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She wasn’t prepared for that question. Again she responded too quickly, without fully considering. “He’s my boyfriend, mi novio. We live together. He is Salvadoran,” Cheryl responded, trying to summon another smile but failing miserably.
The officer glanced at one of the soldiers and then with a look of triumph he began again to thumb through the binder until he reached the page headed by the letter “G.” The soldier leaned over the officer’s shoulder and together they hungrily examined the names on the page.
They looked up at Cheryl.
“Is he travelling with you today?” the officer asked casually.
“No, he’s back in Toronto waiting for me,” she responded, faking yet another smile and sensing something disturbing in this new line of questioning.
The official did not smile back but instead picked up the 10-day visa stamp and pounded it into her passport. Cheryl took her first breath in what seemed like hours. Gathering her documents and knapsack, she fled through the door that led down to the arrival gate. I made it, she proudly thought.
Just getting into the country is an important part of the mission, they had told her back in Toronto.
The arrival area was a circus of colour, noise and people as Cheryl made her way to the carousel and collected her suitcase. She scanned the faces of people who had come to meet the new arrivals, searching for anyone familiar but recognizing no one. As per instructions, she removed the Maclean’s magazine from her knapsack and, leaning against the third pillar from the exit, pretended to read it, holding it high and close to her face like a shield. Still, her ivory skin and flaxen hair were like beacons and soon a group of curious children surrounded her, touching her, pleading with their eyes. From the corner of her eye she thought she saw the immigration officer pointing at her from behind a glass barricade. But before she could be sure, he vanished. “Don’t get paranoid now,” she thought.
“Señorita Robinson?” whispered a tall man who was standing beside her but who appeared to be facing in the opposite direction. “I am José, por favor follow me quickly.” He was tall and slender like Antonio, with the same simple, round glasses that gave him the unmistakable look of an intellectual, or a revolutionary, or both. She picked up her bags and followed him at what she calculated was a discrete distance.
The sun was leaning low in the late afternoon sky as they walked out of the terminal and headed towards the parking area. They moved in silence, together yet apart, José a few paces ahead.
“Soon it will be curfew and very dangerous on the highway to la capital,” he informed her, his eyes darting in all directions as they approached his vehicle, a small rusted pickup truck. He quickly loaded her bags into the back. A family of four passed on a motorcycle, father driving, mother side-saddle behind him holding a wriggling toddler, the oldest child in front with legs clamped around the gas tank. José and Cheryl got into the pickup and he backed out, turning towards the airport highway. They passed a bus belching black smoke. It was crammed well beyond capacity, human cargo hanging out the doors, roof piled high with boxes, crates and luggage.