Growing up in a small Spanish village, Jorge regularly attended the local chapel. He was not very religious but attending chapel had also been a social thing. It was a place where everyone kept in touch from one week to the next.
Despite it’s age and history the building was architecturally rather unimpressive. It was small and at a push it could probably hold about seventy people. From a young age Jorge had been fascinated by a section of the east wall. It had been given over to tiles with dedications, prayers and messages to the ‘muchos invisibles’.
The definition of ‘muchos invisibles’ varied depending on who you spoke to but the common understanding was that they were people who were much loved but had in some way become invisible to the world. They were people who had lived thankless lives but without whom the village would not have thrived. The wall had become a way for villagers to give thanks to those who lived quiet, unassuming and humble lives. A celebration of people who felt no need to shout about their lives, who sought no recognition for their work. It was a reminder to take no one for granted. An opportunity to see all as equals.
Some of the tiles on the wall were hundreds of years old. Some were as recent as the late nineties. The ‘muchos invisibles’ wall had been an important touchstone for Jorge. It was part of the DNA of his village. It had shaped his outlook on life and helped him find contentment. He was not selfish and money had always been secondary to his happiness. Even though he had not been to university he was extremely clever and very well read. He was practical, creative and made friends easily. He could share his thoughts on quantum physics while he fixed your plumbing. However, Jorge was generally more interested in the conversation being led by the person he was talking with. He valued others and wanted to learn from them. Unless the conversation naturally moved towards his true passions of writing poetry and metal detecting he kept them private. The latter was an important way for him to feel and breathe a sense of history.
Jorge took pride in his work and enjoyed his job as a cleaner. Recently though he found himself enjoying his work less and he was now saving up so that he might return to Spain. After the UK decided to leave Europe he no longer felt welcome and it seemed that fewer people noticed him. They saw his well organised cleaning trolley or his rotary floor polisher but he was conscious that fewer people acknowledged him, smiled with him or even spoke with him any more. People were more wrapped up in their own world and consequently others around them were disappearing. He could see peoples values were changing. He felt sure that if asked, most people, particularly young people, would say their smartphone is the most important thing in their life. Not a smile or a supply of clean water or clean streets or even public transport. It seemed to Jorge that it was not only people who were becoming invisible but also our history and achievements.
“Missing In Action”
“Juanita!!!” “Juanita!!!” Where was she? Her cleaning cart was out so she must be here somewhere. She was so punctual , and meticulous, always smiling and humming tunes to herself. And so courteous and respectful. “Juanita!!!
Having searched every room (twice) she had to admit she was nowhere to be found. How strange. The mystery of the lonesome cleaning cart was a perplexing conundrum. She went back to work on her laptop and tried (unsuccessfully) to concentrate.
After a couple of fraught hours she gave up and decided she needed a cup of coffee and to listen to the radio and try to unwind. On the way to the kitchen she passed the still untouched cart and wondered anew what on earth had happened?
She switched on the kettle then the radio; which was tuned in to the local station…”and if on earth we meet no more, i’ll keep you in my heart, and we’ll land on the shore, and we’ll land on that shore, and we’ll land on the shore, and be safe for evermore, and we’ll land on the shore, land on the shore…”
“That was Lady Maisery with ‘land on the shore’, and now it’s 12.30 time to hand you over to Anita with the news”. “Thanks Mike. Reports have just reached us that the police, along with the immigration service, have made a number of arrests in the town this morning”.
“Early indications are that the police have discovered a recruitment agency in the town, allegedly finding work for supposedly illegal immigrants. They have arrested at least 12 people; all of whom are believed to be women”.
Her cup of coffee untouched, she picked up the phone. First the police, then the immigration service and finally the home office. All to no avail. None of them would confirm, or deny, that Juanita was one of the detained women. At this point she broke down and shed tears of sorrow and injustice.