I like my coffee like I like my men; sweet, white, and gone in a gulp. Saqi wasn’t like that. Sitting there across the chipped Formica, fidgeting, the stench of several days’ travel forcing bile high into my throat. He said he was twelve. With that mocha fuzz mouldering along his jaw? A few days away from a razor, and the truth would out. A few weeks in a camp, and he’d be out.
Her official interpreter’s voice came through clearly over the speakerphone on the table between us.
“Shall we begin?”
I heard her words, I smelled his breath. Staring, I twirled my pen, arched an eyebrow, and said, “Yes. Unless he has some proof of what’s been done to him, some paperwork that shows his age, date of birth, country of origin, and the rest, he’s no chance of staying.”
There was a pause, then spitty words. I watched his eyes, heard her voice.
Then a smile, and I thought ‘uh-oh’.
Moving made the stench waft closer to my face; I breathed through my mouth. But then uh-oh became oh-shit as grimy fingers rooted greying paper from inside the waistband of his dirty trousers.
Her voice came through, louder.
“He was told to hand these papers over when asked, they are the proof the authorities need for granting him asylum. If you scan and send them, I will read them to you, and of course, email the full, official translation as soon as it’s done.”
The paper was slightly sticky, but even as I flicked through the pages of wriggling ink and stamped circles I could see it was genuine.
He smiled at me, uneven edges of newly emerging incisors, little pads of baby fat on each cheek, so like my wee boy at that age.
I smiled back. “Please tell him I’m going to scan the documents now.”
Outside the sweaty little room, my boss looked up at me across the desks. Raising his eyebrows, he left his seat, wheels squeaking as he pushed his big chair against the wall.
The scanner took a few minutes to warm up, so I still had all the papers in my hand.
“Our boy’s the real deal and has the papers to prove it.”
He frowned at me, forehead creasing like a fancy napkin.
“Let me see them a sec.”
I passed them over.
He handed me paper from a folder beside the scanner. A clearly forged document, one of several in the sleeve. I hadn’t realised till then why we had such great statistics. And why the shredder stood by the neighbouring desk.
“Send that instead.”
“But … he’s the real thing. He should be here. He’s just a kid.”
The office door banged as a colleague left for the day.
I placed the sheet on the glass, pressed the button to scan, and watched, as the scanner light played across my face.
published 26 October 2011