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  • Behind the counter of the US Port of Entry at Los Angeles International Airport, a lanky middle age white man asked me for my passport and visa. I complied and handed over a brown envelop. The officer took the documents without making eye contact. He noticed the sweaty mark I left at the corner of the envelop.

    The officer asked if I was nervous.

    “Oh, not really. No, Sir. But I’m just very tired. My brother and I have been travelling for over 20 hours. Our flight was del…”

    The INS officer pointed his left finger up and told me to watch for my name in the monitor. He also added that I am to wait in front of the blue line when my name appears on the monitor for further processing.

    “Okay, Sir. Thank you. Thanks very much.”

    He grunted and motioned me to take a seat.

    I turned around and saw my younger brother already sitting on the back row. The first row was empty. The second row was occupied by what appeared to be a family: a bearded middle-aged man, a boy, and two women. Both women were wearing dark colored fabrics wrapped around their heads.

    As I joined my brother, I handed him my carryon bag so I can take off my sweater. Slouched in the navy blue vinyl covered chair, my brother looked up. No words came out of him. He just stared and handed me back my bag.

    The seat I took was a direct hit to the A/C vent above. I wanted to move, but my brother’s eyes were glued to one of the monitors. It was the only monitor not displaying any names. Instead, it was showing CNN Headline News. Half of the screen was filled with the words, “Hurricane Irene.” I sat down quietly next to him and cuddled my bag and sweater.

    Ten minutes later, my brother’s name popped in the first monitor. He stood up. His leather bomber jacket, a last minute hand-me-down from our second cousin, draped two sizes too big on his fourteen year old shoulders.

    “Don’t forget your bag. Don’t be nervous, okay? Stay calm and be honest, okay?”

    My brother took his bag and slowly walked towards the counter. A female INS officer was waiting for him at the end of the blue line. My eyes followed my brother and the officer until they both disappeared in the rows of powder blue cubicles behind the counter.

    My name appeared on the monitor soon after. The same INS officer who was waiting for my brother earlier was at the end of the blue line waiting for me. Puzzled and concerned, I tried looking for my brother as we make our way through the city of cubicles.

    There were a lot of powdered blue cubicles. But no brother.

    An hour and a half passed before I made it back to the waiting area. There, I found my brother slouching in the same seat he occupied before.

    My brother asked me a question.

    “No. Why? Did the INS officer ask you that?” I replied back.

    He nodded.

    “Did the INS officer also ask if we’re Muslims?”

    My younger brother protested; irritation registered across his face. He said the female INS officer is leaving for the Philippines that evening. She’s going to Mindanao.

    Outside the Port of Entry Office, news about Hurricane Irene was on all the television sets in the airport. I’ve heard of hurricanes before I really don’t know what they are. We only have typhoons in the Philippines.

    -- This fictional story was submitted to NPR's "Three-Minute Fiction" contest. No, it didn't win anything. Yes, the story is loosely based on a real life event.
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