The cold evening breeze slapped his face as he ventured into the alley. He hoped at least that his longer strides and faster pace would get him to the train station a few minutes earlier than usual. He worked nights in a dance club as a bouncer – a job that barely met his needs.
The colored lights that twinkled thru the windows of the buildings nearby were not enough distraction. December’s festivities were virtually nonexistent for him now. All he longed for was home.
His wife Nneka had called from Nigeria to say she wanted out of their 4-year old marriage. It was a sham, she thought and didn’t anymore want to be part of the charade. He had pleaded for patience. More time. ”Till when?” she had yelled in frustration over the telephone before bursting into tears. He fell silent. The truth is, he didn’t have the answer. He still needed to get his ”papers” so that he could legalize his stay. A snort escaped through his nostrils. He didn’t even have enough to buy his plane ticket back home.
Life as an illegal immigrant was not as simple as that of others. His daily worries were not the same as those of the average citizen. He had to bother about getting and keeping a job. He had to deal with exploitation from dishonest emoloyers – immigrants themselves – who cashed in on his situation to cheat him on wages. He was concerned with how to avoid getting nabbed by the authorities and being repatriated. He could not hold an apartment in his name or register assets in his own name! What was life without the freedom to live?
As he entered the warm interior of the train station, a team of three policemen on patrol walked past him. He became more cautious then, heaving an audible sigh of relief when he was certain that he was not the object of their considerations.
Then the thought struck him. As the train halted, he was greeted by the rush hour flux of workers exiting the train and returning home. A mischievous smile spread briefly across his face. One of these people would soon pay him some heed! He deliberately walked into a fair-skinned man, who didn’t waste time to give him a piece of his mind.
“Mais putain! Are you blind or what? Do you need magnifying glasses or something, Monsieur?”
“Excusez-moi mon gars. My eyes are fine alright but you really were so tiny, even a clairvoyant couldn’t have seen you.”
Whack! came the slap across his face. Whack! he retorted.
Spectacle created. Cops appeared on the scene. Handcuffs snapped tightly around his wrists. Things had played out just the way he wanted. Not without a few bruises though. His belly was hurting so badly.
A few hours later, he was seated in the comfortable interior of a cell in the police station. His case had been decided. He would be put on the next day’s flight to Lagos. A wry smile spread across his face. He’d be home at last! Home to be with his wife and the 3-year old daughter he had never held in his arms.
In the days when he was ignorant, he’d have sworn that absence made the heart grow fonder. Now he was certain: absence makes the heart grow number. This was definitely true for Nneka, in whose case, also, absence had probably made the heart wander. And if he was foolish enough not to know what and who mattered most, it was certain that absence had made his mind grow dumber.