“The psychological upheaval, the amount of mental trauma and the associated pain that is recurring day in an out cannot be put into words when there is no possible and immediate hope of a reunion with my family, now that I have left my country. I may never see my wife and children again! Where am I heading now and what am I to do….? I left Sri Lanka because of political skullduggery and instability….”
Tikiri was pouring his heart out to the manager of a Sri Lankan restaurant in London when he approached him seeking any menial job to supplement his social security benefits he received from the British government.
Tikiri, in actual fact, was not really a political victim at home but one of those who got swept away with the great wave of ‘economic migrant’ category having paid a colossal sum of rupees to an unknown agent in Colombo just to obtain a forged passport and false visa documents to enter Britain, the county of glory and hope!
How many more, like Tikiri, have fallen prey to this trap before? He probably did it without really knowing the consequences of his imagined dreams like thousands before.
Tikiri became conditioned to the idea that England was a ‘Paradise’ and the money earned was good, converting the rupee into three figure values. Had he known about the latest immigration laws in the UK and European Union and how difficult life in England for a refugee was, he would never have even thought of leaving the real comforts he enjoyed in Sri Lanka.
As an apothecary working in a tea estate he enjoyed the status of a ‘local doctor’ treating the estate workers. With his limited knowledge of English he could manage to read names of medicine but when he opened his mouth he murdered the Queen millions of times!
With a handsome salary and free lodgings and provisions supplied by the estate, as part of his employment contract, he enjoyed quite a comfortable life with a wife and two young children. But why did he want to throw all that away and spend hundreds of thousands of rupees as ‘kappam’ to an agent and enter Britain as an illegal immigrant? His excuse was that he was ‘not happy at home and there was no future for him or his children’!
It was too late now to repent. Like Tikiri there were many others who were in the same boat, too late to reverse the decision taken. Having applied to the British Immigration authorities in London, seeking political asylum on a fabricated story by an immigration lawyer who made a living out of such cases, Tikiri’s future was hanging on the balance depending on a vital decision to be taken by the Home Secretary on his asylum application.
British Social Welfare
Meanwhile, he was given temporary leave ‘to enter in Britain’ but not allowed to work officially. He was helped with accommodation and paid a weekly allowance too at the expense of millions British tax payers’ money. He now had a bigger commitment to send money home to support his wife and two children, by hook or by crook, because his family lived with his mother-in-law in Sri Lanka. All these worries affected his health and gave him ‘heart burns’ which was diagnosed as having two peptic ulcers in his stomach’, he poured out his heart to the Sri Lankan prospective employer.
The Manager at the Sri Lankan restaurant was a kind-hearted man. Tikiri had found during his short stay in London that Sri Lankans living there were a strange lot of people. Unlike at home, he found many Sinhala folks to be cold and unhelpful as opposed to the vast Tamil community who were helping each other - from financial to their personal and psychological needs. Had he been a Tamil, he thought at times, he would have found a job in one of many flourishing Tamil business across the whole of London, but he did not have the right connections or friends in that quarter for that. Yet, he was not going to give up. His dire circumstances pushed him to the deep end to be courageous and seek out. That was the reason he first thought of approaching the Sinhala restaurant for a job.
Whether the manager was fully sympathetic towards his helpless situation or he was constantly having staff problems was immaterial, but Tikiri was offered an evening job at the restaurant as a kitchen hand for a pittance with which the manager would not have been able to employ anyone legally as the Law dictated a minimum wage per hour. However, Tikiri was happier now that he had a double income with which he could at least send home a some money at the rate of over Rs. 200 to a British Pound Sterling and still have the day time free to do anything else.
After working for a few weeks and intermingling with the Sri Lankan staff and customers at the restaurant, Tikiri soon found out about many other opportunities available in Britain, especially for immigrants, which included asylum seekers. Knowing his own capacity in his English knowledge he enrolled for an English as a Secondary Language course. He was exempted from any course fees on the fact that technically he was regarded as a refugee until such time a decision was made by the authorities.
Tikiri enjoyed the English lesson for more than one reason. Firstly he was very comfortable with the rest of the students in the class - a mini United Nations which included India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Ethiopia and other East European countries like Bosnia, Kosovo and Croatia - With his limited knowledge of English he was seen like a king reigning the hell! And most importantly he was quite pleased to see a young, beautiful and charming lady teacher taking their English class.
Tikiri was now seen attending his English lesson regularly like clockwork. The job and other arrangements fitted his needs like hand in a glove because he could attend the classes in the morning and go to work in the evening and still have time to go one day of the week to the post office to cash his social security cheque.
Nathalie, born to Italian parents in England was a picture of beauty. She had dark long shoulder length hair, tied into a pony-tail, which projected her beautiful facial bone structure. With her Olive tan skin, shapely body curves in perfect balance, charming smile, pearl like teeth and tall figure she should have taken up modelling rather than teaching English to a few foreigners, thought Tikiri. Mesmerized by her beauty and her soft voice, Tikiri was physically attracted to her more than learning English.
Natalie was a good teacher no doubt, and she made students not only converse a few words in English in the class room but made a desperate attempt to give them the full benefit of her teaching. One of her favourite and effective approaches was to let students come out with their inner feelings on any subject closer to their hearts on paper in English. So every week there were number of essays written by students out of which good ones were selected and pinned on to a notice board along the corridors of the college as a morale booster.
Natalie was first struck by a powerful short essay written by Tikiri which touched her compassionate heart. In his essay, he obviously having benefited by Natalie’s English teaching was eloquent:
“I have left my country where I was born, where I laughed, where I cried and where my relatives and friends live. When I came to this foreign land I felt as if I was deaf as I could not absorb everything they spoke. I felt as if I was blind and stammering or dumb. I had eyes, but I couldn’t see. I had ears, but I couldn’t listen. I had a mouth only to eat most of the time. At this time I felt bored, frightened and annoyed Each day I fought with myself and told myself ‘Put it off, for a short time’ and ‘Take it easy’. Those were beautiful words in my mind in my own language, but sometimes I lost control. In life bad things and good things are partners all the time, I had begun to realize. Then I found a lovely teacher in the name of Natalie who opened up my latent talents in English where I was trained to express my feelings. Thanks to her effective teaching she enabled me to speak properly, express effectively and paved the path to restart my life again from England.”
Naturally it touched Natalie very much. After all, she noticed that Tikiri was not only an intelligent guy but was quite handsome and attractive too. Gradually something seemingly had been germinating in her unattached heart towards Tikiri but she did not want her thoughts to get carried away. Every time her thoughts tried to overpower her heart she told herself, ‘NO! Don’t be silly’ and always tried to control her mind over matter.
On the last day of a mid-term and just before the college broke for a week’s vacation Tikiri approached Natalie and invited her out for lunch as a gesture of appreciation for all the hard work she had done for him. Without realizing Natalie agreed and Tikiri accompanied her proudly to the Sri Lankan restaurant where he worked for a rice and curry meal.
On a glass of red wine and to make up conversation Natalie enquired into Tikiri’s past and some personal details. He told her that he had been a ‘native doctor’ in a Sri Lankan tea estate where the work force was all Indian and Sri Lankan Tamil labour. He had to leave the job and the country because his life was threatened by Tamil terrorists! Natalie believed every word he uttered and was moved by his charm and the way he put his sorry side of the story. Since he had a ‘medical background’ she suggested that he could enroll for a pharmacist’s course in the UK and assured him that his English was quite adequate to do so.
Seemingly, as the days and weeks passed by, Natalie and Tikiri became closer and closer together. Both assumed secretly that the chemistry between the two was on par and a touch of unspoken romance was in the air, but they carried on regardless, more like friends with lunch dates extending to dinner night outs and night clubs.
One evening, Natalie asked him not to go to work and invited Tikiri to an Italian restaurant. Wondering what to expect he walked curiously that evening to Natalie who was already waiting for him with a broad smile. During the dinner Natalie broke the news to Tikiri quite happily that she was carrying his baby in her stomach. Perturbed somewhat but not pretending to be so, he tried to find an escape route by saying that his stay in the UK was not sure and it all depended on the Home Office decision as he was an asylum seeker. To his dismay Natalie proposed to marry him so that he could qualify for a resident visa on the fact that he is ‘married to a British citizen’ and thereby they could live together happily. As a bonus she offered to sponsor him to undergo his pharmacy degree where there was hope in every respect in the future for them. Tikiri was trapped unknowingly.
A few weeks later Natali became Mrs. Tikiri Banda at the Marriage Registry office and started a family life together. Weeks passed by but Tikiri still continued to go for his evening restaurant job despite Natalie’s requests to quit the job and pursue his studies. Seemingly Natalie noticed a complete change coming over Tikiri. Instead of his charming smile he always used to wear on his face, he looked confused, agitated or in an angry and unapproachable mood. To make things worse he started coming very late after work and sleep the whole day leaving hardly any time to sit down and discuss anything with Natalie. This she found to be rather irritating and with her pregnancy advancing she could have certainly had some sympathy and help from her husband, she thought, but did not complain.
One day he did not come home after work till the following morning and Natalie panicked and became worried. In the morning when Tikiri came home she politely enquired as to what had happened to him on the previous night! His answer was abrupt and he said he had to go to his cousin’s place for an urgent matter.
“Cousin!” She barked at him. “You haven’t told me that you have a cousin or anyone here in this country! From where on earth did this cousin of yours descend suddenly? After all, you could have at least phoned and told me about it”. She certainly sounded angry for the first time. Tikiri was taken by surprise.
“You don’t know Natali the amount of pressure I am under. I have to send some money to my two children in Sri Lanka and I had to borrow money from my cousin”, he muttered quietly.
“What? Your children? You never told me that you were married, and how about your wife? I suppose she is also there with the children and you are still feeding them from here? Bloody liar and cheat!” She sounded furious.
“I’m sorry Natalie, I never had a chance to explain anything to you and things happened so fast and just like that between you and me. And how could have I said such a thing when you suddenly bombarded me with the news that you were carrying my child? I tried to conceal this and hit a balance and satisfy both parties at the same time. That was the reason I did not want to do my pharmacy degree either because I needed the money to send home regularly to keep them going as well and the evening job helped. You see, when I got married to you my status changed in the UK and I was not a refugee any more and they stopped my social security benefits altogether and this was where everything went wrong. Sorry about that,” he pleaded helplessly.
“Sorry! Sorry!! I will show you who will be really sorry”, she roared.
Tikiri had never seen her getting angry or shouting at him like that before. What happened to her cool and calm behaviour? He was trying to think when she suddenly grabbed the telephone and dialled the police emergency number and complained about ‘wife bashing’. Within minutes sirens were heard screaming and police cars surrounded their house. Tikiri was arrested on a charge of domestic violence, a serious offence in England if complained by a woman.
Natalie had no regrets for reporting Tikiri to the authorities on a false complaint of wife battering or following it up further by reporting him to the Immigration Authorities too, saying that he had entered into a marriage of convenience, committing bigamy just to stay in Britain. She intensely said to the authorities that Tikiri had purposely committed bigamy.
Tikiri was sentenced to five years rigorous imprisonment after a criminal court hearing in London, with a further sentence to be deported to Sri Lanka after serving the jail sentence. Natalie had to go to her parents, undecided on her future until and after her baby was born.
Tikri, in his prison cell, serving the jail sentence, kept on looking out from his tiny window at the dark and gloomy sky at a distance which was equivalent to his own feelings within. He kept on thinking every moment whether it was the right decision that he had taken in leaving all the comforts at home and coming over to the land of hope and glory, looking out for greener pastures. It became too unbearable for him whenever his children came to his mind.
On many an occasion he felt like committing suicide, which he was quite capable of doing had he not been confined to a tiny room of 4ft x 6ft and surrounded by only four walls.