Friday, August 17, 2007

Marrying your sister

"Christina" used to live in my house, but is now receiving support again. She's petite and lively, but sad about the wasted years of her youth spent in the asylum limbo when she wished she could be at college. She misses her Mum terribly. Five years is a long time be be separated, to have no good news to tell, and none to hear.

She came yesterday to ask for a small favour for "David", who I took to be her boyfriend. He's from the same country, and the couple of times I've met him he's been polite and respectful, as all of them are from that part of the world.

Although his case appeared to be strong and genuine, he had been refused asylum; he had then tried to get to Canada, where he had a sister whose identical claim had been accepted. He had been caught at Heathrow trying to use a false passport, and spent half a year in prison for his trouble.

On release, he had made a fresh claim, citing new evidence, but as an ex-prisoner his case was dealt with swiftly and without sympathy. The bare support his fresh claim had brought him was stopped, and he was back on the streets.

David had helped Christina one time when she was stuck, now she is returning the favour. Herself on vouchers, she is working illegally and paying his rent.

David has a plan. His sister is arranging a marriage for him in Canada. These things take time and money; he promises it'll be just a few more months.

But David is hard to help. He's scared to risk working again. He feels he can't trust anyone except Christina, but he doubts even her, doesn't like him seeing other people. Once he's in the New World, he'll sort things out, Christina can start a new life with him there. I can feel her heart breaking as she fights the tears.

Imprisonment seems to have broken his pride and his faith in others. He resists obvious compromises, like moving in with his girlfriend, while making unreasonable demands on her.

The irony is that she is sure that this marriage will be on paper only; the marriage his sister is arranging is to herself. I imagine them posing for the wedding pictures - kissing? To what level of degradation does the system push people?

I warn Christina not to let herself be used, how people can become more and more demanding in their dependancy and their bitterness. She knows all this of course, having been cruelly let down by her former husband.

In th middle of my admonitions, my phone rings. Time for me to pay Josephine's rent again. We hold each other chastely. Amid despair and degradation, there is compassion.


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