by Seyda Mannion
“Excuse me, Miss, is this yours?”
I turn and see the large, inquisitive eyes of a woman behind me. I’ve been startled from my thoughts, and I am briefly confused as my eyes follow her outstretched arm, down her red sleeve, to the pointed tip of her manicured finger. My neck scarf has fallen to the floor. I bend awkwardly over my carry-on to stuff it back into my bag, deeper this time.
I smile at her, looking past her eyes at the gray-streaked red hair that hangs limply at the sides of her temple. “Thank you.”
I turn back to face the front of the lengthy security line. I listen to the voices float around me in excerpts of excited and nervous chatter. I watch the woman in front of me dig deep into her small, red bag before she finds a rattling bottle. In one fluid motion, she takes a swig of her water and a white pill. I smile at the back of her head in empathy. She must be a nervous traveler, much like my mother was.
I am visiting my Grandfather. My Dede is sick, and while I don’t enjoy the lengthy and cramped flight to Istanbul, with young babies screeching in outrage, a stiff neck and the silent fight for the center armrest, I am looking forward to seeing my family. I long for hot tea and the döner from Iskander my cousin always has waiting for me when I arrive, steaming hot and swimming in juices.
I check my phone for the time and then put it away. I feel a wave of the dusty moths scatter across my stomach, awakened from their slumber, as the security line begins to shift. I shuffle my feet forward, looking down at the speckled floor. It hasn’t changed in all these years. The interior of the airport has been transformed. The stairs leading up to security are built into a faux rock wall, water cascading over it, as if the airport is in the midst of a jungle. The ripped blue sofas from thirty years ago have been replaced with smart, gray chairs and white side tables. The walls have a nice new coat of paint on them as well. But the floor has stayed the same. I step over the cracks separating each tile, just as I did as a child. I study the spots, a faded version of what they were, a smattering of black, blue and gray. I feel my eyes steady on the tiles as I am pulled back to a time in this airport, almost twenty years ago. A time when I traveled with my parents, my brothers and my sister.
“Lale, don’t even think about it!” Anne, my mother, yells at me. Her harsh words reverberate through the hollow expanse of the airport. Even though her face is covered, her eyes are angry, a warning that I am about to cross a line. I look longingly at the moving baggage claim belt and imagine how much fun it would be to climb on it. Defiantly, I brush my palm on the moving rubber, letting the belt skim my small hands, before Baba swats my hand away.
“Listen to your Anne,” he says to me sternly, but his eyes are smiling. I am often told to listen to my mother. He pulls me warmly into his side. Rubbing his scraggly beard with his other hand, he bends his head to murmur, “You are going to give her a nervous breakdown. She hates flying, you know.”
I adore my Baba. He makes me laugh until tears come out of my eyes. I watch my older brothers, Abrahim and Ali, playing with their Gameboys. We are waiting for my sister, who is in the restroom. When Miriam emerges, I feel a stab of envy. She tucks a strand of hair that has escaped her bright orange scarf. I can’t wait until I’m old enough to wear a hijab too. Only big girls get to wear them and, according to my Anne, I’m still just her baby at eight years old.
“Let’s go!” Baba yells, and we begin walking toward the escalators to security. When we get to the top, there is a long line. Baba reminds me that this is the part where they check our bags to make sure there are no bad guys. Abrahim’s Gameboy dies and now he and Ali are fighting over the second one. Miriam is reading her book, her gaze steady and intent, seemingly unaware of the bickering between my brothers. I swing myself back and forth under the ropes that divide the lines. Anne has given up on me. She stares ahead and breathes deeply, while Baba squeezes her hand.
“Next!” the security woman barks.
She has blonde hair, and her soft, brown freckles almost completely cover the pale skin of her arms. Baba gives her our passports and boarding passes, and she studies them intently before handing them back to him.
Miriam looks at the security line and frowns. “Baba, do you think we will make our flight on time?”
Baba smiles. “Yes, cenim, this line is moving quickly. See how fast they are moving people along?”
I watch a girl at the security line next to us. She puts her bags on the conveyor belt and walks through the metal detector. I realize this is what I must do. I shift the straps of my backpack off my shoulders and get ready to put my bag on the conveyor belt. But I freeze.
Because my Baba is raising his voice.
And he never raises his voice.
“Sir, I’m asking you to step aside, please,” the security man says.
“Is this necessary? We have a flight to catch. We’re running late.”
“It’s policy,” he says.
“You have let every single person through. Why not me?” My father’s smiling eyes are no longer smiling.
“You can either step aside right now, or we can help you do that,” the man yells at my father, and he moves toward him before my father throws up his hands in exasperation.
“Fine!” Baba follows the security man, passing an officer patting his hands down the back of another young man. I wonder why he is touching him in this way. My Anne looks at another security lady in alarm.
“Where are they taking him?” her voice quivers.
“Calm down, go stand over there. You’ve been selected for a random search.” The woman points to a tall man a few feet away.
He has white gloves and a light blue shirt on. The man gestures to my Anne to come closer. “Come here, ma’am, I just gotta check your person.”
Anne shakes her head. “This is not possible, I can’t do this.”
“Come on,” the man says, and his smile disappears. He frowns. “Now.”
Anne steps hesitantly over to him. He reaches for her waist and she cringes with her hands in front of her chest to guard her body. “Is there at least a woman available?” Anne says. “I’m not comfortable with this.”
“Calm down, it will take two seconds,” the man yells at her and he plunges his hands up and down her waist. Her billowy dress outlines her petite figure as the man rubs his hands down the outsides of her legs. He moves his hands to the insides of her ankles, and he runs his hands up and starts reaching inside her scarf to check her body underneath.
My cheeks heat up and I look away because I don’t want to see this man touching my mother in this shameful way. Abrahim and Ali are staring at their shoes, eyes wide, and they don’t say anything. It would also be shameful for them to look at my mother this way. Abrahim’s hands are clenched into fists at his sides, and Ali’s Gameboy trembles in his hands. Miriam’s eyes are wide; she is looking in the direction my Baba went, and I look for him instead. Baba will stop this man. Baba will know what to do. I see that the men have taken him to a little tent next to the security line.
Just inside the opening of the tent, I see a flash of my Baba’s belly. His bare belly is very pale, like my own, and it has lots of dark, curly hairs covering it, and I can’t see a belly button. I realize he is naked, and I have never seen my father naked, and I can’t believe he is naked with all these people so close, close enough to see flashes of his belly. I feel my sister’s hand on my shoulder, pulling me gently. I look down at the ground. I study the speckled floor. Black dot. Blue dot. Black Black Blue. Gray dot. Blue dot. Black Gray Blue.
I feel myself moving forward, my gaze still steady on the dots on the floor. Miriam stops abruptly and brushes by. I peek forward as I watch her walk through a large, black door frame. She turns and gestures for me to come through. I creep toward the ominous black frame. One of the uniformed men has returned from the tent where Baba is, holding a black stick, watching me. I hesitate, Miriam’s gestures becoming more frantic.
“Gel, Lale. Come!” She tries to be gentle, but I can tell her voice is shaking, like my hands.
I see my Anne on the other side of the threshold and I know I must cross it to see my family. I walk through and jump as a harsh beep reverberates in my ears. The man with the stick comes forward, frowning, waving it before my face. I am afraid he will hit me. I cringe and crouch to the floor. He sighs with exasperation and pulls me by my arm.
“Let me,” I hear a woman’s voice say. I feel an arm gently pulling me up to standing.
She takes the stick from him and waves it over my head. It beeps again, and I duck my head down in fright. I wonder if they will take me to the tent and make me get naked too.
The woman smiles at me, and she looks really pretty and nice. She waves the stick and shakes her head as if it is the stick that is wrong. “It’s just mad at your cute hair clips. I love the purple! Is that your favorite color?”
“Yes,” I manage, nodding. That morning, I had adorned my long brown hair with metal hair clips. They are my favorite, with two large purple butterflies on them. I had coordinated them with my purple shirt. I am wondering if I am not allowed to have them.
“You’re okay. Go ahead, don’t forget your bags!” She gently guides me toward the conveyor belt. I watch our bags emerge from their dark cave, but I dare not touch them. I see that Anne is standing before a man on a bench. He has opened her bag on the table before him. He is rifling through the clothes.
Miriam grabs my hand and brings me to a bench a few feet away from Anne. I see Baba walking back from the tent, and I jump up from the bench and run to him. My arms are flung around his waist, and he presses my back gently toward him. I look up at him for reassurance, but he is frowning and quiet. The laugh and mischief are gone from his eyes.
Anne is given her bag and joins us. No one is speaking, and I decide that I shouldn’t speak either.
“Gel,” Baba beckons us. We begin to follow quietly. My Anne is pale. Abrahim and Ali have stopped fighting over the Gameboy. Ali lets his Gameboy hang limply at his side. Baba squeezes my shoulder and Miriam is holding her book to her nose, though I do not think she is reading it.
In the end, I chose not to wear a hijab. I prefer my face to vanish among the faces of the people in this line, in the grocery stores, and in the malls. I hold my purse tightly toward me, my head down, my hair framing my face in a curtain to keep them out. I watch my feet as I skip the cracks on the floor, concentrating on those speckles from all those years ago.
The TSA security agent motions for me to step forward.
I feel a surge of the flurried moths in my stomach, but push through them with my carry-on in tow. I swing my hair around to the left side of my face, the ends curling at my ribs, damp from the rain outside. I feel apprehension as he studies my passport and then glances briefly at my face.
“Have a good trip,” he absently hands me the card and begins motioning to the next person in line. I place my bag on the conveyor belt. I peel off my sweater and take off my shoes as I pile them into a bucket. Before I go through the metal detector, I run my hands through my hair to check it, a habit, all in vain because I know the little metal hair clips with the purple butterflies are no longer there.
Seyda Mannion is a writer and World Languages teacher in Syracuse, New York. She graduated with a B.A. in Modern Languages from Wells College, where she earned a writing award for her thesis: Una Guerra Poetica. She earned an MST in Education from Lemoyne College. She also self-published Send Us Forward: Thoughts of a Teacher in the Face of Intolerance. This is her first published short story. Seyda enjoys traveling abroad with her husband, Daniel, and visiting her family in Turkey. They are expecting their first child.