Lines In The Sand

The officer looks tired.

I feel a little sorry for him. Despite everything.

The overhead fluorescent lighting lends his skin a faintly greenish glow as it highlights every blemish, hair and wrinkle. His eyes peer out at me from the puffy shadows of his face. I can’t tell if he’s angry or bored.

Glancing sideways I catch a glimpse of my own reflection in the mirror that runs the length of the room to our left (just above the box of rubber gloves that I noticed the moment I walked in).

I look a thousand years old. My hair is flat to my head on both sides and sticking up in the middle like a toilet brush. I realise I must have been sitting with me head in my hands for most of the day.

I am being held at US Customs & Border Protection and I’m not getting into America today.

Or maybe ever again.

Twenty four hours previously I had been beside myself with excitement. A road trip across the continental United States in a hired convertible with my best friend. We had planned to stop in New York, Philly, Washington, Nashville, New Orleans and Austin, Texas to name but a handful of destinations. But we’d got the wrong visas. A genuine mistake which meant that our three month adventure, several years in the planning, hit a brick wall the minute we flew into Detroit.

From my vantage point in the small cramped office (the one with the rubber gloves, did I mention them yet?) I can see one corner of the luggage carousel. I imagine my unclaimed suitcase going round and round, doing laps, killing time.

A woman stands beside the carousel with her hand on one hip, obviously waiting for someone. There is such a small distance between the two of us. There are no barriers, no chain metal fence and razor wire that separates us, not even a painted line. But I will never stand where she’s standing. She’s in the United States.

I didn’t quite make it.

I don’t think I’ve ever felt lower in my life, I would have given anything to walk across that invisible line, but in the grand scheme of things it was nothing, a momentary blip in a privileged and carefree existence. I think of that moment often, particularly as news of the refugee crises grows. We’ve carved up our home planet into chunks we can hold tight and sorta, kinda, maybe believe we own. And don’t get me wrong - I understand the need for borders - the many and varied social and economic arguments for clearly delineating what’s mine and what’s yours. But every day we are seeing more and more evidence that there are people falling into the cracks between our countries. They are neither mine nor yours - they have no nation.

These people are suffering and there are more of them every day. I can’t begin to understand what they must be going through but I do understand that what separates me from them is a gossamer thread.

Each of them has a story. We need to start listening.