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Something Nice from London - Continued

And as the days become nights and the weeks become one month, Jonathan and I resolve to handle the matter ourselves. We go to the British Embassy to apply for visas to go to England. Inside we are caught in a sea of humanity whose hopes are pinned on those words: “leave to enter granted.” As we wait, my attention is attracted by a woman in a red beret who has her eyes closed as her lips move in prayer.


I am close enough to hear her mutter: “Lord you are mighty, Jehovah. Look on your suffering servant and assist her, Jehovah.  I call upon your blessings this day, Almighty.” She has to interrupt her prayer as her number is called. Her shouted “Thank you, Jehovah” as she sees the magic words in her passport is infectious, people crowd around her to see and marvel at the visa, to touch the passport, and maybe transfer some of her fortune onto themselves. Her joy suggests that here is no ordinary tourist exulting at the thought of seeing the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace.


This is the only light moment that morning. The window is shut as Jonathan and I get to it, and we have to stand in another queue. We are served by a man who does not look us in the face, but ticks our forms as he eyes his watch.


“What is your business in England?”


“One of us must go to England to bring my dead brother home.”


“Do you have his death certificate?”


“No, sir, we do not. We need to go there to get it.”


He looks at us now. “Then this could be just a story you are telling me. How do I know you really have a dead brother if you do not show me his death certificate?” Jonathan struggles to explain. “The death certificate cannot be issued without a post-mortem. And that is taking too long.”


And I think, Jonathan does not explain properly, he must explain that only when they have separated his brain from the cerebral cavity, separated the medulla oblongata from the frontal lobe, done toxicological tests, only then will they determine what killed him, only then will they be able to say whether he died by his own hand or by that of another. Tell him about the relatives, I think. They will not go until Peter comes home. Tell them about the body-viewing, I think.  How can we have a funeral without a body to view, without people filing by to pay respects as he lies in his coffin in our living room, all the while the daughters-in-law singing him away?


But the man is impatient, and waves us off. As Jonathan continues to plead, the official is joined by a woman who has been hovering in the background. She has heard only a part of the conversation, and grabs the end of what she thinks she has heard. In her crisp English voice, she says: “If you want to see your brother, just ask him for an invitation letter, we must see his bank statements over the last three months, his lease agreement, and proof of immigration status. It is all there in the guidance note.”


“But he is dead!” I cry out at last.  “We want to bring home because he is dead.” The others in the room cannot pretend not to have heard. They turn their faces away as if afraid that our misfortune will infect them. The woman’s face reddens and she hides her embarrassment behind the mask of officialdom.  “Well, in that case, we have to see the death certificate.”


Our consolation must be that even if they give us the visas, we cannot afford the flight. Jonathan had said he would borrow the money, but the air-ticket alone is more than Jonathan’s annual salary.


And so we continue to rely on Lisa. I do not always get through to London. I sit for hours sometimes while the mechanical voice from the exchange tells me that calls to my destination are not possible at this time. When I do get through, the calls are not always answered, and when they are, Lisa can barely control her impatience. “Maininika,” she says. “I cannot do more than I am doing already. Should I break into the mortuary and steal his body? Or is it that I am to turn myself into Peter wacho so that you can bury me?”


I resolve then that I will pay back every pound that she has spent if it takes me my entire life.




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Per Contra Fiction - Fall 2006