Ahhh the real world. I remember you now. Tiny little people with tiny little agendas doing tiny little nasty things out of spite.
I don’t give much of a fuck about my swiss knife. It’s not like it was given to me by the Dalai Lama. But as usual I made myself visible and paid for it.
I’m on an eight hour layover in Madrid airport. I’ll be here all night. There is nothing here. Macdonald’s and Starbucks. Metal seats. Unhappy people. I’m with Mel and one other pilgrim, Ali. I get airport lounge access on my bank account, but the only 24 hour lounge is the other side of international immigration. I decide it’s worth scouting it out for me and the guys.
We have just flown here from Santiago so we’ve already been through security before the first leg. We are on air side. Still, for some reason I don’t leave my rucksack with the guys. I carry it, pretty much out of habit. A mistake.
I get on an internal train. I go to Terminal 4s to try to get through immigration and to see if I can get all three of us into this lounge. After all, the passes reset at the end of the year. The guy at immigration tells me it’s more than his job’s worth though. This goes way up, he tells me pointing upwards to be totally clear how high up it goes. He’s in an airport so his gesture is slightly diluted. But his message is clear. Rules > people. The way the world wags.
No sleep for us then. I go back to the internal train disillusioned as now I’m staring down a really unpleasant night on a metal bench.
The escalators only go one way from the internal train so I have to run back down the up escalator with my pack on in order to retrace my steps. A woman says “You cant get back on the train,” as I get back on the train. I go back where I started but a man in a suit is waiting for me. He’s blocking me from leaving the train. I can smell him. He talks lots and gets in my way. I understand little of a constant barrage of angry words. He seems concerned and a bit sweaty. I have clearly transgressed. He’s vexed. I have to go to the next stop. So I do.
The next stop is the other side of security. I have to take all my clothes off again and back through the X-Rays to rejoin my friends. I’m the only passenger in security at this time. There are lots of staff. They have time to flex their tiny little muscles and oh boy they do.
I have a little airline legal swiss knife. Even though it was fine at Santiago, she wants it now. Maybe her sweaty mate has tipped her off about wrong way escalator man. Problem is I don’t know where in my bag the knife is, but she’s definitely seen it in the X-ray. I just shoved everything in. Her guess is as good as mine but we unpack the lot and it doesn’t show. She isn’t letting go though. Eventually she finds it by making me unpack literally everything. All my stuff is radioactive now. It’s all been through about 5 times.
“The knife less than six centimetres long,” I tell her. “Not if I say it’s more,” she literally responds. “Get a tape measure,” I tell her with Google translate.
I’m surrounded by airport security. There is nobody else here. She won’t get a tape measure. “Have you got a tape measure?” “Si” “Will you use it?” “No”… Well then…
I’m me. I’m more interested in the principle here than the knife. I’m also just curious how they’ll respond if I calmly but diligently call bullshit on this. What they are doing is using greater numbers and red tape to spite someone from the outside of their machine. If I focus on the knife they wont take anything else. I bought it for the walk. The walk is categorically over as I run into this shit.
They close ranks against me. The man tries to strongarm me, implying that I’m lucky to have got off so easily. He doesn’t need to weigh in, the women have got this, but he clearly feels he should have a go. He’s all bluster and threat with his glasses, hung head and ducking eyes. The two female friends who work together here are all made of laughter and steel – front, rules and the knowledge that they’re safe in their team. I keep trying for just a tape measure until I realise how alone I am against these people. I only properly notice when some big bald fucker appears out of nowhere – where did he come from? – and starts ostentatiously putting on rubber gloves. There are about 6 airport staff around me. No other passengers. I haven’t got violent, but they could say I had, just like they can decide how long the knife is.
“Can I get your badge number,” I ask the woman that decides what 6cm is. Fuck knows what I’ll do with it, this is just for form now. I’m not writing a complaint, I’m trying to bring a knife on a plane. I’m interested in seeing if she gives it to me though. She doesn’t. She laughs. “You want my phone number?” she asks, fake flirting. Her friends laugh too because the little outnumbered man with no power is funny. I don’t like the power game here. I don’t get any of their numbers. I’m outnumbered.
This sort of thing happens every day, everywhere, all the time. Sometimes it doesn’t matter at all, like today. But often it matters a great deal, when people who can’t defend themselves get sorted badly, separated from their children, sent down the wrong immigration track without the language to explain… It can be prevented by people like my officer being able to remember that every individual is an individual. Simple. Everyone is human, even if you have to deal with lots of humans all the time. It can be tiring keeping alive to that. But surely that’s your prime purpose in a job like border security – to risk the exhaustion from constant connection.
I leave them with a brief Google Translated “You have not been a kind person, work on it,” which is received with gusts of laughter. At least I didn’t get a finger up the bum. I still know when and how to quit. Just about.
Welcome back to the world, Al. “I see dead people. Walking around like regular people.”
I need to find a place to rest my head for a few hours. Just as well I can’t go rogue in the airport with my tiny knife.