US, Observed

"It was here," she says."Well, it isn't here any more," he states the obvious.The hall they are standing in, it is the hall their first trip to the States had started. Five years ago, that had been. Now they are there again. Same airline, same flight. But obviously, different check-in point.

She looks for one of the monitor screens that lists the departures."There has to be one," she says.They find it next to the Alitalia counter. Delta has moved from terminal 1 to terminal 4, they learn, a new building, located at the other end of Stuttgart Airport.

While they walk there, she checks the tickets again, and her watch. They are right on time. It is half past nine on Monday, 21. February. The day, it is a holiday in the States. She didn't know this until she marked their departure date in the wall calendar a friend had sent for New Year from abroad. President's Day, it had been printed in the cube number 21 already. And: "US, observed." Curious, she had looked for other holidays in February. There was Full Moon, on the 24th. Valentine's Day, on the 14th. And Ashura on the 19th. The added line for that one: Islamic. She had made a mental note to google the word, but then had forgotten about it. That had been at the start of the month, when the holiday seemed far away still. Now they are here. Just a long distance flight away.

Finally, they reach the other side of the terminal. The new building, it hosts only Delta counters. No other airline there. Entering the hall, they pass an armed guard.

"Security reasons," he explains to her, and points at the corridor.She looks around, doesn't understand what he is referring to."When someone wants to strike here, the damage is at least reduced to this part of the airport. And it's easier to guard.""But why would terrorists attack the counter?""Because you wouldn't even need to get through the security check," he answers. "You could walk right in, leave a bag of luggage, and walk away again."That's when she remembers it. "President's Day," she says.He looks at her. This time it's him who isn't able to follow the turn of conversation."Today is a holiday in the States, President's Day."They both scan the hall, thinking the same thought, yet hesitating to put it in words. "At least it's not American Airlines we are flying with, but Delta," she sums the situation up as they take their place at the end of the check-in queue.

It's here, between single steps forward, that she tries to change the subject to something smooth, something more appropriate for the start of a journey. Yet her eyes keep returning to the armed guard. The sight of a gun, it still strikes her. He could lift his arm and shoot, she thinks. And someone would die. Simple as that. Of course, he wouldn't shoot. He was only here for the bad guys.

Just like the security officer who waits at the next turn of the line, in black suit and white gloves, next to a metal table, to do the luggage checks. From every passenger passing, he chose one piece of luggage to be examined. Wrong, she thinks. Not from every passenger. It rather is one piece of every group. One piece per couple, one piece per family. A compromise between security and pragmatism. You can't check everything, anyway, can you.

They can, she has to learn, just some minutes later, when the family in front of them reaches the security officer and hands him their passports, black with a silver symbol on them. He checks them, then points at the first suitcase. The man puts it on the table, and the officer searches through the items. Dark trousers, white shirts, white underwear. An extra pair of shoes, a toilet bag, a pile of books. After he is through, he points at the next suitcase. The one of the woman. The same procedure followed. Coloured dresses, pastel underwear. Some CDs, a hairdryer, some gifts. It's the gifts that draw the attention of the officer. She has to unwrap them. It's only sweets inside. The officer nods. She wraps the gifts up again, they almost look like they haven't been opened.

Finally, the small pink suitcase of their daughter. Again, it's coloured clothes and coloured underwear. Pink sneakers, a cartoon cap and something that looks like a red plastic ball with green and yellow cubes attached."What is this?" the officer asks.

"A toy," the man explains. "It makes music."The officer examines it carefully. Turns it around, pushes the buttons."It doesn't work," he states."The batteries don't work any more," the man says.Again, the officer examines it.No one says a word. Not the family, not the officer, not the other passengers.Finally the officer puts the toy back in the small suitcase and waves them through.

Next is him and her. For them, rules switch back to one piece per couple. The officer points at the smallest bag. She puts it on the table, opens it, and lifts some of the clothes out."Thanks," the officer says. She puts the clothes back again, and he waves them through.

"What was this," she wonders, some steps further."Darker skin, Arabic appearance," he says."But it was obvious they are just a family doing a trip," she objects."It was in the news last week that this is the latest cover for terrorist," he says. "To travel disguised as a couple, or as family.""And turning all families of so-called Arabic appearance into suspects with that," she says, suppressing her sudden anger.He nodded, then pointed at the family. "See."Another officer is standing next to them now, black suit, no gloves. He follows every step they do, like a shadow, like a body guard. Only that his presence isn't for their protection, but for security reasons. Just like the second security check they run into at the departure gate, half an hour later, after they did some duty free shopping and had a last cup of German coffee."A second check?" she asks."Yep," he says. "The one that includes the removal of shoes."

It is there, that they see the family again, too. And the officer. Still standing next to them. How it must feel for the girl, she wonders."Maybe she thinks it's like being in a James Bond movie," she tells him."Maybe," he answers.

About the author:

Dorothee Lang is a German writer and net artist. Her work has recently appeared in Sunday Herald and Surface, Dublin Quarterly and Drunkenboat, Pedestal and pi, among others. To see some of her latest pieces, visit her virtual gallery at h ref=http://www.blueprint21.de>http://www.blueprint21.de.