What Is Hope?
I am on the edge of something.
I sense it.
just out of reach.
I close my eyes,
attempting to see
that I feel.
I am distracted -
a kettle coming to the boil,
wet washing to hang out,
birthday cards to write.
The light of the morning
the darkness of the night.
and still I feel it.
I hope I find it.
but back in business
somewhere between Russian peasant and prostitute
A few flakes of snow fall
‘Where’s a cafe, please?’ I petition a postman in shorts.
He pauses and I wonder if he understood.
When he answers, eventually,
his vowels are as strange to me as a Frenchman’s. I tune in.
‘Carry on straight (tout droite), it’s about 7 minutes - are you walking?’
I am; his hesitation was in whether to offer a lift.
Getting in his car alone he says sadly ‘I hope it won’t be too far for you.’
Et tu, me too, I don’t want to walk!
But this is nowhere with rubbish blowing
through the railway trenches
And we are in no man’s land.
Mohammed called me on Monday and asked if I could help. He didn't say Amanda* didn't know he was asking, although I suppose I should have realised. The client was due to be deported to India with her five year old son on 19 December so there wasn't much time.
The appointment was at 3 on Wednesday, so I said I would meet her at 2, and then changed it to 2.15 because I wanted to go to a lunchtime concert, but in the end I didn't make it to the concert anyway.
A couple of minutes after I arrived at the café, she turned up, with her young son and - unexpectedly Sarah from Salvation Army.
Of course she's not really called Sarah. I've called her Sarah because of Sister Sarah in
'Guys and Dolls'. She was there to look after the child, whose name I never did get, because there were more important things to discuss. Does that sound horrible? I expect it does. Horrible is who I am these days.
Indira - and of course she's not really called Indira, but I chose it after the former prime minister, and it contains the word 'India', which I think is a rather neat connection - was well dressed in a light raincoat, with beautiful dangling earrings. She wore a worried smile, nascent tears in her eyes.
I asked to see her papers and we talked about her asylum case, her spouse visa, why she couldn't go back to India, how her husband had repeatedly beaten her up in front of the child, how the first solicitor had ballsed up her case (my word: she was far too polite to ever say anything like that, an she probably didn't even realise that's what he'd done until Mohammed told her), and she cried when she said he'd refused to do her an appeal and she didn't know why.
I know why. Because there are lots of slime jobs out there who take on legal aid asylum cases and do next to nothing for the clients - remember, this is supposed to be fiction, so I can slag them off as much as I want - and collect the fee.
Then, when the Home Office refuse to grant asylum because the solicitor has done such a poor job, there's a window of just fourteen days to appeal. Fourteen days to find someone to stop the rest of your life falling off a cliff. And hardly any solicitors, even the decent ones, want to take appeals on, because it's just not worth the fees you get from legal aid. Assuming you can get legal aid. And if you can't, they might, just might, be willing to take your case to appeal if you pay them an arm and a leg.
The last time I took somebody to see A, her solicitor had lied to her and told her she had no right of appeal. He'd waited until the twelfth day after receiving the decision to contact her. She insisted on seeing the decision letter, which turned out to say she did have the right to appeal. I went with her to see A and we got an appeal in, just in time, and although it failed, it then went further and in the end she got leave to remain.
However, and I hope this will make you smile:
One solicitor told me when I went to see him with a client that she was the last person to get support from their legal aid budget, because of the time of year, late March. He'd been uncharacteristically late for her appointment and looked harassed. Afterwards I worked out he'd been arguing with his finance department, that being paid was secondary to this woman getting the advice and support she needed, because she'd been through so much he couldn't let her down now. Perhaps he didn't get paid at all.
That was Ben.
We won and the client and her family are safe now.
Well done Ben.
That's his real name.
So we talked through her case which meant the solicitor's job would be easier. Indira could put the case clearly to the solicitor, because we'd just rehearsed it, and I could query anything she said which differed from what she'd told me beforehand. This would save time and ensure the solicitor was fully in the picture.
At 2.55pm we headed for A's office. It was good Sarah was looking after the little boy because he was a real livewire. I guess he'd picked up on Mum's anxiety. The solicitor - A - has a great office. There are two seating areas for appointments, off the main reception area, glasses in, with an etching of a map of the world on the glass. This meant Sarah could be with the child in a separate area, so we would be undisturbed, yet he could still see Mum and settle, which he eventually did.
'A' said yes, she would take the case. Everything needed to be ready by the end of Friday, so the fresh claim could be put in on the following Monday, just in time to prevent deportation. It was a favour to me, I think, that she took the case because most of her work is in other fields now, and she'd have to drop everything else to be able to do it. She knows we are on the same page when it comes to asylum. We're part of the protection racket. I like calling it that. To think it's a protection racket, trying to get the Home Office to keep within the law and do right by asylum seekers. The whole thing is a joke. Protecting people from a government body who ae supposed to be set up to protect them. A joke.
When we left Indira was smiling a different kind of smile and Sarah was promising whatever he was called ice cream for being such a good boy. Sarah's husband was going to pick them up and take Indira and the child home. I told Indira to prepare her statement for the solicitor an email it to me to check. Her English was good, but couldn't be expected to be good enough to present the case in the best possible light. This statement would be the basis of her claim.
She sent it to me at 12.30am on Thursday morning and I opened it around 7.20. We worked on it, together, using email and phone for about four hours, after which she was entirely satisfied it represented a true picture of what had happened to her, so she emailed it to A.
The following week, I was happily on holiday somewhere hot where the food is a lot better than I can cook. I emailed A and Indira to see how things had worked out. They had gone as planned: a fresh claim, refused two days later (oh, they can move fast can the Home Office when they want to!) and a judicial review successfully lodged, meaning the deportation had to be cancelled and Indira and her son could stay in the country for the time being.
You might well be thinking, well so what? If the Home Office decided she didn't have the right to stay here then she should let them deport her (or 'remove' her, as A preferred to put it). Well, I have to tell you that I know thousands of asylum seekers, and I wish I had a cherry for every time the Home Office refused an application and tried to make somebody leave who was later found to be entitled to stay. I'd have planted a cherry orchard by now.
Last night I went to the opera with Sarah, the first time we'd met up socially in a long time. Actually we didn't: we went to a live broadcast, but that's the best I can do these days.
The Queen of Spades by Tchaikowsky.
Sarah used to be an opera singer (must be a great asset to the Salvation Army now) and pointed out people she knew in the cast, so it was a fun night out for us. Brilliant. One of the main characters looked like Jeremy Corbyn, and there were a few bars about half way through where he came on brandishing a pistol and the music, twice, appeared to play his name in a rhythmic way which was hilarious.
(Don't worry if you don't get that - you need to be into classical music, really, and how can I expect that of you as well as having to read this boring piece?)
There were only about eight people in the audience, some of whom left at the interval, and when we spoke to the cinema owner she said we were the only people who'd liked it. No accounting for taste..... The singing was superb - and I'd made us non-alcoholic cocktails for the interval too - so it was the best night out I'd had for ages.
On the way back Sarah told me the Sally Ann had been given lots of artificial Christmas trees just before 25th and she and her husband had taken one to Indira's house and helped her dress it. She said Indira had never had a Christmas tree before, and I said, a bit tongue in cheek since I'm a humanist who avoids Christmas like the plague (and I like to stir things), 'That would be because she's not a Christian.'
Sarah ignored my dig and said Indira told her every morning she gets up and looks at that tree and it lifts her heart.
You asked what hope is: it's a Christmas tree that Indira doesn't want to take down.
*You may be thinking who's Amanda?
That's a story for another time...…...