They weren’t the tidiest officials he’d ever encountered. No peaked caps with  thousand yard stares beneath, no bodies made sinew through a lack of nutrition  or punishing exercise. No, they looked like bored, machine confectionary guzzling office workers squashed into a navy approximation of authority. But they had their guns and they had their detention laws, so he simply nodded and followed their lead when they said, “This way sir.”

      The detention room was like every other he had ever had the displeasure of visiting. Grey walls, white polyfibre ceiling tiles interlocked into a brushed aluminium grid. There were three plastic seats bolted either side of an overly long Formica table. He looked at his reflection in the always distorted observation mirror, and once again checked off the reasons why he found himself in these situations. He was young (black mark), physically fit (usually a neutral reaction – but it did little to endear him to these bloated goons) and his racial background fell onto a genetic crossroads somewhere between Asia and Arabia (another black mark). His features were irregular thanks to the zealous custom enforcements of less liberal countries, while his eyes held the etchings of an inherent hatred for the whole process of being processed.

      Just before any of the planes he rode landed, he’d stand in the whistling air stream of the toilet cubical and try to make his face as neutral and as unfeeling as he could. He was getting better, but the telltale hatred for those that patrolled the airport in-bound channels still marked him for apprehension. There was also the fact that he was as guilty as sin but, of course, he had no reason to mention that to the trio who currently loomed around him.

      The weighty Hispanic woman with the dense freckles pulled on a pair of surgical gloves before indicating that he should sit. She then began the ritual destruction of his goods. ‘Search’ was just a euphemism for those who didn’t rank highly enough on the official criteria of suspicion. First she hauled every item from his bags, squeezed, squashed and rumpled them completely and then threw everything onto a rough pile that represented ‘checked’. The young man sat passively through all of this, his eyes wandering to the two other figures in the room. One was a middle-aged, balding man who looked like an ex-cop, while the second triggered an instantaneous surge of unease. He was younger, less bulky than the other two and was currently occupied with a detailed examination of the young man’s passport. He didn’t look like a customs official, he looked like an undercover version of something much more dangerous.

      By this point the woman had finished with the contents of both bags and was thumbing open a retractable parcel knife. Taking the viscous looking instrument she began to slice deeply into the padding of his expensive rucksack. Now was the correct time in the performance for him to complain.


      “Mister…” there was a contemplative pause, “Nassif?” It was the dangerous looking one with the frighteningly passive features.

      “Yes,” he lied.

      “Would you be kind enough to remove your clothes?” It sounded like a question, but wasn’t.

      The young man stood and threw a concerned look as ‘ex-cop’ picked up the state of the art PDA from the checked pile. He waved it briefly at the passive man – now mentally labeled Mr Dangerous – who simply nodded. The older official quickly left the room clutching a database full of Nassif’s fake notes, memos and letters to imaginary family members.

      “Hey!” He put more force behind this second complaint, along with a silent prayer that they’d just X-ray the device rather than pulling it apart.

      “Your clothes, Mr Nassif?”

      The young man openly sneered at Mr Dangerous and began to divest himself of clothing. He carefully folded each item before passing them to the rumpling hands of the Hispanic official. Again she fondled each item intimately before dumping them onto the growing pile.

      Although there was no sense of motion in the room’s air, Nassif still felt as though a breeze was passing across his skin as he removed his black T-Shirt. He shivered and did his best not to show any emotion towards this penultimate defense against the blank stares of his captors. It was a plain garment, adorned only with grey oblongs running down the back, front and arms but, at that precise moment, Nassif loved it with a passion. By the time he’d pulled off his boxers and stood, hands cupped over his genitals, the Hispanic officer had already produced a tube of lubricant from a leather bum bag nestled beneath her ample paunch. At least, Nassif thought as he felt latex clad fingers run expertly around the inside of his mouth, it was a woman. No doubting they were just as rough as the male officers, but they usually had smaller fingers.

      “Tun aroun’ sir,” her accent was thick, her emotions holed up in an enclave of her brain situated a couple of light-years away from the task ahead. The cavity search was brief, painful, fruitless and culminated in the woman handing his boxer shorts back to him. It was meant to be a degrading gesture but, despite inner shouts of “Yeah, and I wish I’d necked a couple of bottles of Exlax for you baby,” he kept his mouth shut and returned to an uncomfortable sitting position behind the table. There followed a protracted silence.

      Nassif knew, even before the ex-cop returned with his PDA, that they had nothing on him and he also knew how things ran from here. He’d be questioned, cross examined and then, when they finally discovered that they couldn’t drag anything up from his fictitious past, released with someone to watch over him.


      Hours later the young man browsed rucksacks in an extreme sports store situated in the airport’s shopping mall. He picked up one very similar to the shredded bundle currently huddled on his back, and ambled over to the till. On route, a black T-shirt with a pirate’s skull and crossbones motif caught his eye. He picked it up, held it at arms length for a moment, and then moved on doing his best to ignore the attentions of the shadowy figure that lurked by the door.

      “Yeah sure,” the punk haired shop assistant replied to his request about trying it on, “changing rooms are in the back.”

      Nassif had no trouble finding the curtained alcoves and in a few seconds he’d removed his old T-shirt and hung it loosely on the only available peg. He admired the workmanship of the design, the way the four grey blocks that adorned it were actually made up of row upon row of closely spaced numbers. He ran a hand lovingly down a temporary crease in the material, thought about how hard it had been to find a screen printer who could work at that kind of resolution, and then let it go. Deftly hauling the new, pirate themed, garment over his head he stepped back out into the shop and almost collided with another man on his way in.

      “You finished in there?” The man was tall, skinny and – even without the Bermuda shorts clutched in his hand – looked like he should be a permanent fixture on the nearest beach. Nassif, quickly stepped to one side.

      “Yes… All finished,” he said and went back to the till to settle up.


      There was a coffee shop a few doors down from the clothes store and it wasn’t long before Nassif established himself at one of the steel and glass tables. He sipped at a well-earned espresso while tapping randomly through the remaining files on his PDA – the customs’ IT boys had deleted everything but the programs themselves. He glanced up and noticed the beach drifter from the changing room take up residence a few tables across from where he sat. The tall man carried a PDA similar to his own and, more importantly, was wearing Nassif’s old T-shirt under a battered biker’s jacket. Nassif stifled a smile at the way the shirt rode up over the man’s stomach – obviously several sizes too small – and then set his PDA to receive. As soon as he did, the incoming message icon began to blink.


      Nassif considered the text momentarily and then quickly tapped in a reply with his stylus.

      “NO CONFIRMATION NECESSARY. IN GOD WE TRUST. ENCRYPTION KEY IS 529,” and with that the beach drifter was up and out of his seat as if he’d scalded himself on his already forgotten coffee.

      The man who wasn’t called Nassif deleted both messages and eased himself back in his chair. He scanned the crowd, looking for his inept shadow and finally found the dumpy youth scowling behind an unread brochure. Picking up his PDA, the young man walked straight up to his pursuer and gave him the biggest, shit-eating grin he could muster. Hatred, confusion and embarrassment flicked across the pudgy features, and then they were gone – already a fading memory. He turned from the stunned chaperone and strode towards the nearest check-in desk, thinking with every step that, yes, it really was all worth it.


(Copyright © 2004 by J. E. Bryant. All Rights