This is what they did: they handed over their IDs and boarding passes; they answered questions about their destinations; they took off their shoes; they put their belongings in the plastic bins; they surrendered liquids over 3 oz. (or they didn’t and then were sent for questioning); they collected their belongings; they walked through the scanner; they lifted their arms; they stood, frozen, like dancers or criminals, while the scanner took its picture; they walked through the scanner. The light, in the general area, was a dim blue. It made everyone look holy or sick. I was usually the first one they encountered. I stood at a podium and asked them questions. I had been trained in behavior detection. I looked at the brief quirk of an eyebrow, the tension in a lip. I looked at how long their hands scratched their faces. For a short time and with purpose, or longer, for no reason. They told me where they were going. For what purpose? I asked. Always, there was the brimming hope, the expectation that we would find someone, the liar, the criminal. There was the hope that we would find someone who was dangerous.
Read Karen E. Bender’s fiction, “For What Purpose?,” in the American Empires special issue of Guernica.
Feature image by Robin Cameron, Photogram, 2013. Courtesy of the artist and Room East.