(why I hate airports, part 1)
It was seven in the evening and my flight was only at eleven. There was a single agent at the check-in counters, and no one checking in. A maze of demarcated barriers outlined where one would usually queue, but I ducked under them.
“No, no,” someone said.
A very fat security officer had materialised from nowhere. She waved a gloved finger at me.
“Go back,” she insisted.
“Why?” I asked. “There’s no one here—”
She folded her arms across her vast bossom.
“Everyone follows the rules,” she added.
The gloves made her look like an overweight Mickey Mouse.
“Not everyone,” I tried. “I didn’t.”
Mickey pointed at the entrance of the maze. I walked back along it and then returned. When I finally reached the front again, Mickey insisted on checking my passport before I could proceed to the check-in counter.
“Why!?” I asked.
“I must check it,” she wheezed as she took my passport.
“What for? She’s going to check it anyway.”
I nodded in the direction of the woman at the check-in counter who was eyeing us with disinterest.
“It’s my job,” Mickey declared.
She fumbled with my passport, bent it open and folded the pages with her gloves.
“Why?” I pressed on. “Why check it here if she’s going to check it there?”
“I must check it,” Mickey droned and looked past me. “It’s my job.”
“Well,” I said, “that’s a stupid job.”
Mickey looked at me and then she slowly walked away, taking my passport with her. I watched her as she waddled toward a little office, her gloves paddling at her sides as though she were swimming.
I started to sweat. I looked at the woman behind the check-in counter but she appeared to be removing something from her eye. A couple approached, ducked under the barriers and proceeded past me. A minute later I decided to follow Mickey. The little office door was closed and I knocked.
“Uh—um,” another security officer stroked her moustache behind me. “Can I help you?”
“She took my passport,” I croaked. “She’s in there.”
Mickey #2 guided me silently back to the maze.
“Wait here,” she said and folded her arms.
By now I was sweating profusely. Mickey #2 looked at me and at my bag with mounting suspicion. A few minutes later Mickey #1 reappeared. She made me stand at a little table while she filled out my passport details on a form she’d brought with her. Then she stuck an orange sticker on my passport and handed it back.
“It’s my job,” she said.
When it was my turn, the Mickeys followed me to the check-in counter.
“I’m OK now,” I turned to them. “I’ll take it from here—”
“Passport?” the woman at the counter asked in a tired voice.
“See?” I said to Mickey #1, but she looked into the distance.
The woman behind the counter paged through my passport, looked at the orange sticker and at the Mickeys, and then she typed away on her keyboard. I watched as she did this. She had double hair buns with little pins in them. She also had an extremely long neck and one eyelash which was much longer than the others. She looked like a giraffe.
“Is this your bag?” Giraffe asked and batted her lash.
I imagined a secret factory in the mountains where the ground staff were made. There were large vats of bubbling liquid and a conveyor belt which moved security guards and check-in agents along so workers could screw in their hands and glue on their lips and hair.
“It’s Friday, folks,” the floor manager hollered. “Shut’em down!”
“This one’s stretched!” a worker cried above the din and pointed at Giraffe on the conveyer belt.
The manager prodded her.
“Tough shit,” he said. “Time’s up!”
“I’m alone,” I said. “Whose bag could it be?”
Giraffe stopped typing and batted her lash a few times.
“Is this your bag, sir, or not?”
Her lips were pouty, like a giraffe’s.
“It’s my bag,” I said.
Behind me the Mickeys edged closer.
“Did you pack the bag yourself?”
No, I wanted to scream, the fucking butler packed it!
There was a stout hair growing from a mole just above her lip. She batted her lash and moved to the next question on her screen.
“Could anyone have tampered with your bag?”
“Not anyone,” I said, “surely?”
Giraffe looked at the Mickeys.
“The Pope couldn’t have,” I explained, “could he? You mean someone—”
Giraffe pursed her lips. There was another, smaller hair growing out of the mole, like a kind of back-up.
“Could someone you don’t know of have tampered with your bag?”
“I can’t answer that,” I said.
The Mickeys edged a little closer still.
“If someone I don’t know of did this,” I said, “I wouldn’t know of it, would I?”
The Mickeys folded their arms and stroked their moustaches.
“Sir,” Giraffe said and leant forward, “these questions are for your safety as well as those of other passengers.”
Sweat was now running down my back.
“I know,” I said a little too loudly. “That’s why I get annoyed when they’re wrong!”
“The only logical answer to your question is yes.”
Giraffe craned her neck and batted her lash.
“No! No one could’ve. You should ask whether I’ve left it somewhere without watching it.”
Giraffe looked at me as though I’d handed her a bag of shrapnel.
“That would make sense,” I added, “not someone you don’t know of.”
“Why are you sweating?” Mickey #2 asked behind me.
“In fact,” I said, turning around, “you could have tampered with my bag while I went looking for her!”
“Why are you doing this?” I whimpered as Mickey #1 led me to the little room.
“It’s my job,” she said.