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by Jack Fisher

The air inside the tent is stale. Michael grips the arms of the chair. Behind the table sit a woman and a man. The man stares down at a piece of paper. The woman looks at Michael and speaks.

“What are your grounds for claiming asylum?”

Michael knows he will only get this one interview. And he knows he will have to lie.

“I was persecuted.”

He stacks up the lies like he practised. Others refuse, he knows, they think that the truth should be enough, that if there are no jobs, if there is not enough food to eat, if it is not safe on the streets, then they should be entitled to try and live somewhere else. But they are the ones that get sent back. Michael understands. If they let everybody in, where would it stop? He used to think the same, back home, back when things were different.

“Do you have a family?”

He lies again. It will make it simpler for them. It is simpler for him too, sometimes, to think that way. Less painful than remembering playing with his children, or hugging his wife. Than picturing them at home, now, frightened and hungry, waiting for him to call, to tell them he is coming to get them.

“How did you get here?”

He tells them the truth, that he came by boat like everyone else. He doesn’t tell them how scared he was every time a wave washed over the side. How cold the water felt as it seeped into his shoes. How he stared at the horizon, willing land to appear.

The man listens. The woman writes. They speak to each other in French. And then they tell him he can go.

He walks past the queue in the corridor and out into the air. The smell is getting worse. The camp is getting fuller. They will have to do something, surely. He has met people who were here before, years ago. Passing the other way, they say. Some laugh, shaking their heads. Others just look tired. If it was a jungle before, they tell him, then now it is a wasteland.

He sees David walking back from the rubbish heap, his trainers caked in mud. They have a pact. If either of them is deported, they will visit the other’s family, check that they are okay.

“How did it go?”

Michael shrugs. They walk back to the tent in silence. David finds out three weeks later. Before they come for him, Michael writes out the address and squeezes some money into his hand. David tries to refuse, but Michael insists. It’s a long way from London to Newcastle, and he is grateful.

Born in Rochdale in the U.K., Jack Fisher became a chemical engineer. At 35, as an antidote to facts and numbers, he began to write. First came an account of a journey through Mongolia, published as an ebook, Hold the Dog! 16 Days in Mongolia. Then, after a short course in creative writing, he tried fiction, and nowadays he is experimenting with short stories. You can find more about him at jackfisher.org.uk.