At the Abu Dhabi International Airport, Ganga and her parents are escorted to a Customs and Border Patrol waiting room, and it is immediately obvious that something isn’t right, here. In “Move Along, You,” Snigdha Roy explores the callous nature of the CBP officers who rely on profiling. Roy expertly builds tension in “Move Along, You” through her placement of our narrator as a fly-on-the-wall observer before her own parents are called to be interviewed. Dig in below.
“Do they really have this much time on their hands? Is this what they get paid to do?” she asked in Bangla. “This? This is the United States?”
When we were directed to the waiting room, I knew right away this wasn’t normal. There were mostly Indians there. Ma glanced over her shoulder at Baba and hesitated.
“A little faster, Mrs. Rao. We don’t have forever,” the CBP officer behind us said.
I didn’t like the way he talked to her. This was Officer Jones, according to his lapel, and he was a wisp of a man with a wisp of a voice. Fluorescent white light shone across his pate and the badge on his uniform. It declared him a US Customs and Border Patrol officer, a golden crest with a golden eagle I had been admiring five minutes ago. That was when we were in line at Customs. Now we were somewhere else.
We were at Abu Dhabi International Airport. Thirteen hours of air travel, a four-hour layover, and zero wifi had marked the halfway point of my family’s trip back to America. We were tired, and we were cranky, and we didn’t know things were about to get worse. Baba had grumbled about how long it took to unload the plane. He said he was feeling it in his back, whatever it was. Ma was wearing heels and they were hurting, so she made sharp comments about why they couldn’t just bring the planes to gates like normal airports. Instead, they rolled a flight of stairs to the plane like we were the president, then bused us from the tarmac to a place with conveyor belts and processing lines like we were luggage. As for me, I was unhappy about sharing my oxygen. There were too many people and they were breathing it up.
I followed my mother into the overfilled waiting room. Those who weren’t lucky enough to be sitting on chairs were either sitting on the ground or standing with their backs to the wall. Judging from the strained silence, no one was happy to be here. Baba steered the carryon carefully around hands and knees and backpacks. Once he parked our stuff at an empty section at the back wall, I dropped my backpack on top of the carryon and leaned an elbow on top of his shoulder, too tired to hold myself up.
“Ganga, thik kore darao,” Ma commanded. I stood upright again.
“Your identification, please!” the woman behind the desk demanded. She talked to us like she had asked for these three times already, even though we had just come in. She was the only white person in the room, now that Officer Jones had vanished.
“Taratari niye jao!” Ma said, glancing at the lady as she slapped my passport and our visa cards into my hands.
Why do I have to do this? I wanted to ask, though I knew it was faster to send me. I did as I was told, because I didn’t want to hear Desk Lady talking again.
When I got to her desk, I handed our identification to Officer Slater, also a CBP agent. She took the slim stack in her hands and gave them a cursory glance. Baba’s visa was on top. Surname: Rao. Given Name: Krishan. Visa Type / Class: H-1B. Nationality: BANG. BANG stood for Bangladesh, a Muslim country cradled by the long eastern arm of India, but we were Hindus with family on both sides of the border.
Officer Slater looked up from the square image on the visa to my father. It said my father was thirty-nine years old. What it didn’t say was that he was a software engineer, and that both his belly and his face were round, and that he loved to eat South Asian sweets that were round, and he liked to eat American barbecue—even beef—all year round—whenever Ma wasn’t looking. He wasn’t supposed to, though. He had high blood pressure.
Underneath Baba’s visa was Ma’s. Officer Slater flipped to it as my mother approached. My mother was skinny and tall. Baba didn’t like that she was taller than him, but arranged marriage was arranged marriage, and it was love at first sight. They shared a happiness that Baba said “beats the median” and “exceeds expectation” quite often.
Officer Slater compared Ma to her visa image. Ma’s visa declared her Padma Rao, thirty-seven, with visa type H-4. She was also of Bangladeshi origin, and like my father’s, her visa also said it expired in three weeks. Ma and Baba had been worried about traveling to India so late, but we didn’t have a choice. I wondered if that was why we were standing here, but that wouldn’t make sense; there were three weeks left.