I am free. They said, you are free to go. For the moment. I’m not in Gitmo. I haven’t been rendered. Not yet. I’m taking the opportunity to set it all down.
There’s not that much to tell. Step this way please sir.
The officer in Security at SFO spoke politely. All her colleagues – in a short space I met quite a few – spoke politely. I followed the officer to an open space at one side of the XRAY scanner. Your XRAY was not satisfactory, sir. My colleague will pat you down.
Her colleague is male. He pats me down, very thoroughly from the rear. From the front he pats me down vigorously, albeit selectively. A man asks me to touch some paper. After I do so the paper is tested in a machine. Your fingers show the presence of residues, sir. For a short space we stand in silence. The silence of the officers is an interrogation. I offer my own silence in return. How will this play out? It is only six am. I arose this morning at four. What have my fingers touched over these hours? I mean, what chemicals?
The officers asked me to come this way. Politely. This way is a small room. A third officer joined us and closed the door. The smallness of the room brought all occupants closer. Opposite me, smiling broadly, the patting officer, broad and tall. A powerful man. The presiding officer slim, female, perhaps forty years of age, standing at my right, the line of fine dark hairs running along her upper lip interrupted by the fine surgical scar of her neatly repaired hare lip. The last-entered officer took up his position behind me, between me and the door.
Are these your items, sir? I looked at the items resting mysteriously on the bench behind the widely smiling Patting Officer. The items are mine. I said so. Please open them sir. I did so as they watched and waited – for what? Explosives? Firearms? Tweezers?
The lady pulled open a box of sky blue plastic gloves, inserted her delicate hands and groped inside my baggage. I pointed out the small velvet bag containing my ritual gear – phylacteries, prayer shawl: Those are holy. Please handle them with respect. The officers, being American, respected ‘holy’.
The groping of my backpack completed, they turned to my roll on. The gloves were pulled off and tested for residues, a fresh pair pulled on. Grope, grope: What are all these books?
They are gifts for family, books. I wrote them.
Eyebrows shot up, faces turned from my items to me; for the first time the officers – all three – reacted to the unexpected. They looked impressed. Or something. For my part I misgave: perhaps ‘writer’ equals ‘leftist’, equals ‘intellectual’, equals ‘terrorist’? Should I have said, I am a doctor? That might remind them of terrorist doctors from George Habash to the English train bombers to hapless cousin Mohammad Hanif, who wasn’t, but who owned a guilty Sim Card.
What guilty information lies concealed in my laptop?
What traitorous phone calls hide in my phone? They wilI find I have advocated for refugees, cheats, Muslims, border violators.
I reverted to silence as the chief Groper resumed groping and the others seem to disengage. The silence was very silent. Only a few feet distant from this room hundreds of bootless feet passed through Security. The hall that buzzed and rang around me a few minutes ago was not heard in here. It occurred to me that just as I did not hear the world, the world was unable hear me.
Groper looked up. Her hand rested upon something I did not see, something I own. Do all these items belong to you?
To the best of my knowledge, yes, they do.
To the best of your knowledge. A harder edge to the voice. An unpleasant pause.
Sir, do you know or do you not know? Did you pack this bag? Has this bag been out of your direct sight at all?
I mumbled reassurance that made things no better, no clearer.
Blue gloves that had done groping touched strips of test paper. All quiet as the machine pondered my possible residues.
Groper-chief officer straightened, exchanged a look with the tall broad man. A small movement from behind, a sensation of space encroached.
You can go, sir. The ritual fringes you wear set off our scanner. We see that in people of your faith. And you
must have touched something this morning, perhaps a bench in the Security Lobby. You are free to go. Have a safe trip, sir.