Saturday 18 June 2022

'All the Power' by Eleonora Balsano

The embassy clerk licks a dab of chocolate off his upper lip. He ducks behind his computer screen, hoping to be invisible to the dozens of tired eyes queuing for a stamp on their passport. I watch him and think of young dogs hiding under a bed skirt, their heads secure, their rear legs in the open. When he’s done, he clicks on the Next button and we step forward. There’s still a smidgen on his right cheek but I won’t tell him now that he has all the power in the world, now that he decides who gets to go and who stays behind, who gets a clean slate and who cleans up the mess.

He looks down to us, because his desk is on a platform, at least a couple of feet above the floor, but also in another way. Assessing our chances.

I lift my youngest so that the clerk can check him against his passport picture. The baby squirms and kicks against my ribs because he doesn’t like this, standing for hours, crawling on an orange carpet in an office smelling of dust and Dettol and perspiration and hope.

Lift him higher, Ma’am, he commands. Higher, higher, until the baby taps with his foot the plastic screen between our future and our present.

Step back, Ma’am!

One, two, three steps back as he finger-counts us.

We hand him a roll of bills, our hearts pulsing in every muscle as we watch him stamp our passports, taking his time between one thud and the next, our whole lives engulfed in that space.

When it’s all done we hurry outside, nodding at each pair of tired eyes still waiting, praying, finger-crossing for the chance to try again.

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