Sandstone Castles

A bored TSA agent spins his metal detector like a toy sword.

“Arms above your head,” he says, focusing on not dropping the fantasized weapon.

Inside the full-body scanner’s interior wall, the generic stencil of a person shows me what to do. Imitating it, I hold my position and breathe steadily.

The scent of cinnamon pastries wafts into the airport’s security area, mixes with the stink of old tennis shoes, and sticks to the dingy white walls. A soothing female voice speaks through the intercoms politely requesting that all passengers place their carry-on items onto the baggage screening belt. After a purgatory of a wait, I’ve memorized her entire announcement, including cadence and pitch.

The agent glances over his shoulder to his co-worker, her face gaunt in the fluorescent light. Machine humming around me, the woman scrutinizes her computer screen turned from my view. She won’t find anything, at least on my body — nor in my bag. It feeds into the CTX scanner. I stand rigid against the probing, but the secrets I’m hiding can’t be found with X-rays. My eyes flick up to a security camera winking at me from the ceiling.

I wink back.

Shoulders burning, I lower my arms.

“Please, keep your hands up, sir,” she says, eyes gleaning her computer.

The machine hums a second time and for a brief moment, I fear she’s infiltrated my thoughts. My eyes dart to the male agent as he stabs the air, emulating the noise of a lightsaber. Hovering on the wall far behind them, a white-faced clock pales. Its black arrows point to 12:20 p.m. Thirty minutes until departure. Thirty minutes until I fade from memory like coffee steam in a winter’s breeze.

Neither agent has yet to look me in the face. Good. I’m just another momentary clot in the veins of the airport. They won’t recall me when they’re interrogated. By then, I’ll have settled into D23 (an aisle seat), slipped on a pair of headphones, and snacked my way across the Pacific. Dozens of classified documents will have leaked, shattering the security of the American people. The White House will have crumbled under the ear-splitting shouts of betrayal (it’s only made of sandstone anyways) and dissipated as flecks of glittering dust in the golden light of sunset.

I think I’ll order the beef dinner. Watch that movie I didn’t have time to see in theaters. Chat with a curly brunette with mutual respect for Rage Against the Machine. I’ll insist to her I’m not a terrorist, though they’ll hunt me like one. Won’t that be charming?

“Next,” the male agent grunts, startling me.

If God will grant me anything before I reach the Bohai shore, let it be the girl. I’ve heard He rewards the benevolent.