We meet in a nondescript coffee shop in a post-industrial town. It’s a greyish day and the little town holds memories of my youth, trapped in the sands of time. Teenage angst and social anxiety hang in the air like a cloud. The past clashes with the present. The world was simpler then, but I don’t yearn for it.
We hug. It’s so bloody good to see you. Welcome! I mean it. He’s happy. Well, relieved perhaps. One day there, the next here! After all that time. A year. And one day you just pick the right truck.
Happy, happy, happy…
…the surface is scratched, and not by me.
He can’t sleep. What if I wake up and I’m back in the woods, getting shaken awake by the police, teargas in hand? When he does sleep, nightmares come. Exhaustion like you wouldn’t believe. I think about killing myself, he laughs. My hands clench.
He explains, matter-of-factly, how to burn off your fingerprints. I hold his gaze. The desperation is palpable. The Home Office can routinely check your fingerprints whenever they want, I say sadly. They know the trick. It’s ok, he didn’t manage to do it anyway.
He gets £35 a week. I tell him off for paying for my coffee. No no, no problem. Thank you for what you do.
His friend died in Belgium last winter. Froze to death in his tent. The snow. He holds his head in his hands.
I can only imagine, but winter is coming in fast. I’m sure I’ll see first hand soon enough.
He’s excited for Christmas. He’s spent Christmas somewhere different for the past three years. I’ll be spending Christmas in Calais this year. It’ll be different.
I have to go but I don’t want to go. But I do, in the end. When we hug, I hug him for everybody. He heads home to watch TV and take his mind off of life.
My legs physically shake as I get back into my car.
Might have been the coffee.
* This is an abridged version of the nearly 1000 words I actually wrote down after our coffee. It was, for the most part, a very joyful conversation, and we were sitting there chatting for almost 2 hours. I had to get it out of my head, make sense of it all, but it would be unfair and rude of me to share everything. We didn’t meet up so that I could write a blog about it. I feel bad even sharing this much. But, I think it is important to show that what I’m dealing with in Calais is not restricted to Calais. It’s not a bubble, the men, women and children there are not a statistic, and everybody has a story. Just being a friendly face is so, so important.
Scottish pals with even just a little bit of time to spare, check out:
Refuweegee – whose aim is to provide a good hearty welcome to folks arriving in Glasgow, with letters and Christmas cards fae the locals and events across the city.
Unity Centre Glasgow – providing practical information and support to people who are claiming asylum, as well as looking out for people who are held in detention centres.