep wondering if Hassan would ever come back.

The throbbing in his chest has become more severe, pulsating, and threatening to burst out. He sighted the table clock. It was 2.00am. He felt very nauseated but he has not really eaten much. Hassan forced him to take a bowl of Quaker oat when he came and that was all he had taken. He felt very pressed, his bladder has welled up. He belched; the same smelly emission. The nauseous feeling returned once more. He felt sick, then a sudden surge right from his throat issued out in a gush, he tried to hold on to it with his mouth but he has lost the will to shut his mouth. Now, he knew he has to find a way of getting up from the bed and trudge to the bathroom. A trickle of green viscous material coursed down the side of his mouth. He gathered himself with all his strength, his muscles were not responding, they have all gone numb from cold. His left arm held on like a clasp to the edge of the bed and as he was supporting it with his right, the left hand lost grip, he fell off the bed and roll on the carpet. The duvet shrouded him, he summoned all the strength inside of him but even his will seemed to have succumbed to passivity. He could not free himself from the duvet, his heart tweak violently. He could hear the violent thudding coming from within. He let go of the duvet swaddling him from head to toe and strove to save his lungs. Breathing became more difficult and it was evident he would choke if he could not struggle free.

*******

He climbed the stairs two at a time, he was careful to avoid touching the banister. Jammeh was not at the tube station when he got there yesterday. Jammeh was arrested earlier that evening; he was told. It was Jammeh’s mate at the tube station that informed him. Jammeh owed one of the prostitutes living close to the tube station on Marylebone Street; whatever Jammeh bought from her, his mate could not give a satisfactory answer. What else does a prostitute has for sale? He went to contact his uncle, Sabur, to get Jammeh’s release and before he could finish with that, it was well past 3.00am in the morning. He got the card all right but he could not return to Cyrus for fear of being mugged by the migrants living around Ashcroft Avenue.

He knocked on Cyrus’ door. No answer. He knocked again, he tried the door, it eased in as he pushed it. He stepped into the room. The stench that rose from the room made him sick, he stepped outside quickly. After he had regained his breath, he went inside, covering his nose. What he saw appalled him. He was too struck to utter a cry; he sat down dejectedly staring at Cyrus lying in a pool of smelly green pus. His mouth lay open and giant house flies played around the opening.

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