Utopia / no-place

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by Jemima Yong


I ask her twice if she is OK, she doesn’t answer, she just tells me she is at the end of her shift and that another officer will come soon-ish to conduct an interview with me which will be written down and evaluated by officials higher up.

You know why they are not letting you in, it’s what we talked about…

They take me up to an area where it is architecturally clear that they will search my luggage. They don’t tell me why and they don’t ask me to open my bags, I do it voluntarily. I feel like I have made a mistake here. They take my fingerprints and some of my belongings – a portfolio, a journal. They patronise me like I am their naive niece.

Anne Rosenfeld is the first officer who offers me her name and asks for mine. She makes sure I have sugar in my blood by reminding me to eat some fruit if I wasn’t hungry for anything heavier than that. She makes sure I am hydrated. She asks why I am there and attempts to reassure me with statistics on the number of people who are held and how many make it across the border. Anne allows me in and out of the holding room and lets me access my baggage when required. She tells me it is very important that I keep my money on me.

He is visibly upset. He had been in prison for two years and nine months prior and upon release was looking forward to going home to his mother, his wife and his children. He tells me he was on the phone to his mother and that she was crying. He has six children with four women, his second oldest is my age. He also has two grandchildren from his oldest daughter who is 30. He is 49 years old. He is a gracious man, open, strong and hopeful. Soon, an officer walks in, “Hello my friend, I’m sorry but it’s bad news.” He cannot go home right now, he must wait… “one day, two days, next week, two weeks?!” he cries. When I am called by my interviewing officer with a nicely shaped head, I leave the holding room, I say goodbye to the man from Costa Rica and I say good luck. He smiles a little and waves.

Please be considerate with your answers and be precise and concise because I’m transcribing this interview by hand.” Gilbert is thorough with his questions, all very standard, not much surprises me. He occasionally refers to photocopies of my journal. It’s hard to explain what I do for a living. It’s hard to guess what he is actually asking me.

I’ve lost track of time now.

Gilbert returns, he has spoken to James who is in shock. I ask him about transferring my things, and seeing James. Gilbert says there is a shortage of manpower to do that, he says that he was able to do that once upon a time, but not any more because of heightened security and a shortage of manpower. I plead with him. I tell him I have brought a luggage full of things for other people, thirteen hours from another country and I’m here now and just to bring it all back again and he finishes my sentence… “It doesn’t make sense.” Yes. He says he will try again. I don’t see James that day and I bring back everything I brought forward.

Hi. My name is Hugh. I am not with immigration. I am here to check on your well being.

Wow, that’s a lovely job. Is there a title for that?

Independent monitor.

There should be a better name for your job,” I say.

Hugh smiles. We sit down. Hugh promises me a shower.

We eat our chicken korma, we exchange reviews of the rice and the chicken with the look on our faces – she has higher standards than I. In our own language of charades we exchange details of when we arrived, what time we were due to fly, how long our flights will be and why we are here. “UK prison is not good”, she is on the verge of tears. I reach out and hold her hand. In the back of the van, she signals that I can lie on her shoulder. I can see the surveillance camera from here, it is turned on this time.

I am back in the terminal. I think it is a new day. The sky is post rain light. Fran begins singing Bob Marley’s “Sun is Shining”, Naz joins in. I don’t know the song. They are appalled. They speed through the verses, hoping I might recognise the chorus and then tell me that it is mandatory that I YouTube it when I get ‘home’. At the luggage scan, the suited man behind us is complaining about the weather and about having a bad day. “I’ve had a bad day” – I mock him gently by reeling off details of my last 24 hours in his tone. “Yea, she’s had a bad day”. Naz, Fran, the suited man and I share a laugh. Before leaving me on board the plane (I’m first on, last off, met by a policeman and the head stewardess keeps my passport the whole way) before leaving me on board the plane, Naz apologises on behalf of — and says something about hope and home and coming back.



Jemima Yong is a performance maker and photographer. She is Malaysian by nationality, born and raised in Singapore and moved to the UK as a teenager where she developed her art practice in London. Jemima collaborates, experiments and makes connections across disciplines. As part of JAMS, she recently created and performed Marathon at the Barbican, winner of The Oxford Samuel Beckett Theatre Trust Award 2018. Just before that, she trained as a puppeteer at the Curious School of Puppetry under the leadership of Sarah Wright.

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