her son perched on her hip
All thin-framed and frail...
with footsteps firm
and stonily determined
She wraps her baby up
(I notice tiny fingers missing)
He looks now at me...
tiny curly-haired beautiful boy
A little mushroom with beady dark eyes
She sits down gently...
resolutely grim and dignified
She looks at me flashes a tiny smile
side-long glances secretly gauge me
As she utters a little prayer for luck
From beneath her gauzy veil
she breathes a long, soft, sigh
(aromas of cardamoms & cloves come through)
and a distinct whiff of Vicks Vaporub...
wow...my favourite cure-all...
Well, she's already my best client
I pause a moment and wonder...why her
Then I realize that she reminds me jarringly
Of forgotten smells from my own...childhood
- an unnecessary bias (really that's the rub)
I wipe the charitable feelings away
(they aren't helpful here in this room
no, not at all not one bit)
And start my introductions
all around the tiny cramped space
The room lights are too bright
I avoid looking directly at her
at her facial scars, her fears
her unspoken hopes...
her overwhelming melancholy
I look at my file research notes
and at her baby mushroom
To avoid making her uncomfortable
(But the cold truth is simply this
there is a gulf between us now)
well I am a tiny bit more formal
a little more proper than I need to be
it's a defence mechanism
To maintain my independence
Cordial in this room... yes...
Yet reminded of impartial neutrality
So necessary in clearing these proceedings
how else to help her tell her story?
Being distant is against my nature
But I force it (I just want to hug her somehow)
Why did I take this job again? Was I meant to?
Do I shift between icy eligibility assessor
And warm refugee advocate, o can I be both? (answer: yes)
Echoes of another life lived before this
Shine out from her eyes like midnight
As I question her (I have to repeat my questions)
On her family origins her mother tongue
The home-town of her ancestors
Her tears trail down in a zig-zaggish streak
When I try to investigate probingly and query her
Why there are some fingers missing
From her baby's right hand...
(and all from her left, a jagged scar on display)
Echoes of another world spring forth
a universe quite unlike mine
And my middle-class Malaysian-ness
What is the worst thing...
that I have ever handled?
Her story trickles down all black raindrops
bleeding out her life from her words
As I struggle to write down keenly
every single thing she says
(with a sense of things unsaid)
How she came to be here before me
Why her family is not with her
Where her husband may be, does he live
(Things too painful to contemplate)
As she tells her story
She says all the right things, spot-on soundbites
That anyone with some education
an internet connection and street-smarts
(and maybe helpful fellow villagers)
Would maybe know to say in this interview
But she remains reticent, withdrawn
On how she escaped and came here
Why she and her baby are almost finger-less
What exactly happened? (tell me or I cannot help)
Why she is skittish, shifty-eyed, solemn?
She wears the robes, though shabby
Of a tribal aristocrat in her clan
And her story of poverty and suffering
(with tales of forced duties)
Ring shallow to my ears
I ask her again and again to explain
In a calming voice that I keep mellifluous
(a gentle undertone is good they say)
To clarify her inconsistencies
And cease the speculation
Why her recollection of events is gray and shady
Her words appear disjointed and rambling
And slow tears start dribbling down
(at being so quickly disbelieved)
She haltingly admits she lied
The truth springs forth, she did not want to say
The real reasons she is here before me
Or why if she returns home to her lands
She will disappear and die...
Or be killed (all the same thing)
Softly, softly, so very, very, softly
she explains about missing fingers
she speaks almost under her breath as I strain to listen
Husbands, fathers, chopping heads...
firing squads, spears and dead mothers...
Her baby has a dead father
and a headless grandfather
Innocence bleeding and destroyed
Blood splatters on grassy meadow-lands
randomly dotted on purple forget-me-nots
Littered with mines and bones and parts of a stove
(blasted body bits, the baby's tiny familiar finger)
While Death hangs low in the misty air
She had been tortured by the villagers
her blood relatives nonetheless
her hands will never be the same
She huffs, thinks I should understand this
without her explaining...
It was her burden to bear...
for marrying an evil military man
Grr, didn't I see this obvious thing?
(the defence mechanisms are down
but sadly I am not omniscient)
Her husband is, she still cannot say he "was"
a military officer, he finally drew a line in the sand
He refused to kill a few minors...
(He did kill their father the medicine-man
before his conscience creaked in)
He was shot dead by his commander
point-blank gunshot to the head...
For a wilful refusal to kill babies
to follow orders to murder children
and a convenient charge of treason
Then she is silent momentarily
racked with grief-stricken guilt rather
as she remembers her mother...
Her own tacit role in the deaths
of her family members all seven
For marrying her sweetheart
from school before his fall from grace
When he became (against his wishes) the willing henchman
Of the military government's machinations
against tribal minorities...
The medicine-man was her father's brother
whom her husband killed
When he refused to disclose even after hours of torture
The whereabouts of his rebel sons
and their dastardly guerrilla posse
When will it all end?
(even his neck gave way and
fiercely separated from his head)
His sons then came for vengeance
for blood and for death...
How her father the village headman
was beaten and kicked...
Decapitated summarily in revenge
(oh, in life he was so...
His headless body hung in the town square
next to his brother's head, skullbones all bare
His jury and executioners: his own cousins and rebel nephew
Aunts and uncle, other victims' families who knew
of her husband's many atrocities, blood dripping like dew
How her mother was flogged with chains
kicked, beaten and raped...
Speared to death for the sins of her son-in-law
By the medicine-man's sons and nephews
and their rebel friends chewing cashews
(while this young woman...
was to become the final sacrificial lamb)
For the crimes of the military man...
against the medicine-man's head all unseeing
Family against family
and brother against brother...
into the night...
An impartial search for innocence
in a tribal war is sometimes meaningless
(someone's gotta do it I know
but my defence mechanisms
are left smashed and legless)
The victims rise up in turn
(Deep, dark revenge, bloodthirsty)
and become the murderers
That they themselves
The story continues for her
but not here...
no, not on this page
I am left with the searing memory
of her burdened words
I pray that her little mushroom
baby with the beady eyes
Has found a better future
in some peaceful corner
of this world...
his mother or
the international community
could ever offer him...)
-Anne The Obscure
Life will find a way
I don't own the (C) in this image. It belongs to the Internet (stock photos).
The above literary piece does not refer to any specific living refugee client but is drawn from a variety of cases of asylum claims from different refugee producing countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia.. Specifics of individual refugee claims are confidential and of course will not be divulged on the internet. I may no longer work directly with refugees but I continue to respect their privacy and their right to confidentiality. 28 July 2009