Updated: Nov 19, 2021
"COVID certificate", asked the immigration officer sitting across them.
Crap! Matilda didn't know they needed a medical certificate absolving them of the pandemic to coss borders. The matter certainly hadn't come up at the office; back when they were making travel arrangements and something as elementary as a COVID certificate could have been obtained.
"I don't have one", she told him.
At her answer, he fixed his attention solely on Draco and the two began speaking in fluent Swahili. Jeremy was not with them in the cold room they'd been led to by the Swahili speaking, limp trodden, immigration officer. Perhaps he too was having a COVID certificate dilemma somewhere in the building.
They'd arrived at the border town of Aelum well into the late afternoon on Saturday. Travel till then had been dull and uninterrupted. On the road, Matilda had slept, eaten, listened to music on her cellphone, checked mail when network was decent, slept some more, and for the most part avoided eye contact and any semblance of conversation with Jeremy; who'd called shotgun while Draco sat behind him. The door suddenly swung open and the object of Matilda's thoughts walked through, taking a seat next to her on the long bench they were stationed. She thought of asking him where he'd been, but just then Draco drew some notes from his back pocket and placed them on the table. As though trading common merchandise at the local market, the immigration officer took the notes, slid them some place beneath the table and produced two yellow booklets with white sheets of paper in them. Matilda tried to keep her eyes from bulging as Draco took the 'merchandise' and stood. Had they just greased the wheels?
New to bribery proceedings, she quietly walked behind the trio as the immigration officer, with his slight limp, led them downstairs to some counters. Once there, more irregularities with their documents were unearthed.
"Do you still have your $200 per diem", Draco asked her.
"Yeah", she said.
"You have to give that to them to get a business pass".
No shit! Matilda thought but meekly complied. After all, she was simply a sheep being led by capable, grown men.
After successfully buying her way into Axis, Matilda stepped out of the building and dialed Ms. Honey's line. She was frazzled and needed to tell on Draco, who was still in the building moving in-between booths and offices to 'get through'.
Sunset came and they were still at immigration. Matilda got off her phone call with Ms. Honey; it was comforting to talk to a reliable adult who assured her everything would be fine. Jeremy was also outside the building, waiting as she was. Matilda walked up to him.
"Hey", she said.
"Hi" he said back.
"Still sorting out stuff?" she asked.
"Yeah. They're just about done. That's just the way this place is. Whenever you're trying to cross, something comes up".
Oh no! Was he seriously trying to justify Draco's foolhardiness. She knew they were friends and all - they spoke more than she and him did - but come on! Still grieving the loss of her allowance and time, she looked him in the eyes and said, "you know, when I first met you on mail, I thought you were a total asshole".
Typical of Matilda, she chose sparring to express her annoyance. But Jeremy was bigger than she was, yet again. With a thin veil, he revealed to her his own annoyance; perhaps at the situation and maybe even her and her words, but said absolutely nothing.