Al di là del vetro – Racconto


It is now 12 pm. and the clock arrows have joined palms. I gazed at them for a long time, watching as the arrows ticked closer together, waiting for my turn to come. Still I wait here. We are all sitting in a big hall, like heavy stones, waiting for our turn to arrive. My eyes chase the blurred figures sitting behind the glass windows. There are six windows facing the hall, each half a meter distance apart. Two of them are closed and the remaining ones are occupied by serious men in uniforms. Their faces grumpy, their eyebrows low, their lips the only thing dancing in their still figures. In curt hand motions they eat away the length of human chain standing between them and their glass window.

The clock claps her hands twice more before I am called forth to apply for my student permit. I carry a turquoise backpack stuffed with documents, CV’s, my ID copies, class papers, all mingled together in its toad-like mouth. I approach the glass and lay my passport on the marble counter, while the man behind the glass reaches out with fat fingers, claiming the document and examining it with a surgeon’s attention. As he digs his index finger into the center of my passport, his eyeballs turn to me, his sealed lips bending up to a slight but noticeable smirk from which he utters: “Study? What?”

“Foreign languages” I answer.

“I need the enrollment papers and tax payment receipt.” My hands delve back into the open toad mouth search for what he had requested. All I think is of other people’s eyes staring at my motions, watching the sweat run down my neck, into the collar of my shirt. I had been carrying the bag for a while now. It was part of my skin. I finally pull out the papers and stuff them smoothly into the booth. I wonder how important my studies were for the policeman to ask – must have been some sort of reflex, the serious man never uttered a word except to request more documents. They needed nothing but these, I called them the marathon torches, for if they dared stare at them for more than ten seconds with a doubtful eye, the papers would turn incorrect, incomplete or expired – meaning two extra walks up to another office, where I’d stare at another clock, mapping every mole on another face, trace every wrinkle in typing hands, count each blink of their eyes and measure each corner of their hallway. The day would die with nothing but sore feet and an extra sheet of paper in my turquoise backpack – just to return the next day to the migration office before the north star disappears to try and be one of the first in the long human chain.

I would have to arrive early in the morning with my backpack when the steel gate is still cold from the night, and the queue is made of two or three of us, only to face again the same grumpy faces who I guess have stored all their laughter and happiness in a closet, ready to be worn again – but not before they leave the glass windows. They would be lifeless and mechanic. I bet they’d hate my ass for being there so early in the morning. Probably look at me with the pity of a war siege survivor, still alive from yesterday’s bureaucratic slaughter. The human chain would start forming longer, sweatier, fatter with the passing hours, and I would face again another employee. They would ask again for my passport and the missing papers. They would still look at me with the same doubtful eye. I’d be ready to run again, ready to walk the line another day and see the sun sink as I would curse myself for not buying the 30 euro postal kit. After all the times I walked these offices, still I couldn’t get any wiser, there was always something missing.

I felt like a caged animal, stripped out from the stream of life. Time no longer exists, my friends seemed fictitious, the days spent in this country feel like a long dream. The only thing connecting us to the outside world were the employees. They seemed to be the only ones aware of our existence. I don’t hate them for their job, I ought to believe they were forged and molded by a rough hammering of norms, laws, special comma’s and boring routines. They gulp us each day, and we stand inside their tummies until we get flushed out with blue stamps and the monosyllabic: “Paper. Ok. You. Go.” This bit interested me. I’m curious to know how their office pidgin sounded and how it came to be when they were still on duty and didn’t know how to make it clear to many different nationalities that papers weren’t ok, that their visas were expired and so on. How it helped avoid the prolonged conversations and how their loud and commanding sound interspersed every other question someone would have. Overlapped our mumblings and ‘but’s’ when their requests clash with ones from other offices. We the subjects in case, are nothing but carriers.

It is always a show, full of automatized mannerisms, common to every one of these workers; no matter which office or how far, they all look the same. The mantra of repetition has fallen upon them, and the bureaucracy is consuming me too. That’s it, a hard- boiled system ready to take me for a spin around the unknown realm of Kratos, meaning power, fueling a system which in its original quest for efficiency has started its slow transformation into a process of dehumanization. Such seemed to be its flash and bone partakers. Out of empathy I could justify their ways for some obvious reasons. I believe as long as we are seen from that side of the glass, we are nothing but a part of their tool – case. Not trying to sound too Kafkaesque, my lament won’t trespass the soil of one’s duty nature and for sure I wouldn’t even be delighted to see a chaotic but friendly atmosphere, but it doesn’t have to be the contrary. What is evidently unpleasant is the vertical nature of this structure which is built up upon intricacies that draw different fractions of people far away from each other, leaving unquestioned the efficiency of the system.

I see a faint antagonism in the human relationships in this area, which filled the air inside the bureaus with tension. I feel I am being looked down upon. I didn’t like the idea, I felt somehow undergoing these procedures made me just the boy who applies for stuff, not the one who enjoys a fresco embedded on the ancient walls of Italy. I felt the stone satyrs sitting on top of old mansions along the way laugh at me when I passed that way for the fourth time the same day. They would pity me, they have seen many faces before. They have never saw a camel like me, riding on my back “local administrative papers” being carried from one place to the other. They have seen couples walk by, old men with their Yorkshires, and homeless people in the dark hours, but I think I was new to them, as new were to me many of the intricacies of the integration office.

I think of all these things as I wait at the commune for my turn to come. The hall was not full as usual that day. I had skipped class just to be there a little bit early. A lady called my name and made me sit in front of her desk. As I sat she didn’t seem to even notice me, while I, had already noticed this middle-aged woman’s purple black nail polish as she typed on her keyboard with maximum delicacy. I thought her keyboard was made of glass somehow. She had freshly cut short hair, wearing a white shirt with a high collar, and a huge necklace hanging from her wrinkled neck. It seems to me that women will always dress properly and try to look good even if they worked in a coal mine.  These details always give me a sensation of light heartedness in confront of military uniforms. I had the time to meticulously examine her looks as she finished typing who knows what and finally started to gain consciousness of my presence.

Finally, we advance on the communication devices, the office pidgin undergoes a certain evolution. I was supposed to be a little bit more acquainted with the system, and they would acknowledge this, the process would be more easygoing, I didn’t panic too much, my hands were steadier, the chaos inside my backpack had disappeared. I hoped I didn’t forget anything. I could recall better the office locations, but nothing would make that feeling of discomfort go away, neither the nice and polite manners of these women, too much things to do, too much time to wait, queues to attend, appointments on further procedures.

I left the city hall with a whole bunch of other sheets the office lady gave my backpack for breakfast. I just wish I was sitting somewhere else, with nothing to do. These people remind me of my boring parents who came by the house for a visit, and I had to attend their interrogatory sections. Old cousins of my grandparents, sipping tea in their gray linen pants and khaki summer shirts. Asking for my school grades and giving moral lessons of how I should behave, even though they hardly knew anything about me. They carried the same automatized manners an institution worker has; the difference is we sat in our guest room and they got to drink liquor while reminding me of my duties.  This says a lot about my feelings towards this type of relationship, the one prefixed by some ancient laws which held ground upon personal levels and filled silence and created unavoidable conversations. I am not asking for privileges, I am asking for balance. A balance among people and institutions which would contribute to tap these invisible holes, for sure it would.

Copyright © 2016 Sguardi di Confine è un marchio di Beatmark Communication di Valentina Colombo – All rights Reserved – p. iva 03404200127 – Testata registrata presso il Tribunale di Busto Arsizio n. 447/2016 – Direttore Responsabile: Valentina Colombo