For the purpose of this tale I’ll describe the reception area at Islamabad airport as an horizontal U in a space the size of two large kitchens. Stood at the beginning of the left hand column of the U is a security guard for the first security check. Walk through this and along to the curve at the bottom of the U. That’s where (on its outer perimeter) there’s a long table. Behind it are five customs officers in front of it are four queues waiting to have their bags searched. Walk past this and you’ll swerve up the right hand part of the U parallel to the left – you’re near the home run with one more hurdle, the third point of security including a walk through a metal detector machine. Walk through it and pass another table behind which are 3 security officials checking bags for the final time. Furthermore the space is full with people queuing at the aforementioned check points and milling security guards. There is no free space. From the entrance you can not see the layout. This is all retrospective. I forgot to mention that there’s a secret door which leads to a secret room. So that’s the physical map of the story. Now the journey. I guess you should also know that everything about this is true and it happened forty eight hours back in time.
It’s 12.30am and I give my passport to a small dark skinned official at the entrance. His lips quiver beneath a theatrical mustache. Clearly he’d said something. “I’m sorry?” I say. It’s an English mans way of saying pardon me? He grunts and waves me through. Less than a minute later a tall thin light brown skinned quick footed man in a cream shalwar kameez and beige coat appears from nowhere and requests to see my passport. I glimpse the laminated badge clipped to his coat. Unusual I thought but No problem and hand it over. He flicks through it head to the side as my passport makes that familiar flicking sound.
“Bags checked” he said. “I’m sorry” I say for the last time “Get your bags checked” he reiterates and points in the direction further down. I look to see the custom officials and the queues. I turn back to the man but he’s disappearing into the crowd. I didn’t at that point think my passport had been stolen. Okay that’s how things are done here. I’ll get it after my bags are checked. I trusted my instinct that he was an official. So I join the queue at the bottom curve of the U (remember that) and I’m there long enough to consider I’m in a foreign airport with no passport waiting in a queue to get my bags searched. The butterflies in my stomach awaken but don’t fly. All’s good. I’m a seasoned traveler. Better equiped countries have more defined areas at international airports but just as many in the world are like this. And I’ve been to many.
The queue slowly concertinas down until I am facing a sneering security guard who needn’t hide his disgust at me. No matter. His job not mine. These things are a test to how far I’ve come in managing myself in the face of insolence in power. I put my bags on the table then the sneer becomes a half snort half laugh as he points to the right to the space in front of his younger colleague. Not a word. So I politely shift my bags to the right pretending not to have registered any nastiness. But it feels strangely submissive as my bags slide.
“Have you anything to tell me about anything in your bags” he says unzipping the first bag slowly “there’s only my clothes and toiletries and papers” I reply. “Why are you here” he asked uninterestedly “I’m hear for the British Council”. He registers no interest unscrewing my Mizani conditioner. I could have said “I’m here to marry your colleagues daughter” but thought better of it. He fingers his way through my goods like a tiger prowling through a hospital children’s department at night. It’s 1.30 am. I’ve moved about twenty yards since the first man looked at my passport an hour ago. I’m tired and my polite confidence is wavering like a faulty computer screen. The worst thing to do here is to give in, to shut down. Keep up with the game, install the firewall to absorb the virus.
The customs man pawed his way through my bags and with his questions mauled his way through me. This disquietens and engenders trepidation in me. But why? I have nothing to fear. I’m not guilty here. Am I being slowly drawn into insecurity like a fish as the sea begins sectioning into barely visible squares drawing closer and closer. More questions delivered with impertinence. More probing. But I’m wrong. There is no encrouching net. he’s just doing his job so I collect myself and became calmer with each question.
It’s like I’m stood in the eye of a tornado. As it shifts left and right so do I. I was waiting for the whirlwind to tire itself out. Anyway being angry at a storm would ony throw me into it, right? But as I turned left the hurricane twisted right. “We know you are a Heroin trafficker” he said. It wasn’t a question. It was a statement. He didn’t say “Do you traffic heroin?”. He didn’t say “do you have heroin in your luggage? ”. He said “We know you are a heroin trafficker”. My plane is due to leave at 3am. I have no passport and the offcial representative of the custom of a nation is telling me that I am trafficking Heroin.
If you would like me to tell the rest of this story please let me know. Send a comment or click on facebook like or ShareThis and I will. It gets worse. Much worse. I WILL PUT THE NEXT INSTALLMENT UP AT 7PM 13TH DECEMBER.
This story is part 1 of 3. Click here for part 2