Chasing Status by Marjorie H Morgan © 2018
“Yes, Sam. What is it?”
“It’s about the paperwork, Roy.” She hesitated, and looked over her shoulder. Then lowering her voice she stepped closer to him. “Sorry to bother you on your way home, but … we, hmmm, we still need your proof of I.D. Can you bring something in after the weekend? A passport will do.”
“Passport? No, not me. I’ve never been the travelling type. No need for a passport – you don’t need one to go to Wales, do you?” Roy’s face wrinkled in laughter and his eyes nearly disappeared in the folds of his weathered face. He shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other and with difficulty bent slowly and placed his worn leather satchel on the ground between his feet.
“Well, something official will do. It doesn’t have to be a passport. Just something which proves who you are …”
“Who I am? Sam, you’ve got everything on me in there.”
“Yeah, I thought so, too. I bet you know more about this company than I do! How long have you been here again? 22 years?”
His face smoothed out as he remembered back to the time when he didn’t have pains constantly shooting up his hip and effortlessly ran to the crease of the cricket field to deliver the perfect fast ball for the company’s cricket team.
“Yes. That’s right. 6th of August was my start date here. And before that 13 years at the council. Only nine sick days in all that time. Nine. The flu, you know. The flu in 2010. That was a bad one. Eight years ago? Something like that. Three days off then. In bed all the time. I couldn’t move. Taken the flu injection every year since.”
“Makes sense. My mum takes it too. The doctor recommended it – it’s her age you see.”
“Yes, gotta do what the doctor says. When you’re getting up there, you know, when the grey hairs are more than the black ones, then you’ve gotta listen more. Time to slow down now. Truthfully,” he leans towards her as if in conspiracy, “I’ve got a few aches and pains – especially here,” Roy gingerly touches his left hip as he looks at Sam trying to read her face because he saw her shoulders were held tight and square. “But that’s another matter. I’ll see the doctor when I get a moment. Anyway, a few more years then I’m going to retire.”
“That’ll be nice, I’m sure.” She is looking everywhere except at his face, “The only thing is, Roy, and this is odd, that’s why I stopped you – I’ve never seen this before, the thing is, I know you, but we got this letter saying you’re not registered in the system. It seems strange that they can’t find you.”
“No. The Government.”
“Ha ha! That’s a good one. You nearly had me there.” His laugh sounds like a drink of hot chocolate laced with rum. He picks up his bag and swinging it across his back he turns to leave.
“Um … Um … wait a minute, Roy. Actually I’m serious. Sorry.”
“Hold on, let me explain … ummm, your paperwork’s out of date.”
“What does that mean? You’re having a laugh. Sorry. What I mean is this is a joke? Right? Must be.” With a nervous smile Roy glances around expectantly. The lads in his section are masters of practical jokes. It keeps their minds fresh and each other nervous. “April Fools joke?”
“Do you want to come in and sit down so we can discuss this in private?”
“No!” Roy is as shocked as Sam at the volume of his answer. She takes a half step backwards and he lowers his eyes momentarily before catching his breath and continuing, “Everything’s been said in the open, not going to change now. I’m an open man me. Royston Hubert Francis. No secrets. Everybody knows that. Here – ask Jim.”
There is an edge of urgent desperation in his voice as he shouts. “Jim! Jim! Come here a minute,”
“Whassup Roy?” Jim lopes across the wide corridor and comes to a halt beside his friend. Jim slaps Roy on the back and notices that Roy is stiff and upright. He says nothing else and lets his hands fall loose at his side. He’s never known Roy to be tense apart from when he was burying his wife, Maise, six years earlier. He was normally a loose-limbed man with a ready smile and joke for anyone, that’s how he thought of Roy, and how he would describe him in the future that he didn’t yet know.
“Tell this woman about me. Tell her, Jim.”
“Tell her what? Hello Sam. How are you?”
“Tell her who I am.”
Sam steps forward again and raises her hand as if she is about to shut an invisible door between them. “Hello Jim. Sorry. This is a private matter. You all got your own letters. This is between me and Roy here.”
“Sorry. What’s going on? I thought you left ages ago, Roy.”
“I tried to …”
Sam interrupts just as Jim reopens his mouth to speak again after seeing Roy’s rare grief face, “Roy and I are just trying to clear something up. Nothing to worry about, we’ll…”
“You say that now, but you keep asking me for information you already have. It’s been months. Jim, did you get that letter in … in, what month was it? March, yes, March. Did you get that letter …”
Like impatient motorists they continued to cut across each other’s words.
“Yeah, we all got them.”
“… about updating your …”
“We sent one to everyone in the company.”
“… personal details.”
“So what’s the problem?”
“I’ve given them everything they asked for and they say they can’t find me in the system! Me!”
“Don’t worry, mate. It’ll be alright …That can’t be right? It’s not right, is it, Sam?”
“As I said to Roy, it must be an administrative error that we’ll sort out soon enough.” Sam’s clipped tones were as sharp as talons and they betrayed her frustration with the situation and the two men in front of her.
“Best do! This is foolishness. See me here!” Roy beats both hands on his chest vigorously knowing that he’s going to regret the intensity of the action later that evening. “Every day for 22 years, right here in this building. Ev-er-y day bar the few days off with the flu. I’m here.”
“That’s right! Roy’s a fixture in this place. Taught me everything I know.”
“Here all the time.” His words feel hollow as he releases them. For the first time in nearly half a century he feels afraid like he is watching the last ship from the port dip over the horizon with all he values on board. Everything in his head tightens and moves to just above his left eye, then it starts banging for release. The pain always veers left. He finds some dry words that scratch his throat on their way out, “I couldn’t teach you dominoes though! You’ll never be any good at that. Bit like me and darts.” The sound that should be laughter cracks and shatters as it leaves him.
Sam clears her throat as she does her awkward two step shuffle nearer the opened door, “Anyway, listen, let’s not get all worked up over … something that’s nothing right now.”
“If it’s nothing, then why did you stop me again?”
“Just trying to see if there’s another way around the paperwork, Roy. That’s all. I’m trying to help you.”
“Suddenly, it doesn’t feel like it.”
The three of them stand silently for the longest five seconds of that day.
“What am I going to do, Jim? They have everything on me already. What more could they want?”
“I know, mate. Don’t worry. It’s nothing … like Sam said. They’ll sort it out. You will, right Sam?”
“That’s what I was trying to tell you, Roy. It’s just a matter of proving who you are so they can change your records back from ‘no status’ again.”
“What do you mean ‘no status’? C’mon now. Stop the foolishness, it’s been a long week. I’m dying to get home. I’ve got that aching pain in my side again …”
“‘No status’? What’s that mean?” Jim chips in with a three line furrow appearing on his brow matching the one that has taken up residence on Roy’s forehead.
“Don’t worry, Roy, we’ll clear this up,” he hopes he’s telling the truth.
“It’s just an administrative term. Nothing to stress about. I’m sure this’ll all be sorted in the next week or so.”
“I hope so. You just got me riled up for a minute. That’s all.” However, Roy doesn’t feel calm.
“No problems, Roy. We’re just fulfilling our legal responsibility you see. We’ve all got to do our bit.”
“I know the admin. I’ve my own pile of paperwork over there for month end. Sorry ‘bout that. Thanks, Sam. Sorry again.”
“No problems. Don’t worry. See you Monday – we’ll get it sorted then.”
“Yeh, Monday. Sorry I raised my voice. I just don’t understand why you … you know, they … can’t find me in the system. Makes no sense.” His shoulders look like the overnight cover on a birdcage as he walks off. He shakes his head trying to release the confusion. After about 10 steps he stops and half turns his head towards the watchful eyes of Sam and Jim, “I’ll leave it to you, right? You’ll sort it?”
“Sit anywhere, this won’t take long.”
“Thank you. Who are you again? I didn’t catch your name just now.”
“Sorry. I’m Susan Thatcher. The Hospital Administrator.”
“OK. Nice to meet you Mrs Thatcher. Are you related to … you know, the old Prime Minister?”
“No. No relation.”
“Sorry. You must get that all the time.”
Susan smiles a wafer thin smile and indicates to the chairs again. Roy moves closer to a seat, but doesn’t sit down straight away. He’s waiting for her to sit as well. She does not. She blocks the air in the room with her position by the opened doorway.
“I don’t know why you’ve pulled me in here. I’ve come to see the doctor.”
“Yes, I know. That’s why we need to have a chat …”
Chivalry is increasingly uncomfortable and time consuming now Roy is in his seventh decade of life, so reluctantly he eases himself into the chair nearest the door in the small side room. Susan, the rotund woman he has just met for the first time, hesitates in front of a chair on the opposite side of the table. Placing a thick file down in front on her with a thud she spreads her fingers like two inverted steeples on either side of it. She looks as if she is about to propel herself into the ceiling. Roy laughs nervously.
“Well, we have a problem Mr Francis. I’m sorry but you can’t attend your appointment today.”
“Why? What? The GP referred me here over six months ago, she said my treatment was immediate and necessary and I still haven’t had any appointments! Why? Why? Now you’re saying there’s a problem? What problem?”
“It’s just paperwork, Mr Francis. Your file’s missing some documents that we need before we can proceed.”
“Everywhere I go nowadays people are asking for old paperwork! It’s all in the system I tell you. I’ve given you everything I have. Everything.”
“Please calm down, Mr Francis. I’m just doing my job. I have to …”
“Listen. Mrs Susan, Mrs Thatcher, I’m sick. That’s why I’m here. The GP referred me, I can’t even work too well because of the pain. You can’t stop me from …”
“Please listen, Mr Francis. I’m not stopping …”
“Barriers everywhere. Everywhere I turn. I’m so tired of it now. Sick and tired.”
“I understand your frustration Mr Francis, but please try to understand that I have to follow the rules of the hospital … and the government. We are required to ensure …”
“You’re locking me out! You’re refusing to treat me … aren’t you? Is that what you’re doing? Don’t you see the doctor’s letter? It’s in there, in the file.” Roy saw that his hands had become fists and were banging on the table. He didn’t remember starting the motion, but he consciously decided to follow the existing beat as if he was reading a music score.
“Look. I’m sick – really sick, for the first time in nearly fifty years – and you’re refusing to treat me? That’s not right! It’s not fair? How can that be fair? I only want what I put it. That’s all. I’m not asking for anyone else’s share. Just what I put it.” Like a deflating balloon he stretches across the table in supplication, “Just what I put in,” he repeats.
“Have you finished?” Her sharp sigh takes up the remaining fresh air in the room. She is not acquainted with mercy. “I’m sorry, Mr Francis. All I can say is that according to your file here there is something missing. We require proof that you are ordinarily resident and legally entitled to live in the UK or you will have to pay for your treatment yourself.”
“What do you mean legally entitled? I’ve been here in England since I was in short trousers. I came in ‘56 with my mother. She worked in this very hospital for thirty two years as a nurse! She’s buried in Highgate cemetery – just up the road.”
“That’s all very interesting, Mr Francis but I need proof for you … In the form of a passport or official bank account details or housing letters to confirm your status, otherwise …”
“Or what? What if I can’t provide a passport?”
“You have to.”
“Or what? Answer me!”
“Please don’t raise your voice, Mr Francis.”
“Keep calm, keep calm! That’s all I hear. Keep calm while I take everything away from you. Keep calm while I take your … life!”
“I don’t think you understand what I’m saying …”
“Oh! But I do. I understands perfectly. You’re saying that if I don’t give you the papers you need – the papers which the government already has from the time I come to this country – if I don’t give you those papers you’re not going to look after me here. That’s right, isn’t it?”
“Well, ummm, yes. Unfortunately, my hands are tied. It’s the law, you see. It’s not me, I’m just doing my job … so, sorry. I had to tell you that you’re now restricted from free access to the NHS unless you can prove your settled status.” Susan knows that her words are like injecting neat acid into an IV yet she doesn’t blink. She sits down at last and pulls the file close to her chest. “But …”
“Well, we can still book you in for your chemotherapy if you pay the charges for the treatment in advance.”
Now they are both gasping like goldfish starved of freshly oxygenated water, the atmosphere is heavy and damp as they stare at each other across the table.
“How much is the treatment to save my life?”
“Ummmmmm. Let me see.” The sound of the paperwork moving in her thick hands reminds Roy of a butterfly caught in a jam jar. The noise suddenly stops. “Ummm. That will be £54,400.
“£54,400 to be precise. In advance.”
“I don’t even have £500 pounds to my name anymore. I’m about to lose my job because of … lost paperwork! Maybe my home too, and now … now you plan to take my life away as well!”
It took Jim two weeks to knock on Roy’s door. They barely recognised each other.
The rum is still familiar and smooth as they sit in silence and look at the floor between them.
Roy is the first to speak.
“I’ve got to leave.”
“Here. My house, and … England.”
“Fuck off!” The rum becomes a spray ejected from between his lips and teeth. “Don’t mess about, Roy.”
“Do I look like I’m joking?”
“I got a letter. Home Office. Said I’m not legal here, so I’ve got to go … don’t know where I’ll go.”
“You’re messing, right?”
“Listen, Jim,” Roy had abandoned patience in his speech when he left the hospital weeks before, “I found out I’ve been working all my life for nothing. I’m sick, bad. Real sick. But I can’t get treatment …”
“You’ve had too much rum, old man! Stop with the riddles. When you coming back to work? We miss you in our section.”
“Jim Jones, for the 15 years I’ve known you, when did I ever not come to work? Never, that’s when. They asked me to leave.” Jim poured himself more rum to stop his hand from shaking.
“What the actual fuck?! Sorry mate, you’re kidding right? No, I know you’re not. Bastards! Fucking bastards.”
Picking up the nearly empty bottle he poured another glug of rum.
“What can I do to help you, Roy? I know, I can talk to …”
“I’ve done it all. I’ve talked to everyone. Night and day. It’s no use. They say I don’t exist in the system. So, it’s like I’ve been working all my life, paying my stamp, and now they say I don’t exist. It’s shit, that’s what it is. It’s slavery. They’ve had me in chains all this time.”
Jim lowered his reddening face to his chest.
“Remember that day when Sam said she needed my passport?”
“Yeah, I thought that was all sorted …”
“I wish … I’ve had government visits here and everything. I’ve got two weeks to leave or they’ll deport me … me and my cancer.”
“You’ve got cancer?”
“Yes. Couldn’t get treatment because of no paperwork. Now they’re shipping me off. To a country I don’t know any more. I don’t know anyone there. This is my home. Well, it was my home …”
“They can’t do that! They can’t! Can they?”
“They’re doing it. Two weeks. So take what you like … I can’t take it with me.”
Marjorie H Morgan © 2018