A story of the near future
Do you know that feeling, like a faint buzzing in the air, beneath the silence? A gentle vibration hidden under the surface of everything, below the stillness? It’s the trembling from our frightened souls, in the face of the belief many of us hold, but are not always aware of: Our lives do not belong to us. Our lives belong to others, somewhere out there, who hide behind their walls of money and influence. Who can end lives with a flick of the wrist, destroy people with a simple nod.
Whether or not this belief describes the actual world we live in, I’m not completely sure yet, despite what happened. But what I do know is that this sense of utter powerlessness does become a visceral reality in certain moments. The soul’s trembling erupts and makes the whole body quake.
This is what I felt inside the gray van, as I was being dragged to the hangar. I was shaking as I sat in a middle seat, and I wrapped my arms around myself in order to hold still. A uniformed security official was driving the van, and another official sat in the passenger seat next to the driver. The man in the passenger seat turned around to face us. Insulting our intelligence, he acted as if this was just another day, nothing out of the ordinary.
“So, where are you all from?” he asked with a wide grin.
I was able to calm my body down long enough to muster a response.
“As if you don’t know already,” I said.
He scoffed and kept his grin intact, as if to tell me that he had seen people like me before, boys trying to look tough. He dropped the act.
“As you all may know, the president, in keeping with precedents set up in recent years, is streamlining the immigration process from certain countries while blocking it entirely for others. Now, the blocks aren’t enough to balance the number of people coming in. We’re about to have an overpopulation problem on our hands. The best option for us is to have certain people who are already here leave this country.”
He paused. The people trapped in the van were silent. Perhaps from shock. Perhaps from utter hopelessness. Maybe no one wanted to seem scared or sad. I wanted to yell that I was a citizen and that the officials had no right to do this to me, but I stopped myself. I didn’t want to separate myself from the people who were also in my situation. The officials had no right to do this to any of us, regardless of what was scribbled on certain pages filed away somewhere.
I looked around at the stoic faces of my fellows, who had been arrested and thrown into this van, just like I had been. In their eyes, I could see a hint of fear and sorrow.
It was like what I had seen a few weeks before. At the airport, my father and I had just come back from a domestic flight, back in New York after visiting relatives in Georgia. As we were about to leave the building, we saw people we knew. Friends. They seemed disheveled and on edge. I saw that same fear and sorrow in their eyes.
Our friends asked us if we were okay. We said we were, surprised by their questions.
One of them, a woman named Sasha, came closer, her body trembling.
“Did they take you?” she asked.
My father and I shook our heads. We asked her what she was talking about.
The rest of the group stepped forward and stood alongside her. One by one, each of them told us what had happened. Each one had been at an airport after getting off of an an international flight. At the security gate, each was taken away to an unmarked room in the airport and interrogated relentlessly. They were asked about their religions, their ancestries, their upbringings, the countries where they were born. Some of them resisted. Some of them asked for their lawyers. But for all of them, it ended the same way. They were dragged into vans and told that they had to leave the country. The kidnapped people who refused to be expelled were taken to an isolated area, a building in the middle of nowhere, where security agents tried to coerce them into compliance, through imprisonment and even torture.
Our friends at the airport said they were let go because the prison was running out of space. They said that they were lucky because many of the people who had been taken didn’t come back. They also said that they couldn’t determine why people were being imprisoned, nor could they figure out how the guards decided whom to release and whom to expel. Our friends said that, at the prison, they were among a diverse group of people, with many different identities, from many different backgrounds and walks of life. I noticed them trembling, a sign of the bone-deep fear that had replaced their sense of security. They told us to avoid airports. They told us to lie low so we could be safe.
As my father and I were about to leave, Sasha called out my name.
“I’m so sorry, but may I please borrow your phone? They haven’t returned ours yet. And I haven’t heard from Rahim in so long.”
She looked as if she was about to cry. Rahim was her husband. They had gotten married just over a year ago. It was only then that I realized Rahim was not among the group.
I told her that of course she could have my phone and waited nearby as she made the call. I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, yet couldn’t help but overhear the conversation.
When Rahim answered, Sasha wept and told him she loved him and asked if he was okay. I could hear Rahim on the other end, declaring his love for her, too. After a few moments of crying, Rahim’s voice hardened.
“Sasha, I told you. I told you that this could happen to us.”
“I know, dear. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
Though her tears moments earlier had sprung from relief and joy, she now cried from sadness.
I could hear Rahim crying, too. He was angry, but I could sense that his anger came from his love for Sasha, for his having almost lost her.
Standing there, I felt terrible for the young couple. They did not deserve such anguish. No one did.
A few weeks after that run-in, my father and I were set to fly again. I told him that we shouldn’t go. I urged him to just stay home.
But he wouldn’t listen. He said he had been planning to visit more family members for a long time. He said that we were going to be okay, because it was a domestic flight. We were just going to Ohio.
He was wrong. Before we even got on the plane, we were taken.
In the van, after the official had told us our fates, he sighed.
“You might not believe what I’m about to say. I completely understand if you don’t. But, I truly am sorry that this is happening to you all. I understand that this is going to be difficult, leaving the place you call home. That’s why we agents pushed to reform the policies. The government is going to make the transition as smooth as possible. All of your finances and possessions will be transferred to and secured in your new homes.”
I wondered if he actually thought that these details changed anything. I wondered if he was able to convince himself that because this process was made easier, it was somehow okay.
Despite what the government tells us, no matter what they might say on the airwaves or through the television screens, you and I both know that being expelled from your home is never okay. It’s wrong. Being arrested because of who you are, or where you’re from, or what you believe is wrong. Being imprisoned for refusing to leave your home is wrong. Your firmness in this knowledge inspires me and helps me never forget that an injustice against one person is an injustice against everyone.
The van stopped, and as we were pulled outside, I saw a wide, tall building. It seemed as if it had been built to house airplanes, and I wondered if it had been turned into a prison, expecting to find jail cells inside. Instead, I saw lines of people. Lots of people. And guards armed with assault rifles standing in the spaces between the lines.
One guard told us to get in line and wait. He told us that we were each going to be asked whether or not we would comply.
I waited for what felt like hours. I prayed for us to be saved. I noticed a closed door nearby, and I prayed for the door to open, despite knowing that my chances were slim to none.
But soon, a guard entered through the door and accidentally left it slightly open. The automatic lock must’ve malfunctioned.
I wondered if this was a trap. But, afraid I would lose this chance if I waited too long, I got the attention of the people near me and gestured toward the door. Some of them shook their heads. They must’ve been scared. I understood. Some of them nodded. I held a palm up and pointed to myself to tell them to wait for my signal.
I took a deep breath. The world seemed to slow down. Time itself slid to a halt.
I dashed to the door. I heard people running behind me. I heard guards yelling. I heard gunshots.
I kept running.
I found a hiding spot outside, where I stayed for hours. Then, when I thought it was safe, I ran to the nearest town and found safety in a hospital.
I don’t know what happened to the people who had escaped with me. We scattered in different directions as soon as we were out of the hangar.
I don’t know what happened to my father, either. He was put into a different van. I grieved, assuming the worst, but I don’t have any more time to mourn my loss. I have to focus on staying safe.
I’m so sorry I can’t tell you where I am right now. I know you’re worried about me, so I wanted to tell you I’m okay. I’ll lay low for a while. Then, I’ll reach out to you again, and I’ll tell you how to find me. We’ll meet again soon.
In the meantime, please stay safe. Please be careful.
I love you so much. I always will.