Refugee – Chapter 1
Filip stretched and yawned as he forced his eyes open. The sun’s rays were beginning to paint their usual colours on clouds as old sol strode toward the inland horizon. It had been a tough night as he struggled to find a comfortable place to sleep. The moon was at its zenith and stars brilliant so reflections on a calm ocean had him mesmerized. Every time he attempted to close his eyes and listen to the calming actions of waves caressing the beach something prompted him to take one more look at that reflection on the ocean. He shivered as he reflected on its beauty.
He’d travelled Europe extensively on this piece of paper. It was not a passport but sufficiently impressive to gain him this beach in the beautiful country of Sri Lanka. The United Nations had issued him with a travel pass that gave some leverage in Europe. He was one of those refugees from Communist East countries who’d taken their life in their hands and crossed borders without passport or identification papers. He was a stateless person but in that era there was sympathy for such people and he’d cynically played that card getting work here and there and living frugally until he’d built up a sizable amount of money.
Then one day he decided to see the world. So with his faithful worn carry bag containing a change of jeans, a shirt and a wad of cash he approached embassy after embassy looking for new worlds to conquer. He was rejected by the United States, Canada, Britain and Australia. There was no documentation to prove who he was and he was referred back to the UN Refugee committee to stand in line behind others. Filip was not to be put off, he’d travel and see the world in spite of setbacks.
Time after time he’d work his way through Embassy row in different European countries until one day he found a sympathetic hearing at the Sri Lanka embassy. In spite of the fact UN papers only gave him freedom of movement in Europe he’d somehow made a breakthrough. A visa stamp on his unusual document would be his entry into the world of travel. Other embassies would see that evidence of acceptance as a person stamped on his papers and hopefully follow suit he reasoned. And it did work on one other country in transit. He would visit Africa on the way.
People like Filip are survivors. They chip away at bureaucracy until they find a weakness, then seize their opportunity. They are mobile, not restricted by luggage or possessions. Their wits are their assets and they use a cunning crafted through years of hardship to get their next meal and a place to sleep. To Filip the world was his home now.
Filip had sufficient to purchase a cheap return ticket on a cheap airline. It took him to Africa, and finding the pickings meagre there he quickly moved on to Sri Lanka.
This was heaven. Having multiple European language skills, he travelled the island seeking out resident Europeans to whom he told conflicting stories in order to gain their sympathy. The most useful story had him as a tourist who’d been robbed and needed money to get him back home. Always good enough to get him a temporary bed and a few meals before he moved on to the next conquest.
But the longer he stayed in this country the more he fell in love with the beauty of the place and its way of life. He’d forget his wild dreams of building a fortune in the materialistic West and instead adopt this as his own country. Of course there was the difficulty of the visa, that must be solved. And that was the reason for Filip’s disturbed night as he thought of alternatives to solve that problem.
On the streets of Colombo, he observed and planned. Eventually he managed to convince a Colombo based tour group his considerable language skills would be useful to them if only they could settle the visa question. Of course there is no insurmountable problem in that part of the world. The immigration officer in charge was handsomely rewarded for his consideration in meeting Filip’s need of a more permanent residence status. Of course it would be necessary for him to renew their acquaintance each year in order for that status to continue. The tour operators fitted him with an appropriate uniform and agreed to pay the annual gift of appreciation to immigration. They gave him a thatch hut on the beach and procured the daughter of an elephant handler to be his housekeeper who they gave a weekly sum to buy provisions. But they kept Filip on a tight leash and only gave him occasional sums of money to cover his personal needs. They’d acquired a valuable asset for their business and didn’t want to give him enough money to escape their clutches.
Filip was quite happy with the arrangement. He found the elephant keeper’s daughter to be quite beautiful, and through her began to learn the Singhalese language. He travelled the island with tour groups from Europe embellishing stories of the past to thrill them as he introduced places of historical interest and beauty. He happily pocketed foreign exchange tips they gave him as he pulled out all stops to please them. All money received in this way was deposited in a bank account under a false name in Kandy far from his Colombo employees who thought they had him shackled. Someday he’d have enough to make his own arrangements with immigration and go into business for himself.
But his employers were seasoned operators and noted his frequent unscheduled trips to Kandi with interest. They placed local plants among tour groups to casually inquire about his interest in Kandi as occasion presented. Filip the refugee had learned to read human nature and motive and smiled to himself. He told them of his increasing interest in Buddhism, and Kandi was the centre of course.
The reason for their questions was quite apparent to him and he resolved to avoid any direct dealings with his bank for several more tour trips, and as he would no doubt be followed for a while he’d make sure no tips were accepted while any locals in those tour groups were seen. Even his beautiful housekeeper was not to be trusted as his employers were no doubt paying her to report on all his movements. He’d have to establish other contacts.
Eventually Filip noticed the more relaxed atmosphere as he mingled with his employers and the absence of locals in tour groups. He resumed mining European tour groups for tips and his bank balance soared over time.
Two years into his new occupation he was becoming very proficient in the Singhalese language, and had a working knowledge of the minority language Tamil as well. He spent months observing personal movements of immigration officials who he may find useful in supporting his objectives eventually. Noticing their devotion to Buddhist shrines he tried to frequent those places in his free time in the hope of making a useful contact. Then after months of waiting he made the connection.
The immigration official dealing with his case was surprised to have a foreigner greet him and engage in conversation in Singhalese. His curiosity aroused he was reminded of the annual gifts and it was suggested if he were to receive citizenship on the basis of his desire to permanently settle in the country that would be greatly appreciated.
Great appreciation is a trigger phrase that is often the means of accomplishing an impossible task. The official laughed off the suggestion, but had Filip placed on a watch list to see what he was up to. Filip continued his homage to the Buddhist shrines knowing he would be investigated, and on the rare occasions their paths crossed the officer began to warm to Filip, and the potential for reward.
Filip’s employers heard rumours of a developing friendship between an immigration official and their employee and issued a stern warning. Dealings with immigration should be left to them. Should it be reported he was trying to play games with them they had people in Colombo who’d pay him a visit one night. It was a visit they’d not recommend.
To be continued.
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