‘Oh, I know it’s not a good likeness…I wear contact lenses now, and…’
He raises a hand to silence her. Unsmiling, his eyes travel from her face to her passport photo and back again. Slowly. He looks at a monitor above his cubicle - somewhere she can’t see, and nods almost imperceptibly.
Blinded by the penetrating light, she is unaware of the guards moving out of the shadows, machine guns purposefully in hand. Where is her husband? She can’t see him. She can’t see any of her family.
The Passport official raises the woman’s passport to the monitor and holds it there.
‘You have hotel?’
‘Well, no, we are staying with my son’s fiancé’s family in Moscow, we are….’
Again, the hand is raised to silence the woman. ‘So you have permit?’
‘Well no, not exactly….’ Flustered her eyes search out her husband, who is propelled forward from somewhere behind her. He is restrained from joining her by a guard, who points his gun at the yellow line 4 feet in front of the cubicle where his wife is becoming evermore tearful.
‘We weren’t told about a permit…’ she looks to her husband for support. ‘We would have got one, we’ve come all this way for the wedding….my son, he is getting married …to a Russian girl.’
‘Olga, Olga Alexeev…..’ This time, the gaze alone is enough to silence the woman.
Without taking his eyes off her, he reaches for the phone. The exchange, in Russian, is peremptory. He puts down the receiver and waits, immobile. After what seems like a lifetime, the phone rings. He answers, ‘Spasiba.’
‘They said they’d be here to meet us. I have a picture…’ The woman searches in her bag, the contents of which tumble out onto the floor. No one moves to help her. She gathers the contents up and hands the picture to the official. He lifts it to the monitor and waits.
The phone rings, he answers it.‘Spasiba.’
After a further pause, the passport official exchanges a glance with the two guards who are standing either side of the woman. They swing their guns to the side to allow her through, followed closely by her husband.
‘Halt,’ commands the official.
She turns abruptly. He is holding the picture up, which in her hurry she had failed to retrieve. She takes it and sobbing, clutches her husband’s arm. He leads her towards the Arrivals area and whispers into her now unruly hair. She looks up and for the first time since the plane landed she smiles. On the other side of the glass, her son is waving. Beside him his fiancé and her family wait. She is almost there.
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