Prompt: Mad Libs
Turn to your co-workers, kids, Facebook friends, family — anyone who’s accessible — and ask them to suggest an article, an adjective, and a noun. There’s your post title! Now write.
His Miserable Passport
This has turned into an excerpt only. Often I take a theme and just start writing. This one is an unfinished experiment.
Thanks to a very kind woman with a red scarf, Thomas jumped the long queue, and was ready with passport and ticket in hand when he reached the counter. He had only a small bag to carry on, and no luggage to check.
The airline agent opened his passport and prepared to scan it. He didn’t seem inclined to hurry, so Thomas said, “I was unavoidably delayed and I’m late. Would appreciate it if you could expedite things.” He tried to smile, but failed.
Unavoidably delayed. When he parked in the plaza, already in a rush to meet the lawyer on schedule, he had no coins for the meter. He’d dropped all his coins in the tip jar when he grabbed a coffee earlier in the day. Cars illegally parked in the plaza got the boot; in fact he passed the meter man only a block off the plaza, directing while two men applied a heavy, orange lock to some poor schmuck’s tire. But he had to go up to the meeting. He had to be on time. He patted his pockets again, all of them. Empty but for a handkerchief, an ATM card, a lifesaver, and the receipt for his coffee. He always kept receipts. Nearby, near the plaza fountain, a young man and woman played their guitars, open cases before them, soft, familiar music that Thomas was unable to find soothing. In fact their cheerfulness was grating. He was frantic. He looked up towards the law office, which was located on the 33rd floor of a neo art deco building. So damn fancy, he thought. Why couldn’t they lease a nice little space in the suburbs, with acres of free parking?
Then he heard a metallic sound. The girl who had been playing the guitar on the plaza was putting four quarters into his meter. She turned the handle. He had half an hour to feed it again before the boot. He stared at her in amazement.
“Me and Zach get lots of quarters,” she said, nodding to the man who was still strumming and smiling at passersby who dropped coins or bills into the open guitar case.
“Thank you!” Thomas said, finally finding his voice. “I can’t tell you how grateful I am.”
She smiled and waved a dismissive hand. He sprinted across the plaza and up to see the lawyer.
The airline agent, whose name was Jeremy, raised his head slightly and squinted at Thomas from under impossibly pale lashes. Thomas shuddered slightly. He said, “There is a problem. Wait here.”
But Jeremy disappeared through the doorway with Thomas’ ticket and passport. Thomas felt the blood rising to his face. He clenched his hands into fists. If he missed this plane everything was finished, he was sure of it. Why did he have to get the agent with the broomstick up his ass? God help me, I want to kill that man.
The agent reappeared. “The names don’t match,” he said. “I’m afraid you’ll have to follow–”
“NO. I mean, what exactly is the problem?”
Jeremy told him that his name on the ticket was T. Agent, instead of T. Argent as on the passport.
“It’s a typoI” Thomas blurted out, and the agent recoiled as if he had raised his voice, which he hadn’t, not really.
Jeremy sighed. “Please follow me, with your bag,” he said. And Thomas trailed behind him through the wide doorway, down a short hallway, and into a room with long wooden counter, behind which several officials sat at desks and leisurely leafed through files, studiously ignoring their entrance until the airline agent said quietly, “Joanne.”
Joanne, whose back had been to them as she rifled through a file cabinet, turned around, and nodded to Jeremy. She wore a uniform, navy blue with a white shirt that looked too tight around the neck. She and took the documents from his hand. She glanced at Thomas, then back at the passport and ticket.
Thomas wondered if officials like Joanne had ever got past primary school literacy, since it took them forever to peruse any written document, as if they had to mentally string each of the letters together, analyze and determine if it was a word in their vocabulary. He knew it was pointless to tell his tale of woe, of desperate deadlines, of a meeting with someone who could prevent the collapse of his business. Joanne didn’t look like she was interested in anything except practising her language comprehension skills. Thomas felt light-headed, all the while he felt tiny beads of sweat gathering at his temples.
He ran his fingers through his hair. It was damp, whether with stress or from the rain that had streamed in through the sunroof of his car, before he pulled under the overpass and waited out the storm, with half a dozen other drivers. Then there was the man in the black Buick…
“Driver’s license?” Joanne said, and Thomas rummaged in his wallet and produced his license. He noticed that his escort, Jeremy, had gone, possibly vapourized, or at least was back at his post, tormenting other travelers.
Joanne took the driver’s license, and walked a few steps and handed all three items to an older gentleman who sat at at desk, distractedly tapping a pencil on a closed file folder. He took the documents and left the room.
Jesus Christ, thought Thomas.
It was dire, the lawyer, Matthew, had told him. Thomas would need to interrupt the meeting before the vote. Which was first thing the following morning. In a city across the country.
Outside Matthew’s office door, Thomas leaned against the wall, pausing to catch his breath. He took the elevator down to the plaza level. He stopped at the ATM machine,
On his way back to the car, he dropped an envelope into the guitar case. The girl beamed at him as she and Zach sang It’s All Over, Baby Blue.
As they waited, presumably for the older gent with the file folder to return from his backroom mission, Joanne took a pen from a cup of pens on the counter, clicked it, and scribbled on a piece of scrap paper. “Business trip?” she asked. She threw the pen away, into a metal waste basket, and met his eyes.
Thomas felt his heart pounding in his chest. “Yes.” He was physically unable to make small talk. He looked at his watch, without seeing the dial. He didn’t want to know the time, that it was all too late. He could feel Joanne’s eyes resting on him, taking in his face, his damp hair, his suit, his overcoat, his posture, his demeanor, his attitude. He tried with all his might to relax. He set his feet further apart, steadying himself, defending himself, the primal move before the flight, or the attack.
The older official returned and now the documents were four, as there was a faxed sheet of paper. Thomas stared at it dumbly. Faxed? Who faxed any more? He couldn’t read it, but Joanne took it up and did the usual excruciatingly thorough perusal.
Then she chuckled. Thomas stiffened. He hadn’t heard anyone chuckle, giggle, titter, or laugh for hours. Why here and now?
“I don’t suppose,” said Joanne, “a spy or a terrorist would pick the name ‘Agent’.”
Thomas held his tongue. The official could say those words aloud; he knew he could not.
“Your name?” Joanne asked, looking up again, the chuckle long in the past.
“Thomas Arthur Argent,” said Thomas.
Joanne put the faxed sheet into a tray, and handed the other documents back to Thomas. “Off you go,” she said. Thomas did his best not to grab them from her hands, and turned to sprint to the gate, praying it wasn’t too late.
“We’ve called the gate,” Joanne said. “They are waiting for you.”