I’m busy, I’m always busy. I am not sure what life would look like if I wasn’t. The spaces between sometimes allow for a moment of stillness. I write of course, but writing mops up the dark voids of sleeplessness, so not sure that counts as stopping. I lurch manically from one thing to another, sometimes one begins before the other ends. It’s exhausting to watch, people say, but my White Rabbit habit is hard to break; my watch is heavy and ticking. I brush my teeth and scoop my hair up infront of a mirror but generally, do not spend much time looking at myself.
The traffic on my way home from work makes me stretch my fingers away from the wheel with irritation. I hit the buttons on the radio to escape the adverts, and think about the millions of things I have to do. I think about the walk on the beach with my dog and unconsciously look to the sky for clouds.
Home, I unlock the door and push my hip into the glass and aluminium frame. The door opens just enough to allow my body and the heavy shopping bags through before the wind slams the door shut behind me.
‘Is that you?’ my husband shouts down the stairs. The cat windes herself around my ankles, which stops me from kicking one of my shoes off. I walk up the stairs, one shoe on, one shoe off.
‘Cuppa?‘ My husband asks not looking up from his laptop.
I wiggle my foot out of the remaining shoe and leave it at the top of the stairs, the cat runs to her food bowl and meows. The dog steps inside from the deck, shaking the dust from his coat, my son comes out of his room to see if he can eat anything from the shopping bags he watched me carry from the car.
‘Where have you been, I’m starving?‘ my son demands picking at the bags. I look at the crumbs, peanut butter, jam jar and milk carton on the bench. ‘Did you buy bagels?’ he rummages as I plop the bags on the counter.
‘Coffee love?’ my husband holds up the tin of espresso. He has left the laptop open on the bench.
I nod yes, feed the cat, put the milk back in the fridge and say hello to the dog. I watch my Sunday morning housework settle on the surfaces around him.
My son has found the bagels, complained that they are not the right ones and is now searching for the cream cheese. My husband hands me a coffee.
‘So, I’ve booked your ticket but your passport is out of date.’ My husband sounds triumphant. I look at my open passport and smile back at the young woman I was.
‘Do you remember…..’ I start to say.
‘So I’ve logged into the passport people and found the application page. You just need to go down, get a picture and complete the form.’ My husband interrupts my flippant thoughts.
I’m still standing but start to drink my coffee. The cat is now downstairs meowing that she needs to go back out. She is also telling me that chicken and whitebait is yucky and will not be eaten today. She likes the gourmet stuff. The dog is rhythmically wagging his tail against the door jam powdering any spots he has missed with dust and my son is disappearing with a plate piled high with carbohydrates. I finish my coffee, rinse the cup and stack it into the dishwasher. I hit the reverse button. Slip my shoe back on at the top of the stairs, the second shoe on at the bottom, let the cat out and trudge back to the car.
I have my picture taken by a young, perfectly made up girl in the Chemists, becoming the main attraction for the people waiting for their prescriptions and small bored children.
‘Now just move your fringe aside,’ she asks again. It’s hot, I’m red, fuzzy and still in my work clothes.. ‘Yes that’s better’ she smiles as I try to remain unembarrassed and give her my best neutral customs satisfying face.‘That’s great’, she peers into the back of the camera and satisfied pops the memory card out. I leave with pictures only the border control people should ever have to see.The form is easy and I hit submit. I am politely messaged that my head cannot be discerned. I try again several times, but computer says NO. I ring the Chemists, they are busy and do not answer. I drive back down to the shops.‘No nothing wrong’ the same girl peers at the pictures on the screen. ‘It meets all the criteria.’ I explain, that the computer disagrees, telling me there is something wrong with my head. She sighs and takes more pictures with a darker background to a new audience. It makes no difference to the application process. This time I return with my laptop.‘Look‘ she says showing me the screen. ‘Your head fits.’ I can see, as she turns the screen towards me, that indeed my head does fit into the egg shape. She puts a darker filter on the image. ‘Try that,’ she says helpful but I feel she is now humouring me.
The application is still refused. I have two weeks to process this, so am now just a tad anxious and hit the submit button in temper about six times in rapid succession.‘This picture has already been submitted’, it tells me, then asks:
‘Have you had a stroke?
Maybe, I wonder, I’m feeling rather stressed. I check, looks like I have not.
‘No,’ I type
Have you had reconstructive facial surgery?
I’m feeling judged and type my answer again.
Are you wearing anything on your face for religious reasons? I can only assume my face now looks like draping cloth.
‘No.’ I type dejectedly.
I know its been 10 years but seriously I am, in my opinion, still discernible, have not had a stroke or look like I have had plastic surgery. I will concede that my face needs a good iron in the morning. In the end, I decide to send the application off anyway with an explanatory note that I disagree with the computer and think I still look like me. I cross my fingers and hit send. I am reassured that a real human will decide.
Cleaning my teeth that night I look in the mirror, pull my hair away from my face, look over my left shoulder then my right, scrutinizing my profile. My ears are a little bigger, my nose is definitely bigger and it now wears a moustache. I reach for the tweezers. I am crinkly, but did I look like I had had a stroke?? I was not sure, I see myself every day. I use my index fingers to pull the skin back at my temples, then shake myself sensible and think instead about all the stuff I have to do in the morning. It’s funny, I didn’t think I had changed all that much, how very very wrong could one girl be.