Theme Parks and Obstacle Courses – A Novel

Majority Ôback tough travel checks'

1.

Melbourne, as a city, is a lot like London.

Pat believed this like a superstition as he sauntered down the corridor that connected the aeroplane to the terminal. Temperature and light-controlled, the airport was as bland and sterile as a hospital. He passed the tinsel and glittering lights of the duty-free stores, the last-ditch opportunity for passengers to blow their cash under the guise of a holiday.

“Johnnie Walker – two for one with a free carry case, sir!” shouted an Indian salesman from a doorway.

“No, thanks,” he replied, with a laugh that was half-ironic and half-smug.

The disorderly flow of passengers began to trickle into the dozen or so races that formed the last formal line of immigration. He joined a queue and absently opened his passport, marking the identity page with his boarding pass from force of habit.

“Passport, please?” asked the woman seated in the booth when he reached the front of the queue. He pushed it across the desk, under the Perspex barrier that officially separated them. She deftly removed the boarding pass and laid it to one side. Pat took off his Kangol hat and scratched his head.

A heavy-set man with his hands behind his back craned his neck to read over her shoulder. She flicked a few pages, stamped one and handed it back with the boarding pass folded into it.

“Thank you,” she said, “Welcome home.”

He took the passport, gave a polite smile and made to walk through the barrier when the man who had been reading over her shoulder stepped forward to block his way. Pat let his shoulders hang as if the weight of his gladstone bag and passport drew them down.

“Good holiday?” the man asked in a friendly tone, extending a hand for the passport. Pat handed it over.

“Yes, thanks,” he answered.

“What did you do in the UK?” asked the officer as he opened the passport and began thumbing through it.

“Not much. Worked and travelled around on a holiday visa.”

“What did you do for a living?”

It’s funny how the broad strokes are the ones we cling to, even though they are the most superficial. He hadn’t wanted to write ‘bouncer’, but he had to write something, and as yet, he didn’t know what else described him. Better bouncer than cleaner. Or yardie. Or patient.

“Security,” he confirmed, trying to take the macho edge off the exchange. Experience had taught Pat that polite submission was the fastest way to resolve this kind of interface. The officer flipped a few pages, looking at the other stamps.

“What did you do in Thailand?”

“Relaxing. Lying on the beach in the sun.”

“You’d need it after London.”

“You’re not kidding.” Pat had spent a few days lying on the beach on Phi Phi Island, trying to lift the taint of sickness from his skin.

The boarding pass slid out of the passport and drifted towards the floor. Both Pat and the security officer bent down to pick it up, reaching for the rectangle of paper that lay on hard white tiles slick with florescent light. Pat was careful to move to the right so they wouldn’t clash heads.

“Thanks, mate,” said the officer, smiling as he handed back the passport.

“Thank you,” Pat said, acknowledging the officer’s courtesy with a smile.

Pat walked briskly from immigration, down the escalator and past the cluster of passengers beginning to dodge and jostle at the baggage carousel. He followed one of the red lines painted on the floor straight to the X-ray queue.

“No baggage?” asked the friendly old man in the immigration uniform that staffed it.

“That’s it,” he said, plonking the weathered brown gladstone bag onto the conveyor belt, secretly hoping the X-ray wouldn’t give away the python-skin wallet he’d hidden in a pair of socks. The old man hit the button and the conveyor whined to life, drawing his bag past the vinyl straps that hung down like seaweed at the mouth of an underwater cave. Pat tried not to watch the face of the woman seated behind the screen.

A man sauntered over from behind the x-ray machine, reaching and taking Pat’s passport out of his hand. Immediately, Pat’s hackles went up under his duffel coat.

“Where ya been?”

“London. Stop-over in Thailand.”

“What did ya do?”

“London? Or Thailand?”

“Both.”

“I was on a working holiday in the UK, and then I decided to come home.” He thought to say, ‘I got sick,’ but decided this was too close to an admission of weakness, so he kept it to himself.

“And Thailand?”

“Relaxing.”

“What’s in the bag?” he asked, gesturing over his shoulder with the passport.

“Clothes, books, that kind of thing. I’m sure you can see it on the screen.” Pat flashed him a smile, only a little self-consciously. He was still worried about the stains on his teeth.

The gladstone bag had been passed without comment by the female security officer and now sat on the coasters at the other side. The officer held Pat’s passport up, like a man might hold up a stick for a dog, to make it jump. Pat lifted his hand and took the passport, this time showing his teeth, just slightly, for a different reason.

“You know what?” said the officer. “I want to look in that bag.”

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: