Lucky day

by Liv Nimand Duvå • 2016

I’m standing in a room with my partner at the Swedish Migration Agency. We’re here to hand in our application for a Swedish residence permit, which should then allow us to apply for family reunification in Denmark. We’ve been in line for four hours and finally it’s our turn. A man our age looks up from behind the counter. His hair is neatly combed. There are no chairs on this side. He is the one sitting; we stand. We stand and sway, walking in place.

Behind the door, the waiting room is still full. It’s stuffy out there and since there aren’t enough seats, people are waiting outside the red brick building to get some air. Through the window behind the counter, you can see people impatiently pacing back and forth. The waiting doesn’t seem to have an effect on the man. I place our application on the desk in front of him and he asks me, am I sure, is this really what I want. Yes, I am sure, I reply, and remind him that we already live in Malmö and that my partner understands Swedish quite well. I ask him to check that the form is correctly filled out, that we haven’t missed anything. Again, he looks reluctantly at the application and repeats, well, if this is really what you want, then yes, the formalities seems to be in order. As he leafs through the form, he asks my partner in English, where are you from?, and before he can reply, interrupts him and says, Iraq, prolonging the word, tapping his finger on the Place Of Birth field. Switching back to Swedish, he looks up at me and says, I hope you know what you’re signing up for, continuously looking me in the eyes.

My cheeks burn, it’s another form of flushing. I’m about to burst out crying or yell something careless that could harm our case when my partner gives me a nudge. He’s not worth it, he whispers. I take a deep breath. I’m just trying to help, says the man and shrugs his shoulders, a girl like you, that’s all I’m saying.

But this is not the help we have asked for. We are not the ones he is interested in helping. The man behind the counter can’t relate to my partner, and as long as we’re married, he can’t relate to me. This places him alone. He is the one he needs to see as an object of desire, and now he is trying to win me back, or perhaps he is trying to win himself back, to scrape the foreign off of me so he can make his way in to himself.

Three weeks later we receive a letter. The application is incorrect. It was filled out with pencil, not with pen. It’s invalid. We need to go back to the Migration Agency and submit a new one.

* * *

I realize that my passport has expired. It has lots of blank, unstamped pages, but now it has expired. I cannot travel. Temporarily, I am invalid.

Two weeks later, I’m issued a new one at Citizen Service I open it to see how I look in the photo that was taken the last time I was here. You can smile, the woman that led me into the little photo booth had said, but not open your mouth. A blue laser beam mapped out the different parts of my face and adjusted the angle of the camera, according to size and shape, in order to capture any identifying features. The laser beam made me uncomfortable, pressed my lips together in a skeptical smile.

Congratulations, a voice says. I look up. A young woman is waiting for her number to be called; that is, the number on the little slip of paper that comes out of the red number machine by the entrance. She points at my passport and smiles. She holds a filled-out application form for an Immigrant Identity Card in her hand. I must have looked nervous. Congratulations, she repeats, it’s your lucky day. A hot flash rises through my neck as a gasp. I blush. Something in my body language must have expressed that there was more to this than plain vanity. Yes, very lucky, I reply, it’s a very lucky day.

In the street, I look at the passport again, making sure that all the information is correctly filled in. It has a strange appearance – name, nationality, place of birth, date of birth, gender – printed onto this thick paper, fresh out of the printer, almost as if it were me, created in a new and better, an updated version: my objective features, my identifying traits, a gift to myself. In the photo I look just like myself, or my self is starting to look like the photo. Close your mouth. Smile to the nation. It has been decided that I’m very fortunate. Very lucky. I’m becoming my own living image.