“This passport is fake,” the airport police officer says. He emphasizes “fake,” spitting the word out of his mouth like a wayward fly. A wave of panic rises into my chest. I’m at the EasyJet ticket counter, leaving Greece to head to Rome, Italy after an amazing few days on the island of Santorini. He’s looking at me like I’m a criminal.
My mind starts to race. Did the staff at the hostel I stayed at in Oia switch out my passport with a fake one? Is that why they make their guests leave their passports at the front desk until checkout? No, no way. There must be some mistake.
“No, sir,” I say slowly. “That passport cannot be fake. I received it in the mail directly from the U.S. Department of State. I am from the United States of America.”
His brows furrow deeper together. “No, we can tell when a passport is fake,” he persists, rubbing the papers inside the booklet in between his fingers like he knows what REAL passport paper is supposed to feel like.
We go back and forth like this in the airport lobby for a few minutes, until he shakes his head as if he doesn’t want to hear any more of my lies. “Come with me,” he orders, motioning for me to follow him into a back room. There is a second police officer sitting inside at a big desk.
Oh boy, I thought. How am I gonna get out of this? I need to get ON that plane to Rome in the next 30 minutes!
Inside the small room, the first police officer starts in with his interrogation. “You can go to jail for this,” he keeps saying in a stern voice. I look him up and down. He’s tanned, muscular and cute as hell. And he can’t be more than 25 years old. Maybe there is a bit of humor in this situation. My instinct is to flirt with him, but this is clearly not the time or place. Instead, I keep trying to prove that my passport isn’t fake, that I am indeed the person in the photo. I pull out my driver’s license and my flight itinerary.
I give him a printout that shows my air route from DC to Greece, then out of Spain back to DC in a few weeks. He glances at it, then passes the papers to his colleague. I show him my driver’s license. “See? They match.” I don’t know why I think this is important but they both nod at each other, so maybe it is.
“Do you have an ID card?” the first police officer asks. “No. This is considered an ID card in the U.S.” The second police officer just looks at me. He seems more laid back and none too concerned about whether my passport is legit or not. He’s young, too.
The first police officer continues with the questions:
- Why are you going to Rome? I’m just traveling. I’ve always wanted to go to Italy.
- Why are you traveling alone? Um, because I want to? I don’t even know anyone else who could travel with me.
- Why do you only have one bag if you are traveling for one month? It makes it easier to get around – less things to carry.
I guess this is their version of the good cop, bad cop routine? I turn to start reasoning with the second police officer instead.
“My passport is brand new, sir. June 2012. I just got it in the mail before I came here. Maybe they are using a new type of passport paper now?” The good cop nods, as if that might be a possibility. The bad cop acts like he doesn’t even hear me. “Why no stamp from Athens?”
I have no answer for this question. I got a stamp during my layover in Madrid. Was I supposed to get a stamp in Athens? No one made me go through customs. I remember just walking out of the airport to my bus. Did I sneak out of the Athens airport undetected???
“I don’t know, sir.” I shrug at the good cop. “This is my first time in Greece! Everything has been going well until now,” I say, my voice cracking. Tears start to pool up in my eyes. I need to get on that flight to Rome!
The good cop looks at me, sympathetic. He’s feeling my pain, I can tell. But still, they both keep looking at my passport. I keep racking my brain. What else can I say to make them believe me?
Suddenly, a lightbulb goes off in my head. Maybe it’s my passport photo! I still have on the black turban I slept in. But my passport photo shows me in an afro.
“Do you want to see my hair?” I ask, motioning to the picture in the booklet. “Yes!” both cops say, almost in unison. “Let’s see your hair.” I whip off my turban, revealing my shrunken afro. I know it looks like a stale prune.
“It doesn’t look so good right now, but that’s me. You see?” I point to my passport, then I point to my hair.
The good cop looks like he wants to bust out laughing. Then he does. Even the bad cop can’t help himself. He lets out a chuckle. “You don’t look that dark in the picture,” he says, still trying to sound skeptical.
“Oh,” I say, laughing. “That’s because I’ve been laying on the beach in Perissa for the past two days. I’m a little blacker now.”
They let me gather my things and escort me back to the ticket counter, just in time for me to board my flight to Rome. For now, it seems I get to continue my European adventure.