Friday, June 25, 2010

Going To Irak

The sun rose just a few hours before, but I have already done my breathing and written my dreams and sang a few songs. It is early and the light streaming in through the airport’s wide windows is pale blue and I stand, feeling young and protected from the world by my black hood, making me look like a lost forest creature in modern clothing. I am standing in a line that moves geometrically through a wide tiled space that echoes with machinery and groggy voices. It is the boundary of the airport, the place that divides the travelers from the stagnant. Beyond the artificial boundary is the place of arrival and departure, the doors where we step into the sky and hope to return, intact and breathing. I say my mantra and grasp my heart, holding onto the thin contact that wavers like a long silvery telephone line in the morning wind.
Hello? Are you there?

The line is seventy people deep and we are corralled through the space by metal bars, leaving us like cows waiting for the truck, only we think we know what lays ahead. Around me, people are still weary with sleep. Business men in their gray and black suits. A foursome of Norwegians, two blond guys and two girls. I stare at the pointed nose of the shorter girl that ends in a singular dot, I have never seen a nose that looks more sketched. She laughs and touches the arm of her female friend and they both begin laughing while their men remain solemn, looking at the line and x-ray machines waiting dutifully fifty feet ahead. The line moves slowly, winding like an angular snake, bending at 90 degree angles every dozen feet.

Two men in matching navy blue pants and white collared t-shirts are at the front of the line. One on each side. The man on the right is Asian, just crossing the threshold into middle age. His black hair is streaked with white, his face is etched with lines. He looks weary and sad, it will be a day of names and numbers, impatient travelers and fussy old women inconvenienced by the bureaucracy of it all, remembering a time when it was different. On the left is a young Latin man. He is a few heads taller than his coworker, seemingly fresh and unfazed by the repetitive nature of his job. Each man holds a pen in his right hand and a small flashlight in the other. They are TSA men, looking to match correct names to their matching tickets, looking for the things that don’t match too, foreign sounding names and distant, obscure destinations.

The young man is tall and slender. His long silky black hair is bound in a small bun at the base of his neck, shining in the early morning light wafting through the skylights. He has two paper tickets in his left hand and two plastic ID cards, his right is beaming the focused light of the flashlight into them. He looks over the information. An older couple, fifty people ahead of me stand in front of him, waiting quietly for their ticket and ID cards back, both are much shorter than him, coming just to his chest.

The woman is portly and wide, having expanded with time. Her cropped hair is styled into a wavy helmet that hovers around her head like a halo. She is dressed as I have seen many Asian grandmothers, in dark polyester pants and a thinly quilted jacket. The man is facing another direction, though I notice his head of white hair.

The young TSA agent looks at their tickets, then back at the two of them.
“You’re going to Iraq?!” He pauses, taking a breath, “I guess you want to go there.”
Incredulously, he looks back at the tickets and their ID cards. His mind seems to be spinning, unable to process the destination or the possible reason for going to such a god-forsaken country.

Neither of them say anything in response. The older man is turned away slightly, his attention already focused on the next thing, the x-ray machines and scanners that lay just a few feet ahead. The woman, holding her purse strap with one hand, merely looks up at the young man, saying nothing, nodding almost imperceptibly with a polite smile on her face, as though she has learned how to deal with young men that think they already know the secrets of the world.

Looking at the information on their paper tickets, looking again at their ID cards with his slender flashlight and finding no irregularities, he looks up with a smile on his face. Handing the items back, he says:
“I guess you want to go there.”
The woman nods again and opens her mouth slightly, though no sounds comes out. She reaches out for her items and then steps away, looking at the next stage, the next hurdle to cross. The young man turns to the next person in line, reaching for a ticket and identification with his right hand.

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