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June 6, 2016

She took my passport in hand. I didn’t ask her how her day was going, but I figured I was friendly enough, smiling, cheerful voiced. Maybe a little discombobulated—it had been hours since I was on my feet on sea level.

“How long are you here for?”

“Three days.”

“Are you traveling further on from the UK?”

“Yes, to Spain and Morocco”

“What is this address for?”

“For the hostel I am staying at,” smiling. Is it my imagination that these are feeling a little pointed?

“And just what is the purpose of your trip?”

“Just travelling,”

“Are you here for work?” Something had been slowly forming in her eyes—a sharp angle, of the sort you see in the eyes of school librarians in movies.

“No, just vacationing.”

“What do you do?”

“I work in tech, marketing and engineering.”

She looked at me with her hardening eyes a half a second longer than would have been appropriate for a normal conversation, then looked down at the passport. She had been flipping back and forth through the pages at a constant clip since I first approached her kiosk and laid the well-worn blue pamphlet down on the counter. But this flipping now took on increased vigor and purpose.

“You have sure been to a lot of countries,” she said finally. This wasn’t said in a complementary or matter-of-factly way. It was a clear accusation. I had to keep myself from laughing, partly because her hostility flattered me without at all intending to, and partly because I didn’t know whether to take her seriously. Of course, she didn’t show anything but dead seriousness. This is a lady I have a hard time imagining with a smile on her face.

And then the volley began.

“Where do you get the money for these trips of yours? Where is your plane ticket for your flight back? Show me your ticket. Where was the last place you went to? When was that? What was the place before that? Why does your passport look like this? Why does it look so tatty? You really ought to take better care of it. It really is quite tatty.”

And with that verdict, I was officially deemed a reprehensible young man in poor care of his papery belongings, but no longer a suspected drug smuggler or illegal migrant worker. I was free to go. I permitted myself a quick, barely perceptible grin at her and a ever-so-slightly snide, “Have a nice day,” before getting on with it.

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