CRIMINAL, it said. Bold. Large. Glaring.
My eyes blurred as I stared at the page. A loud ringing noise started from somewhere deep in my ears, growing ever louder until I was deaf to all else around me. The word so screamed at me, it may as well have been written in dripping blood.
Any second I expected the police to break down our door; flashing lights and guns, startling even my sons out of their Paw-Petrol-binge haze.
I actually shifted the screen away a little from my husband’s view. I was terrified he would see the capital words and ask the dreaded words, "What’s that?"
I had been keen on getting an online platform to purge a little when I received an email that said my submission here was accepted. But when I opened up the page where my submission was placed the name of that category gave me something of a mini-stroke.
A little heart-stopping to think that’s the class I supposedly belong in. Crime. Criminal. Me.
Every second or third person from my home country did things like I did -well, in the beginning, am not so sure they’re those who’ve descended quite as far). It was just the done thing, and with the rampant corruption of the government offices in South Africa, it became almost run of the mill. I myself did it so often that the illegality, the *criminal* aspect of it ceased to cross my mind.
That headline certainly had a sobering effect.
Well, that is if there is any actuality in these little titbits to begin with!
Emphasis here on the hypothetical.
And back to that hypothetical, I want to get to the root of it all. The root which would probably be; leaving college with a distinction in journalism but ending up trapped in the backwaters of my uncle’s Pretoria home because I had no place else to go and zero funds from anywhere.
I became housemaid, cook, and childminder/nanny to my one-year-old boy cousin and five-year-old girl cousin. Though I adored them both, it was the closest to hell I’ve ever been since. The stifling, disheartening aspect of it; the intense friction between my uncle and me. Maddening.
One day I’d reached my limits. I packed and left for Johannesburg with nothing but dreams. I didn’t care if I ended up on the streets, anything had to be better than the existence I was leading.
Thankfully, it wasn’t on the streets that I ended. A childhood friend took me in. Then from there came I****Access, the call centre that gave me a family away from family, a home away from home.
Don’t mistake me, the job in itself was a nightmare of pressure; dealing with irate customers, insane call targets, and emergency cases of all sorts. It was the culture, though, of the company that was appealing. Warm, embracing, hoots of laughs, and plain fun.
I met so many individuals, had so many experiences that really impacted me there. And of course there was Andy (not his real name, but it rhymes!) Andy. My first Johannesburg love… Well, love may be stretching it – let’s say rather, crush turned obsession turned to living nightmare.
To me at twenty-three years of age, he was simply wonderful.
A personality that filled an entire building, a heart that could embrace that entire building. He also happened to be a manager and one of the coaches. Only a year older than I was, but at the time so far above me in terms of maturity and capability.
And when it went south at the call centre – those never-ending immigration issues! – I cannot forget; me sitting in the boardroom, Andy across from me (how my heart thumped); him going into speech about work permits and fines to companies that don’t comply. I was one of their top agents, he’d said, I don’t want to lose you, he’d added kindly enough. But the flaming law was the flaming law.
From him, of all people. That whole familiar play out of exposure and rebuffing. I was mortified. Destroyed. I think I cried later that night!
Yet, looking back, it was a cheek and rather ridiculous to think I could fake my way through employment without the legal paperwork. Yes, I had assimilated. Yes, I had moulded myself into the regular Joburg girl, but it wasn’t enough. I needed papers. Full stop.
Then, as if the heavens had opened up and heard my heart-pained pleas, the South African government presented an act/drive to legalise some of the illegals from my country. Stringent criteria had to be met, but I was hopeful. And so were thousands of others, as it turned out.
I arrived at the Home Affairs office in Randfontein to find a crowd. A big crowd. There were Home Affairs officials at the front of the chaos. One of them carried a gigantic entry book; “the book.” Through elbowing and pressing against already sweaty bodies (it was about 8 AM), I got my name down in “the book.” Number 389.
What followed was a lot of standing around with many clusters of hopefuls waiting for some action – any action on the part of the officials.
As it was impossible to fit us all into the offices inside, it was a windy and extraordinarily dusty atmosphere we had to stand around in. A scene that ran similar at other Home Affairs offices across the country. It was staggering, the sheer masses of illegals that came forward in the drive. I’m sure some of the ministers involved in the initiative gulped. They had expected a substantial turn out, however these excessive numbers left them stammering and groping.
I must say, walking in to join that mass of mostly shabbily dressed and unpolished “illegal aliens,” I felt myself swallow something hard in the back of my throat. I realise now that it was pride.
There can be no way of allowing a couple of security guards to herd you like cattle; lying on plastic bags on the dusty earth; sitting there (some exhausted older women even prostrating themselves) for hours on end – there is no way you can sit there, facing that dusty wind, utterly exposed and unprotected, leaping up at the same moment with hundreds of others (maids, gardeners, vendors, labourers, typists, receptionists etc) to thrust hands out in begging for that treasured form to fill, hoping against hope you won’t be rejected and you will, at last, be made legal – there is no way you can do all that without laying aside pride.
Dignity stripped in throngs.
I wish I could bring to life on paper everyone that I met there, but I know I can never do them justice. Those were people who the White South Africans, and even some Black ones, frowned at with unmasked distaste as they maneuvered their shiny new cars around the many clusters of us strewn across the parking lot of that Home Affairs. I even heard one White lady remark in high-pitched irritation, "Agh, these people – they’re *everywhere*!"
What she saw, what they all saw, was a poor crowd, littering their otherwise unblemished and respectable vicinity. I, in the midst of them, saw husbands and wives, mothers and children, and vital youth and young people trying to weather some incredible odds to carve what little they could for themselves in a hostile environment.
Unfortunately for me, rough as it was, that route to legality did not pan out. It was onto further lies and outright dissembling.
Late 2011 I manipulated a college friend, tricked a nun, and almost got a priest to perform a very unrighteous union because I got it into my head to marry for documentation.
Dylan O’Brien – again, not his real name, but real enough for me to talk into marriage at the time!
Dylan, an Irish South African – given a couple of generations of his ancestors settling into life in South Africa and he turned out the epitome of assimilation. Despite his skin colour, he was more black than I was, and authentically South African to the core.
We were best friends in college. But, as tends to be the case sometimes with best friends of the opposite sex, one falls in love and the other does not.
I do regret the way in which I brushed off his advances for something more between us. I could have been more tactful; could have been kinder. And more than that, I regret how I eventually shamelessly used him.
It was impossible for me to have any romantic feelings for Dylan O’Brien. We were buddies. We did immature, brainless buddy things. He was a lot of fun and laughs but I was in no position to enter into a relationship with someone I would then have to proceed to raise, because, although we were the same age, Dylan, unlike Andy, needed to be directed, watched over; mothered, and at about twenty-one years old, I didn’t have the time or capacity to babysit him to maturity.
Yet, just two years later I asked him to be my name only husband. He agreed to it, would have gone right through with it had there not been a last-minute glitch that derailed the whole process. Who knew even getting married while illegal was a bureaucratic horror, costing thousands in paperwork and travel between countries.
I regret much about that affair – there is much to regret – but nothing more so than the way I dropped Dylan after it all. It’s true, I admit it, I’ve tended to be a people-dropper, something of a user; getting my worth or whatever they offer and then just… distance. Never the intent. It’s just happened so often: Dylan O’Brien... Sister Marie – the sweet nun, the dear friend whom I deceived and dropped, in that order. Not to mention a host of others.
That illegal immigrant in me became so rootless, so grasping, so completely faithless that that is the type of “friend” I became.
In the end, as I wrote in Part I, after the publishing house stint and debacle, I resorted to that aforementioned forgery and falsification that is so rife in the halls of the SA Home Affairs department and obtained a work permit.
I breathed a sigh of relief. I thought it was over.
I was wrong.
That’s the thing with these types of orchestrations/unions with these dealers in identity. Once you’re in with them, you can only go deeper; descend into darker depths. Needless to say, significantly more grave crimes awaited me.