I’m standing in line at the airport holding my passport close to my chest keeping the words “The Islamic Republic of Iran” printed in gold on the cover hidden from view. A man on a screen is welcoming us to this new place but I’m back in my rehearsal for the careful operation of what is to come next. For months, I have dreamed about this moment. I dreamt of giant gates guarded by giant men. Giant gates with jagged edges that open and close mechanically, and you’d have to walk through them at an exact moment to pass through unscathed to enter this new land. Like a video game. I had practiced it over and over again in my dreams and my heart pounding in my chest. Sometimes I won, sometimes I did not. This land is probably more guarded than anywhere else on earth. Whom are they guarding it from when they are the biggest threat?
“Is this your first visit to the United States?”
“Yes.” I say managing a smile in time to hide the fact that only moments ago I was dreaming of giant-guarded gates. I look up and see his bald head shining under the bright light of the bulb just above him. It casts dark shadows across his face that make his features appear unfriendly.
“What’s the purpose of your visit?”
“Tourism”, I say cheerfully. “I’m here to visit a friend and then family.”
“How come you sound American if this is your first visit?” His tone is serious, and it suddenly occurs to me that the American accent I had put on to blend in was working against me.
“I’m just good with accents,” I say. “I can do British, Irish and Scottish too.”
“Really?” He sounds a little amused now. “Say something in a British accent.”
“I’m going to visit my great uncles in California.” I say calmly and carefully in my best British English.
“That’s awesome! Have fun” He stamps my passport and slides it across the counter back to me. “Don’t do anything illegal and we’ll give you more visas.”
“Thank you” I take my passport and walk away. I’m not sure I want more visas. I’m not sure I want to be here at all. Am I really here to visit a friend and family? Or am I here to see him?
The day I met him is such a blur. He walked into my friend Sanaz’s small apartment in Logan Square just outside Chicago and I met the person I had spoken to for so many years. The person I had gotten to know only through technology. My safe person. He ducked to walk through the door and the moment was so big that I remember screaming and running from room to room finally settling behind Sanaz’s roommate Daniel who was standing in the kitchen looking very confused. Moments later on Sanaz’s bed, I reached out and touched the tip of my index finger to his shoulder. “You’re real” I said. “I’m real” he whispered back.
Shahrzad Sajadi is currently completing a Herstory Writers Workshop/Coalition for Community Writing fellowship. She is a PhD candidate at the School for Global Inclusion and Social Development. Her research involves studying systems of exclusion in Massachusetts jails and informal settlements in Lebanon. Inspired by her namesake Scheherazade the storyteller, she often uses storytelling and narrative methods in her research.