“As-salamu alaykum,” I said cheerfully.

“Wa-Alaikum-Salaam” he said, while accepting my passport.

“You have three passports!” the immigration officer stated the obvious, as I handed him my passport to be stamped.

“Yea..” I whispered. After 15 minutes of passive-agressive drama in the queue, I was just about done. Where art thou home?

“I saw that you were being irritated by them, so I started working quickly,” he boasted.

How can one boast about being a sloth on purpose? He worked at a leisurely speed, by choice, while queues lengthened until they hit a wall. And he’s proud of it? Am I missing something?

I was still thinking about what he said when he decided to repeat what he had done, for me, hoping to make me feel grateful? I was courteous, but my smile was was far from genuine now.

I wanted to talk back, remind him that it’s his job and he ought to be doing better, but had to instead remind myself that the mob mentality in this country, fuelled with lack of law and order, is fatal. Also, I am wearing pants. We know how that one would end. Someone would say, “she asked for it, in that t-shirt with a wild woman’s face on,” and then it would go viral. I would be shamed and blamed for everything under the sun, pictures dug out and compromised, and the snugness of my pants a topic of discussion as men at chai dhabbas.

His extra bright smile pulled me back. I was shook to realise how quickly my chain of thoughts had plunged south. In to the gutter. Expecting the worst. Believing it would happen. Trembling at the prospect of it, all the while standing in front of an immigration officer at the airport, in my own country.

“So how long are you staying?” he enquired.

“A few days,” I responded, hoping to close the conversation.

I saw that he had already stamped the passport, inserted the marker, and was now flipping pages to see what other visas I have. He closed it halfway, looked up at me, raised his hand to return the passport ever so slowly, and posed the next question, “so where do you live?”

I all but snatched back my passport from his hand. “Gulistan-e-johar?” The audacity!

“No. Thank you.”

I walked away. I couldn’t believe I said thank you to him.