NOTE: All the characters in this story are products of the imagination of the author and have no connection whatsoever with anyone bearing the same names. All the incidents are pure invention.
Episode 1 ended at the Sandton terminus of the Gautrain. Did he manage to get to the consulate early enough for his interview? The story continues…..
“US Consulate,” he told the cab driver as he opened the back door to sit.
“You mean the American Embassy,” the driver said.
“No, Consulate…..okay, Embassy. The place where American visas are issued,” he added. He had no time to lecture the driver on the difference between consulate and embassy. He probably didn’t even know that the US embassy was situated in the capital city, Pretoria, and not in Johannesburg.
“Are you sure that’s where you’re going?” the driver asked.
“Of course I’m sure, and please let’s get going. I’m almost late for my appointment!” He more or less shouted at the driver.
“Sorry sir, I thought you might like to walk as it’s not far from here but….”
He did not let him finish the sentence.
“I know where it is and I don’t want to walk because…..”
It was the driver’s turn to interrupt him.
That will cost you 100 rand, Sir,” the driver said.
He was not sure what would cost him 100 rand – the fare, the interruption or his tone of voice? But he knew the game. Ordinarily, that distance would not cost him up to 50 rand, but trust cab drivers, this one was going to cash in on his desperation and there was nothing he could do about that.
“No problem, just go please.” He wasn’t going to waste any more time haggling with the driver. He could see that it was already 08:41 by the clock on the dashboard. He took out a crisp 100 rand note and passed it to the driver who collected it, examined it as if he was seeing a 100 rand note for the first time in his life, tapped his car horn, and zoomed off toward the consulate.
He had read on their website that cars were not allowed to park in front of the consulate. As the cabbie drove past, looking for a space to park after the premises, he saw two uniformed officials addressing the same number of persons on a queue. By the time he got to the demarcated queue, one of the officials was frisking the man in front with his metal detector, preparatory to granting him entry into the building. The second official addressed him directly.
“Are you Ose-de-bamen Irabor?’’ He struggled with the pronunciation of his first name but Ose had no doubt it was his name.
The man looked at his watch, shook his head and said, “Your passport with one ID photo please.”
Ose heaved a sigh of relief. For a moment he thought he was going to be turned back for arriving late. He brought out his green ECOWAS passport from the inner breast pocket of his jacket with a small envelope containing four of his ID photos, inserted one into the passport and handed it to the official. The man took out one of the photos, looked at it and then at Ose’s face, put it back into the envelop, and stretched forth his hand toward him.
“The acknowledgement and information pages of your visa application.”
He had already opened his folder to get those out and handed them over too.
“Right, switch off your cell phone and step forward please,” said the second man, wielding his metal detector, ready to perform the admission ritual on him. As he switched off the phone he saw that the time was 09:03. Done with his task, the official pushed open the heavy metal door that ushered him into a hall with a further screening point. Another uniformed official requested him to place every metal object on him, his folder, cell phone, shoes and belt in a tray and walk through a metal detector gate. On the other side of the gate, he was again frisked, told to take his folder and dress accessories from the tray but leave his cell phone behind. A tag was issued to him to reclaim the phone on his way out. Then he was told to follow painted footprints on the floor in the direction of the interview venue.
Ose had imagined that the interview would take place in an office where he would sit face to face with the interviewer. But in this hall was a line of applicants standing in front of a number of cubicles much like cashiers’ cubicles in some old generation banks. The applicants were moving from one cubicle to the other. He could see that the first two cubicles were for registration formalities while the interview took place at the third one. There were three officials on duty. Manning the first cubicle was a black lady who seemed quite friendly with a smile pasted on her smooth barely-made-up face. On duty in the next cubicle was a black man. Like the lady, he vetted the applicants’ documentation, made some entries in his computer and waved them on to the next official – a white lady who appeared to be the one asking the real questions. From where he stood, Ose had no idea what questions were being asked. But he noted that some applicants spent more time at that cubicle than others. He patted his folder. There was nothing to worry about, he thought. In his folder were all the documents to support his application.
“Good morning,” Ose greeted cheerfully when it was eventually his turn to stand before the smiling first-cubicle lady.
“Good morning sir, how are you today?” she asked, the trademark smile still on her face.
“Better than yesterday, and you?”Ose replied with a smile.
“Can’t complain. May I have your passport and ID photo please?”
It didn’t look like she had any reason to complain. She was obviously enjoying her job, and most likely, her life. Lucky her, he thought, as he handed her his passport. She looked at the photo, looked at Ose, nodded her head, made an entry in her computer and told him to proceed to Counter 3.
Counter 3 was the cubicle with the white lady. Ose counted 4 applicants on the queue before it would get to his turn to see her. She was attending to a group comprising a man, a woman and three children, including a toddler clutching a bright pink teddy bear.
“I’m going on vacation with my family,” the man was saying, raising his voice for the lady behind the glass-partitioned cubicle to hear. Then followed a series of monosyllabic “Yes” and “No” responses to questions issued from behind the partition, accompanied by presentation of requested documents.
“Next!” the lady called when she was through with the family. But the family was not through yet. The man was busy gathering his documents spread on the counter and putting them back in his black briefcase.
“Next!” the lady called again with what obviously was an impatient tone.
The man packed the remaining documents, half shut his briefcase, and moved away from the counter. His wife and children were waiting for him just outside the demarcated interview zone. As they left the hall, the toddler started crying, reaching for her teddy bear which had just been snatched from her by one of her siblings.
The interviews followed the same pattern. It was now one person before Ose and he could see the interviewer more clearly. Probably in her early thirties, she was a slightly built lady with brown curly hair hanging down to her shoulders, leaving a narrow oval face with a long pointed nose on which sat a pair of gold-rimmed spectacles.
Then it got to his turn.
“Good morning,” Ose greeted, standing before the interviewer and staring at the bluest eyes he had ever seen in his life.
“Your passport please,” was her curt response.
Was that her standard response to greetings from applicants or was that just for him? It was a fleeting thought. He brought out the passport from the breast pocket of his jacket and pushed it across to her through the opening at the bottom of the cubicle. She studied the data page for a brief moment, took a glance at his face and typed something into her computer.
“Class B2 tourist application. I see that you have a permanent residence permit,” she said, not taking her eyes away from the computer.
“Yes, and a South African non-citizen ID,”Ose volunteered, also pushing the green barcoded ID across to her.
“Where do you work”? was the next question.
“I’m a lecturer at Magnum College in Pretoria.”
“What’s your gross annual income?”
Did he perceive sarcasm in her tone?
“No, rand. At the current exchange rate, that should be about eleven thousand and…..”
“How are you paying for your stay in the US?” That sardonic tone again.
“My friend in California who invited me for a visit is actually taking care of my accommodation and living expenses. I have…”
As he spoke, he was extracting a document among the many he had placed on the counter to show to her. It was the original copy of the guarantor’s form duly annotated and couriered to him by his friend for the purpose, along with certified copies of his residential address, payslips and bank statements….
How did Ose’s interview end? The story continues in Episode 3. Watch out!