I stretch and my muscles pop after having been seated for so long. The airport here in San Francisco is bright and sunny which seems unusual since I’ve been on a plane for 13 or 14 hours, so it should be dark. I am awake but not very alert and wait for my turn at the immigration desk. Suddenly, I am gripped with fear.
I suffer from a mild skin condition on my palms known as eczema. It irritates me the most when I am in moist and humid climates but ever since moving to Belgium, it has not bothered me as much as it usually does. The weird aspect of this condition is that the skin on my hands starts to peel off and then re-grows. Maybe there’s a lizard on my family tree.
Crucially, before the skin re-grows, all the lines and grooves on my palms fade away and I virtually have no fingerprints.
Immigration control in the United States requires you to be fingerprinted upon entry.
I currently do not have fingerprints.
Given that I look Mediterranean (which to the untrained eye means “Arabic”), how am I supposed to explain this?
The queue shuffles along slowly and I spend most of my time thinking furiously. Behind me, an Indian lady in an electric blue sari wails at her children who are constantly fighting. In front of me, a group of teens sing in an annoying key.
It’s my turn. I approach the desk with as blank a look as possible.
“Good afternoon sir,” he says.
“Good afternoon,” I answer as I hand over the paperwork and my passport. I try to choose the most plausible of all the excuses I came up with when I notice that this official is big. He is huge. Huge is not a large enough word to describe him. He has muscle in places where I don’t even have skin.
I decide to keep quiet.
He flips through the items, rubber stamps and turns to get a good look at me.
“Is this your first time in the US?”
He flips through the passport and finds the entry stamps from last time.
“Are you here on business or leisure?”
“Would you put your right index-finger on the scanner please?”
I take a deep breath and hope that playing dumb works. I place my finger on the scanner and watch as he taps at his keyboard. He pauses for a few seconds.
“Would you put your, oh.” He looks at my hand and realises that I did obey him. He taps away again.
Using my most innocent voice I say, “Is there a problem?”
“It looks like I can’t scan your fingerprint. Never seen that happen before. It’s almost as if you don’t have any!” He laughs at his own joke. I smile but try not to overdo it.
“Maybe it’s a problem with the scanner. You know what computers are like,” I say helpfully.
“Yes, I’ve had a few problems before. Let’s try again.”
I press as hard as I can, afraid that I may break the glass on the scanner. He tries to scan the fingerprint again.
As I walk away, I notice him closing his desk and pointing to the computer as he talks to his supervisor.
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