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  • Foreigners
  • Farah Ali (bio)

[End Page 148]

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PLEASE HAVE TWO SEATS since there are two of you. Now we are nicely arranged. I’m sorry we have to be divided like this, me on this side of the plastic partition and you on the other side. This is supposed to protect me from harm, even though they took away your bags and ran scanners down your persons the moment you were allowed to enter the unremarkable premises [End Page 149] of the American Consulate. Admit it—it’s better in here than the disorderly mess of Karachi outside. It makes me miss the green, dust-free land of my birth: Riverdale, U. S. A.

I hope you didn’t take that personally. Kindly put your passports, bank statements, visa applications, photos, birth certificates, marriage certificate, and proof of house-ownership over here.

Husband and wife, I see. Married for—hmm, here’s my calculator, forty-three years. That is a long time. How have things been? Any rocky moments? Any scars from words that left wounds? I saw how you pulled the chair out for her, sir. I saw you hand him his glasses, ma’am. Is this what love can look like in old age? Gallantry, dispensing of medicine, helping with the other’s failing faculties? Perhaps we will save that discussion for another day.

Sir, would you please write your name down on this piece of paper? Bader. Oh, am I saying it wrong? Budder? Close enough, you say. Now please write it in your own native script on the same piece of paper, thank you. Please use a tissue to wipe the sweat off your forehead. Would you also write yours both ways, ma’am? Ameenah. You look pleased that I got it right. Look at the smooth curves and dips in the letters of your own language. Positively poetic. I will keep this paper for my records.

I see you have been to the United States of America once before. Why on earth would you want to visit the same place twice? You say it’s to see your daughter, whom you love dearly. Why is that? No, not why you love her. That is an unfathomable emotion of magnificent proportions, I’m sure. I wouldn’t know because my wife and I cannot have children. What I want to know is, why do you want to travel to see her? Oh, it’s because she’s about to have her second baby, you say. You don’t have to look embarrassed by your bounties, ma’am, unless you think you got them at my expense. Did you? I thought not. In that case, I’m happy for you and your family. We all have our purposes on earth. Your daughter’s is to fill it with humans. Mine is to interview visa applicants.

How long are you planning on staying with her? Three long months, you say. Your eager smile gives away that you cannot wait to cook for her and clean for her and look after her children. Does she stick out in her odd clothes in her adopted land? Does she make mistakes in her pronunciation? Are her r’s smooth and thick like a twelve-dollar kale smoothie? Is her house full of the smell of fried onions? The cook we have here makes our kitchen smell like that sometimes. It reminds me of my mother. Her meals were filling, but not very tasty. Oh, your daughter has assimilated fully, you say. She lives in a house in the suburbs, bakes for block parties, and has coffee with the mothers from her son’s preschool. Now you are pushing a picture toward me, through the narrow space between us, of a young lady who looks [End Page 150] nothing like you. Your daughter, I presume? She wraps her faith around her head in a different fashion than yours, ma’am. Does that worry you? Has she lost her way? You say she doesn’t discuss her choices with you. You say she proudly represents her religion in interfaith meetings in her city, and helps raise...


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