Computer Says No by Eleanor
It's only 9.17am but already one of the saddest days of my life. I lost a friend today. I met Clayton Palmer about 4 months ago. I'd just started volunteering at the shop at Hammersmith Hospital. He was 67 years old but looked older, with big hair and kind eyes that smiled when he told me about his old life - "the before". He was proud of his Caribbean heritage, and loved to talk about famous Barbadians, although he claimed all the West Indian cricketers, no matter which island they called home. We got chatting one grey afternoon, when he came in for respite from the rain. In his dripping coat he settled in front of the shop. I offered him a warm drink. He asked for a tea with two sugars - his voice was London with a soft Caribbean lilt. The TV was on in the foyer showing sobbing people leaving cards and flowers near the ruined Grenfell Tower where the horrific fire had happened a few weeks earlier. "It's a cryin' shame," Clayton said. "Life is cheap in this city when you're poor and brown." I must have looked taken aback as he immediately said "I'm sorry Miss, I'm just so angry about that fire. Almost 80 people died in that tower, 80 souls. For what? For the sake of a few thousand pounds for cladding." I didn't know what to say, so I gave a muffled "sorry." "I know I look a bit rough to you Miss, but I wasn't always homeless. In the before, I lived in Notting Hill in a Council flat with Mum - almost all my life. Mum brought me over from Barbados on the HMS Empire Windrush in 1959, when I was 6. I was scare-cited when the boat docked in Tilbury but I had never seen so much grey!" He paused. "Mum was a nurse in this hospital for nearly 30 years, with the sick children. She's passed on now - and that's how I come to be here. I told the Council she'd passed away and that I would be responsible for the rent. They called me into their office and told me flat - I didn't exist." "COMPUTER SAYS NO!" he said loudly. "See, I came over on my Mum's passport and never got one of my own; I never saw the need..." his voice cracked. "Welp, I don't have that choice now. I'm a non-person here and it's in the lap of the Gods when I go now..." He was being deported to Barbados. I said nothing - what can you say when a person's life is destroyed in an instant? I last saw him a week ago. I brought him a pack-up from home this morning but he won't be coming. He sent a message through a street friend to tell me he'd gone back to the sun. I'm screaming inside. Clayton, was, no, is, a real person. His life matters. It matters to me.