Every morning no matter the length of the lines in the cage-like tunnels at the Qalandia checkpoint between Ramallah and Jerusalem, while other Palestinians minimize the possessions in the hope they will move through the line faster, I’m stuffing my pockets. It’s pure idiocy, I realize. I’m that guy that holds people up. Of course, it’s worse than that. I’m that guy that grew up two floors down from you in a crowded apartment whose mother sits in your mother’s apartment each Tuesday to share Turkish coffee, gossip, and a hope that grumbly husbands might stay out just a little longer. You know me. You know I’m smart. You know I’m destined for life beyond these walls. And yet, every day, I can’t seem to empty my pockets fast enough.
The truth is, none of them actually know me. Yes, I have a life beyond these walls. Yes, I still live with my family in Ramallah. But if they knew me, they’d know my papers are sometimes at the bottom of my bag and my pockets are filled with too many coins, too many sets of keys, in the hopes that he’ll bark orders in American English from behind the glass.
His hair is shaved; his eyes hidden behind dark aviator sunglasses, his face stuck in a constant state of annoyance, which I attribute to the crappy job and not a weakness in his personality. Once in a great while, he won’t be wearing his glasses, and all I can see are pale blue eyes against olive skin. Skin like mine. Eyes like the Mediterranean: blue with flecks of white salt. I drink in his eyes from behind my cage, from behind the line. I audibly sigh. The hijab-covered head in front of me twists to shoot me a look. I know she can’t hear my thoughts, but I can’t help but worry.
Every week is the same. My life is the same. My university studies are the same. The lines inside the check-point cage are the same. Then one day, he’s gone. No more eyes. No more English. He’s replaced by some quiet guy with curls and a beard who never yells in English and hardly ever looks up. Soon, my pockets get lighter and my papers magically appear in my hands.
“Look,” Madaam al-Kanani from apartment 24 says with a smirk, “Basir is learning to organize himself.”
She pauses, smirks again, and says to the crowd of oh-too-familiar faces, “Or maybe, khawaaja, prays he doesn’t need papers.”