They bundled me into a car – passenger seat, not the boot this time. My knees started to fold, anticipating the blows that didn’t come. The same people, the same car but something was different this time.
“How have you been?” the driver asked.
I couldn’t stop myself. I tried to forget the words I’d learned since the last time they took me - how to swear, how to accuse.
I still wake up in the middle of the night, I told him. I still jump at every sound, I check every locked door. Every day my six year old son asks me if the men will come again. That Christmas is a part of my family now.
I knew I should just stay quiet but the words had been waiting since the moment I learned them.
“They’ll be waiting for you.” he said with a voice that didn’t fit the words, that was eerily absent of threat. Don’t touch my family, I thought, but the words seemed to catch in my throat. I rubbed my hand against my shoulder, knew why I couldn’t fight them. This was different to last time but the feeling was the same. I tried to summon the strength to tell them how much I loved my family, how much I hated this car, all the things I’ve ever been or done and what I had meant to people. My voice bellowed in my head but squeaked in my mouth.
“I am Persian. Don’t kill me.”
It was meant to sound defiant.
The car pulled up at an airport. There were no other vehicles, no signs or luggage trolleys. Military, I thought. Military. And this was rendition.
“Here is your passport.” He placed it in my shaking hand. I felt the weight but not the touch and realised my body was numb. He got out the car with his partner, leaving me alone, the keys in the ignition, the engine switched off. I stare at the wheel, feel my heart pound and my hands freeze. Should I take my chance? Fear compelled me to escape, despair to follow them.
I step out of the car in perfect humiliation, ashamed at myself for giving up.
I had fled my home, but couldn’t get far. These soldiers were foreign to me but they may as well have been handpicked by the Ayatollah himself. They smiled as though they recognised me. As we walked through the main building I saw faces from back home mixed with stranger’s faces. The man who tortured my father. My mother, telling me that I could never escape, that I was never hidden. There was nothing I could do. I walked in step with my captors. They didn’t punch me. They didn’t knock down my door. Even though they had cuffs and batons, they hadn’t restrained me. They took away my pride and I followed willingly.
We walked through a brief complex of corridors and unmarked offices. No-one looked at me directly, no-one wanted to see my face. We stopped for a moment. My captors collected a briefcase and signed a piece of paper. I heard the plane before I saw it, engine running. Only metres away now. My body froze, as finally I decided I would not go. They placed a hand on my back and gently pushed me forward, as though they were helping me. I felt my feet stepping forward. My heart sank still further. I knew it was hopeless. But I wanted people to at least think that I had fought them.
Outside now, the wind lashed my face, Scotland saying goodbye. Every step was a memory deep. Zurvan playing with children his own age from the other side of the world. Walking through the city centre. Pollok park. Glasgow in snow. We suddenly stopped.
“In that suitcase is a change of clothes and a bank card registered in your name. The bank card will give you access to one million pounds GBP, for you and each member of your family quoted on your visa application which has now been rejected. You may go to any country you choose. The passport you have been given is a British passport. It entitles you to full protection and assistance from the British government in your chosen jurisdiction. Two additional passports are also contained in your luggage for your wife and son who will be conveyed to you separately for your security. If you return to this country you and any accompanying family members will be arrested and imprisoned immediately and the aforementioned privileges revoked. Where would you like to go?”
I process what he has said in pieces, shaking from shock and the cold.
“I am a British citizen?”
“You are a British subject.”
“It makes sense if you think about it. We need to reduce immigration. You are poor. You might not realise it now, but you fled your country for market reasons. Yes there were other factors – torture, safety, the political situation but these are secondary effects. We’re saying we understand and we’ll help you. Now you can find your own way and get on. We will make the refugees rich so they can settle down elsewhere and perhaps eventually use their great resources to change the political landscape of the Middle East for the better. You are British. You have been changed by kindness. Once you were a refugee, now you are the new society.”
I didn’t know what to say, even in Farsi. I knew I’d have to learn new words again. Later I would reflect on what I should have said. I studied books about history and political theory. I would write about what I had learned in English and in Farsi. I tried to verbalise the feelings I had that day, with the words I’d learned since they took me away.
There is such a thing as society. There is such a thing as compassion, it just isn’t this.