They hardly set their bags down and were wanted for urgent discussions. The details, where they had come from, what they had done in their home countries, what manner of religion they practiced, were already known. They were escorted to separate rooms, empty but for immigration officers on wooden chairs at metal desks with paper and pencil at the ready.
In the first room, the mother was asked to draw a portrait of her daughter. It didn’t have to be good, said the officer. That was a relief to the mother, but she still felt that she had to draw something that resembled her daughter, that it was important to get it right, and she was never any good at it. Her hand was shaky, but she managed to draw a little girl in a summer dress carrying two bags that nearly touched the ground beside her.
In the second room, the father was asked to write a poem about his loved ones, a short verse that captures the essence of their beings. The officer was a bit impatient with the father’s expression of bewilderment, so he repeated the instructions, adding: don’t worry, we know you are not a poet. The father started jotting down words and arranging them into lines and crossing them out, replacing them with others, tapping his fingers on the table.
In the third room, the little girl sat with her hands beneath her thighs, her shoes dangling above the floor. The officer pushed the paper and pencil towards her, and then got up and left the room. The little girl didn’t touch the paper or the pencil. She just sat there with her hands growing numb beneath her thighs.