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  • Excerpt from The Užupis Republic
  • Haïlji (bio)
    Translated by Bruce Fulton (bio) and Ju-Chan Fulton (bio)

Yonas the Taxi Driver

When the Asian man appeared at immigration control, the official, a young woman in an olive-colored uniform, was startled. It seemed that Asians were not a common sight in this country.

With an amiable smile the Asian man presented his passport. As the young woman flipped through it, a concerned expression came to her face. She spoke briefly into a telephone, a note of urgency in her voice. Then she turned back to the man.

"Mr. Hal, someone will be with you shortly."

And soon two other officials arrived, border control agents. Like the young woman they wore olive-colored uniforms; they were also armed. One of the men was gigantic, six and a half feet tall. The first thing they did was size up this Asian man named Hal. What they saw was a clean-shaven, neatly dressed gentleman in his mid-forties at the most. His expression was calm and thoughtful, his demeanor refined.

"Your boarding pass, please," said the big agent.

Hal's only response was an uncomprehending look. Granted, it wasn't easy to understand the big man's accented English, but who expects to be asked for a boarding pass at the immigration booth? Besides, the other arriving passengers were going through [End Page 35] immigration without a hitch-why the absurd request only for his boarding pass?

"Boarding pass," said the other agent, also in English, extending his hand. "Boarding pass."

Finally Hal responded, his voice polite but firm. He had presented his boarding pass to the airline agent upon boarding in Amsterdam. Why were they demanding it now? He didn't understand.

The two agents seemed taken aback. Was their command of English so weak that they could not understood Hal?

At this point the young woman stepped in: "You are 'no visa,'" she explained to Hal. "Which means your stay in this country is limited to fifteen days. But before we can admit you, we need proof that you will leave the country within that time. That's why we're asking for your return ticket to Amsterdam."

Hal shrugged. "But I'm not returning to Amsterdam, I'm going somewhere else, and so I didn't purchase a round-trip ticket. You're not saying you're denying me entry because I don't have a round-trip ticket, are you?"

The young woman interpreted for the two agents, who then conferred with each other, their expressions serious, before giving the woman instructions.

The woman turned back to Hal: "When do you plan to leave the country?"

"As soon as I can. By the end of the day if possible."

The woman looked dubious but interpreted for the agents. The two men instructed the woman further.

"And where is your final destination?"

"The Užupis Republic."

When this response was relayed to them, the two agents once again conferred, this time at some length, and then appeared to reach a decision. After one last directive to the woman they left.

The young woman produced a form and asked Hal to sign it, and when this was done she stamped his passport. "We are [End Page 36] admitting you for forty-eight hours. If you are unable to exit the country in that time, it's your responsibility to report to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs authorities who deal with foreign nationals; the address is here," said the woman as she returned Hal's passport along with the form.

After thanking her, Hal was proceeding toward the arrival area when she asked him one last question.

"The Užupis Republic?"

"That's right."

"Where is that, anyway?"

Hal looked dubiously at the woman without answering.

After changing money Hal left the terminal with his overcoat draped over his arm. It was snowing and there was a sodden chill to the air. Hal quickly donned the coat. It was stylish and of high quality but looked too lightweight for the severe winters of this country. Evidently Hal didn't realize what winter was like here.

The plaza outside the...