‘… And you have no idea how you came to be on this list?’
There is no clue of intonation in the woman’s voice. No disbelief, no boredom at what must be her 35th iteration of the same interview this morning, no weariness and, of course, no sympathy. The woman’s hair is trying to be that chic grey that the President of the IMF carries off so well. It tries but fails. She is wearing the kind of suit that supposedly empowered women the last time one of us led the government. I pick at the lint on the skirt of my own, and only, suit. It has no more empowered me than all the work I have done in my field.
‘… No, you see I - ’
She holds up a hand, palm outward. I’m holding up my briefcase, as if it were a crucifix.
‘But you are on the list, you realise?’
The woman’s head tilts to one side as she asks me this. I do not know if it is learned behaviour, perhaps from some seminar on dealing with… Well, I do not know what the seminar might have been called and I fear to conjecture.
‘Yes, but, you see -’
‘I see that you have two offences on your record.’
She lifts her chin and I can almost understand the satisfaction some find in violence.
‘I received a caution for both. Besides it was a peaceful demonstration -’
‘Nevertheless, the quota has been increased and the threshold has been reduced. You do see that my hands are tied.’
Despite her words, it is she who lifts her hands to render her shrug more emphatic.
‘I have affidavits, letters from the University, encomia from my colleagues and superiors.’
I hear her tut. Tut!
Suddenly I have my hand in my briefcase, I pull out a sheet with the familiar portcullis heading it.
‘I have a letter from my MP.’
Her eyebrow raises,
‘Please, I cannot go back. My life is here.’
‘Have you married recently?’ She taps a few keys on her laptop. ‘Ah, a civil partnership. Not quite the same thing, is it?’
I notice the chip on an expensively manicured nail as she presses a key.
‘There are no exemptions I’m afraid.’
She shuffles some papers, many are blank sheets. I see several bearing the portcullis symbol. Perhaps one of them is the list. But in truth, I wonder at how they talk of the list, as if they think that we do not know the list contains only one word,