IssueDecember 2021 - January 2022
Comment by Pauline Sewards

Isobel is invisible
the skill of her job is to be discreet 
as she cleans
She sweeps the stairs with a hand-brush
because the hoover lead would trip us up
and the noise disturb us

Isobel is invisible
she leaves a trail of cleanliness after us
she changes light bulbs and toilet rolls
and washes our coffee cups
even though that is not her job
She is closer than our shadows
with her footfall
soft as tissue


Don’t get me wrong
we do value her
we always say hello and greet her with enthusiasm
But sometimes we give ourselves away
by greeting with enthusiasm
two or three times in the same day

Isobel is invisible
except for that red-letter day
when she got leave to stay
in this country
We celebrated with cards and cake
we were going to get champagne
but we didn’t collect enough
Still we made quite a fuss

Later Isobel said to me
I know I should feel happy but I just feel numb
I waited nine years for this permit
it should have been nine months
If the waiting was a child she said
that child would be nearly grown by now

Her life has become grotesque
in the hell-hole of a waiting game
this country’s made her play
She lost her husband to politics
and her son to alcohol
She used to have a life and chosen purpose
now she bags our rubbish for us

These days I gather up my shame
before Isobel gets to work around my desk

Today we had training on diversity
a good idea but it was done in such a clumsy way
We were asked to write up on the board
all the words the gutter press use to stereotype refugees
I refused, was too angry to speak

Isobel is invisible, please tidy up before you leave
Isobel is invisible
please wipe that board clean before she sees.

Topics: Refugees