I walked through airport security feeling like I had a nuclear bomb in my carry-on.
I just felt eyes. Staring at me. Shifting swirls of blue, brown and white. Little spheres speaking volumes while mouths were sealed shut underneath them. Was it paranoia?
In the sanest mindset, the eyes probably weren’t following me. After all, I wasn’t the cause of waves at the beach, volcanic eruptions or earthquakes. The world wasn’t waiting for me to make its next move. But I was always waiting for it.
News stories come out every now and then headlining some sort of terrorist attack. I was grateful that, in the wake of the recent incident near Flinders station, in which a driver with a history of drug abuse ploughed through a crowded pedestrian crossing, journalists and news sources were careful not to give it the ‘terrorist’ label. I felt sorrow for the eighteen pedestrians injured as a result, as well as the multitudes of people only searching for the driver’s nationality. When he was revealed to be Afghani, I heard a real estate agent telling my father, “I don’t know where he’s from; all I know is he’s Muslim.”
It must be said that, even coming from two predominantly Muslim countries, we needed to know his background too. We did because usually, when the subject causing the accident is deemed Muslim, many people seem to ration the blood of those affected into every single Muslim’s hands in the world. Eighteen people. In my hands. A lot to bear for someone of nineteen years.
My walk through airport security wasn’t any average walk. It was somehow tainted by the green and gold embossed passport in my hand that read “Kingdom of Saudi Arabia”.
I’ve faced the writing towards people in the line to examine their subtle reactions. They almost always diverted from my slightly brown skin to the passport, back at my skin and away. This could mean anything. But when security would take note of it, I was almost always asked to step aside for extra checking. What’s new?
It came to the point where I found myself subconsciously trying to conceal my passport. As if it were a shame to the public eye. To the side, there was a woman in her own random check. Not much to my surprise, she was wearing a hijab, an Islamic veil that covered her hair and neck. She was the only other person chosen for checking. What did surprise me, however, was her nonchalant smile. It was a smile that said, “Been there, done that.”
I felt both melancholic and refreshed. There was the fact that as Muslims, our appearance, our background and our false reputations have led us to become accustomed to scrutiny. Conversely, there was positivity in that woman’s smile. It didn’t just say she was used to the treatment. It said she was going to go through with it with confidence and show them she had nothing to hide. A silent kindness that I strived to obtain. I found myself smiling too as I redirected my gaze and moved further down the line.
I passed security and my bag felt lighter. The weight of the misplaced guilt had been alleviated and I was once again carrying a bag containing socks, make-up and a book.