This is a very old story. It is from more than four years ago, when I first came to the Outpost.
On my first morning here I walked to my employer’s HQ to sign a contract. It was an overcast day, so I foolishly put on a suit and a woolen overcoat. I was sweating like a pig on my way to the employer. I signed the contract and I was then asked to open a bank account. I caught a cab to a random bank branch (there are just so many of them here) and I opened an account. There I was instructed to go back to my employer and hand in the bank account number. I caught a cab and so did I. I was then asked to go to Immigration the very next morning. I was advised to make an appointment first, something that, very conveniently, one of my employer’s secretaries actually did for me on the spot. I was to see Mr. Ka of Immigration the following morning between 8 and 8.30 am. I needed two passport-sized photos, a copy of my contract and a blue banknote depicting a boat and an armless idol to give up.
I arrived at the Immigration office by cab the following day at 8.15, expecting to be on my own. I got into a waiting room full of people. I cursed my luck, as I was something like 30th in line, or worse. I took a seat and looked around me. South Asian males and Eastern European women. ‘Odd’, I thought — I knew nothing of the Outpost realities back then. I waited for 10 minutes and marvelled at the stillness: nobody was moving, the foreign foreigners were passively wedged in their chairs, there were no clerks to be seen. It looked like we were on our own. There was no priority number to be had either by machine or by human hand. I wondered whether the Immigration people had started work yet.
Suddenly a door opened and woman came in on her way to somewhere. She was approached by some of those waiting there, but she would either dodge them or tell them in a clipped fashion to sit back down and wait for their turn. Then she spotted me with the corner of her eye.
“Are you waiting for someone?”
“Yes ma’am. Erm, I…”
“Please follow me.”
There was no record of my having an appointment with Mr. Ka; however I could see him right away. Which I did. Just before that I turned back and took a look of the foreign foreigners who eyed me as I was majestically jumping the queue, having arrived just 10 minutes before and who knows how long after them. I was ushered in an office and here was Mr. Ka, looking slimy and in control — I later gathered that these two often go together in the Outpost, North and South.
Mr. Ka asserted his authority by offering me coffee and by mildly complaining that I had arrived slightly late in the morning for him to be in a position to serve me properly and swiftly, as it should happen, “us being brethren”. This last point was a token of his wholehearted subservience to the grand Compatrido Nation, which I was yet another illustrious representative of. It was the first time I would be offered blatantly preferential treatment just for being a Compatrido bastard, but not the last. I protested (back in these early days, I would still protest too much) that I had arrived as per my appointment. He told me how difficult his work is “with all those foreign foreigners arriving all the time”, which struck me as odd — imagine a shepherd complaining about all those sheep he or she has to attend to, at least this is the kind of image the waiting room would evoke for me: one of sheep to be shorn or worse. He snatched the banknote, the contract and the photos from my hand. He looked at the contract and stopped short of prostrating in front of me: not only was I a Compatrido, but also an X-ologist! Working for them. Ooh. Or so I thought back then, but, remember, it was still early days, Day Two in fact, for me.
He disappeared with the documents and I was given two forms to fill out. One of them was for artistes only. The other, which I would have to send to my employer at my earliest convenience, was for non-artistes. That’s the one I filled out. An Alien Registration Certificate with my photo on it was brought to me minutes later by Mr. Ka himself. On my way out, nothing had shifted or moved in the waiting room. I would have many more similar opportunities in the future to feel uncomfortable vis-à-vis the other foreigners, foreign foreigners, that is.
All these in anticipation of my tenth anniversary as a legal alien and an expat, here and elsewhere.