by Robin Wrigley
Campari & pink grapefruit Juice
When I finally got to England I thought I had died and gone to heaven. After nearly a year of avoiding the police, authorities, traffickers, liars, cheats and so many horrible people in many different countries I had reached my goal physically unharmed. Never mind what it did to my head.
Growing up in a small town in the Sind Province of Pakistan, a member of the only Christian family in that town had been a miserable life. When my eldest brother Rodney confided in me that he was planning to go to the UK I begged him to take me with him. It took weeks of convincing him to agree and even then only after I threatened to tell our mum.
I will not dwell on the details of the journey because I prefer to forget about it. The only time I think about it is when I am reminded in my sleep and I wake up in the middle of a nightmare. The night my brother drowned. Leave it at that please.
I would not be telling the truth if I said it was any easier once I finally got to the UK. At least it was safer but life as a refugee in a strange country adds to the scars that you pick up on the way. At least here I had no problem with the language because my father insisted we all learn English from an early age. We went once a week to a Catholic missionary in another nearby town firstly to pray and secondly to learn English.
Thankfully that is all in the past. After three hard years of doing all kinds of jobs, most of them illegally my status as a landed refugee came through and I could accept employment legally. I was so overjoyed I wrote a long letter to my mum and dad and went to the local post office to send it. While I was waiting in the queue to be served I began reading the small advertisements on a board. Most of them were for selling items but one was advertising for a cleaner prepared to do laundry.
I looked around to make sure no one was paying attention to me. The girl behind me was looking at her phone so I quickly took the card and stuffed it in the back pocket of my jeans. You learn a lot when you have nothing but your wits.
I ran outside after posting my letter and rang the number on my phone. The lady who answered was very surprised because she said she had only put the card up earlier this morning. She sounded nice but was a little bit suspicious at the speed in which I applied. Then she said she would wait until the next morning to see if there was any other people looking for the job. She said she would call me back. Though I knew nobody else would see the advertisement I never expected to hear from her. My life as a refugee prepared me for disappointments and broken promises.
But she did and I got the job. Again she was more than a little apprehensive when I arrived at her house the following Saturday as requested. What sealed it for me was when she asked me lots of questions including was I a Moslem which of course I wasn’t. I told her I am a Catholic and luckily so was she.
The house that I was employed to clean was very nice. Much nicer than any house I had ever entered. Given a guided tour where the lady explained everything she expected of me as we went. I felt quite scared but kept it to myself I hoped. She kept stopping and insisting that she had very high standards of cleanliness looking at me very intently rather like my mother had done to make sure I was listening.
Then it came to the question of washing and ironing. My fear went up another level. I had only used a machine in a local laundromat where the instructions were printed on the wall and there was always someone to ask.
That was six months ago. I’m still in the job. Have I made any mistakes? The honest answer is yes. Funnily enough what saved me was my laundry work. It was my ability to wash and iron her husband’s shirts. I don’t know what he did when they left the house every day but I do know he needed to be wearing a freshly ironed white shirt. Sometimes two if they were entertaining.
My brother Rodney used to change his shirt twice a week and probably only once during the rainy season. This man needed a fresh one every single day no matter what the weather. I have never seen weather like this. Of course they had an electric drying machine; I hardly ever used it as nothing compares to a shirt dried naturally and ironing is so much easier and better.
But today is Monday and the weather forecast on the BBC says showers. I never had to pay any attention to a man or woman telling me about the weather but I do now and they are not always right.
I dream of those cloudless days back in my village. I imagine my dad’s kameez shalwar drying in the sun on the bush outside the front door. I am brought back to reality by remembering the number of times a neighbour would throw dirt on it.
Nobody throws dirt on Mr. Hodges shirts but having to get them properly dried in this awful weather often gets me down. Especially on Mondays after the freedom of the week-end.