Thursday, March 2, 2017

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Passport Control

by Laura E. Goodin ©2009

I've seen passports from two hundred countries. Writing that looks like armies of spiders, or miniature city skylines, or tiny birds trailing swirling black ribbons. But I'd never seen any like this.

"I can't read this," I said, glancing up. "Please give me the translation."

I knew that look. Every time I saw it, it meant I'd feel like crap for the rest of the day.

I said, as kindly as I could, "English. Passport."

Somehow he managed to look even more worried. His fingers flickered in a nervous pattern on the counter. I guess I should have brought a security guard over, but I try not to do that. It usually creates more problems than it solves.

I wrote the word "English" on a piece of paper and turned it to show him.

He put his hand on the paper. One fingertip just barely nudged my hand. Something like a tiny cymbal crash spread in an instant along my arm and through my chest and up into my head, where it grew and rang and shimmered.

I whispered, "What was that?"

His eyes, dark and startled, stared into mine, then narrowed in sudden intensity. Something crept up the inside of my skull: confusion, terror, a wordless impulse to run, run! I started to pant, as if I really were running. My hand twitched, and the contact was broken.

That was home.

His face said, Please.

"No, mate," I said, my voice low and shaking. "First you, then everyone. I've got people here to look out for."

The immigrant's head dropped, as though he could understand me. I handed his passport back. He reached for it, then with a sudden flick of his hand, seized my fingers and gripped. The buzzing sang along my nerves and into my brain again, and I braced myself for the wave of horror I knew would follow.

Instead, I felt my heart yearning for quiet and order. My jaw tightened: I will make this place better for my being here, I swear it. And a quick reassurance to the worried official whose hand I gripped: I know how to hide. No-one will know.

A security guard sauntered closer and frowned.

The immigrant quickly let go of my hand. Still holding the passport, I gave a calming wave to the guard.

The immigrant and I looked at the passport, looked at each other.

Slowly, I opened the passport to a blank page and placed it on the counter. The rattle-clunk of the visa stamp seemed very loud.

We did not look at each other again.

The next passport was from somewhere in South America. A tourist, 90 days, nice and ordinary.