The Longest Day...
Trip Start Nov 10, 2009
78Trip End May 07, 2010
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Floating through "Arrivals" Per and I clung fearfully to each other, and when we arrived at Passport Control, we copied the other travellers and approached the desk as a couple.
"BACK!" the obese, stone-faced officer barked at Per.
Per giggled and swayed a little.
"BACK!" she roared again.
Per, still giggling, took one step back.
"BACK IN THE QUEUE!!!!"
Per dematerialized, his giggles still ringing around the room.
I couldn't understand what was going on. Why wasn't she being nice? Why wasn't she bowing? Why was she shouting? I hadn't heard anyone raise their voice for nearly three months - except that mad taxi driver in Saigon. I just couldn't get my head round it. Sadly, sleep-deprived Manga characters do not have inner thoughts. They have outer thoughts that register in dramatic facial expressions that wouldn't look out of place on the set of 'The Bold and the Beautiful.' Thus it was I screwed up one eye and turned the other - the size of a dinner plate - on the officer suspiciously.
"WHY ARE YOU HERE?!!" she shouted at me.
I released my right eye in surprise and blinked thoughtfully. I hadn't expected such a philosophical question. I bowed my head in deep thought. Or it could have been in deep sleep because the next thing I heard was an impatient shout.
"HOLIDAY!" I screamed back, extremely pleased with myself. I was always good at multiple choice.
"WHAT DO YOU DO FOR WORK?!"
"I'M UNEMPLOYED!" I yelled at once, immensely proud that my brain had arrived at a concise answer.
She glared at me. "UNEMPLOYED?!!"
"Yes!" I said with a polite bow, remembering it was rude to shout.
The woman glared again, then wrote "UNEMPLOYED" in giant red letters across the form in front of her.
"HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN UNEMPLOYED?!!!"
"I. Have. No. Idea." I said extra slowly and extra clearly so that she might write it down with her giant felt-tip.
"WHAT DID YOU DO BEFORE YOU BECAME UNEMPLOYED?!!"
I launched into a comprehensive work history which started off cheerfully enough, but what with the sneers and snorts from my audience, became somewhat depressing. "To summarise, finding work outside academia proved more difficult than I imagined..." I finished with a sniff.
"WHAT DO YOU DO FOR WORK??!!!" She said as soon as I had finished.
I frowned. Was this a trick question? "I just told you."
"WHAT DO YOU DO EXACTLY??!!"
I began the whole story again, this time adding extra detail. By the time I got to the part that I now write children's books with special needs characters and volunteer for a non-profit NGO, I felt like killing myself. When I eventually lapsed into silence, the officer turned her attention my passport and examined every single stamp. Every. Single. One. Her fat finger prodded a page and she turned it to me.
"WHAT COUNTRY IS THAT?!"
I pressed my nose to the page and read the lettering next to the Islamic crescent.
"T-ur-k-eey," I said, spelling it out for her.
She eyed me suspiciously and for once her voice dropped to a suspicious whisper. "You've travelled a lot."
I had to clasp both hands over my mouth to stop myself screaming "PRAISE BE TO ALLAH!!"
She held up my passport and compared it with my face. I'd guessed by now it was unlikely she was going to tell me I was beautiful like the Passport officer in Japan did. However, this practice of comparing the photo is not uncommon and for the first five seconds I thought nothing of it. Two minutes later the passport was still held aloft and she had started muttering.
"Sorry?" I said, not knowing how else to broach the stalemate.
"I'M CHECKING YOUR PHOTO!!" she shrieked.
Finally she threw the passport at me, but before I could flee, she held up one of the many forms I had given to her.
"WHY DID YOU FILL THIS OUT??!!!" she snapped.
"YOU ONLY FILL THIS OUT IF YOU HAVE VISA!!!"
" YOU DON'T HAVE A VISA!!!"
"I'm sorry, the air steward gave it to me and told me to fill it out."
The officer held the form inches from my nose and with slow deliberation tore it dramatically in half. If it wasn't for the lack of TV cameras and her overt aesthetic deficiency, I'd be convinced she was auditioning for "Sunset Beach." I took her silent sneer as my queue to leave and hovered over to Per who had long since been let through be a different officer.
"HAVE A NICE DAY!!" I heard behind me, but by that point I'm pretty sure I was hallucinating.