The Immigration offices were sprawling and barren, officious and confused. A nervous couple could check in forty minutes before their appointment, then sit on two hard chairs for an hour, occupying their little corner of a waiting room barely large enough for the hundred patrons. Vietnamese faces were common. Incans wore bright colors, speaking a brilliant mix of Iberian and mountain languages. Four Bantu girls gathered beside the only window—tall slender black beauties thrilled by this experience. Married people remained focused on one another. The wives looked foreign-born and Quentin found an unsuspected pride in Farah being as exotic as the other brides. Occasionally some functionary would shuffle out of the back to mangle names. But there wasn’t much anticipation. Patrons were ready to endure more hours of thankless waiting, and if called, they didn’t act especially pleased to abandon the chairs they had defended all morning.
For sixty-seven minutes, Farah and Quentin sat together, making a minimum of small talk, and that enforced patience made them married. Then Farah’s name was read aloud, and as two people with a common goal, they rose.
Quentin expected them to be dragged in separate directions. Perhaps Farah thought the same. But they were told to find a nearby office where two steel chairs stood before the tiniest woman Quentin had ever seen. The most important person in theirs lives was a midget, a midget sitting on a tall chair. Some vanished circus must have left this woman behind, and now she was making her way in life to the best of her abilities. Her abilities included an ample chest displayed with the help of two unbuttoned buttons. Those breasts were a revelation of smooth flesh, and nothing else was inside Quentin's head. He nearly laughed, fighting to keep his face stiff and stern.
The woman greeted them with a warm smile and Farah’s full name. After glancing at the husband, her eyes dipped. His name was lurking on a form, and she memorized it long enough to repeat it once. “Quentin Maurus. Yes.”
Quentin had kept his family name. It was a perfectly legal choice, and he was ready to defend that decision to all complainers.
Yet just like that, he was forgotten.
The tiny woman—Barbara Stains, the nameplate read—studied his wife. “How are your studies coming?”
“Fine,” Farah replied. “My studies are good.”
Farah blinked. “Yes?”
“She still teaches, doesn’t she?” The interrogator used a smile, trying to trick everyone into relaxing. “I was at Warner, the class of ’61.”
Farah sighed softly. “Dr. Green teaches English.”
“Have you taken her classes?”
“Oh, I adored that one,” the woman said.
And then she asked for Farah’s address.
Farah replied with a careful, practiced tone.
A string of equally innocuous questions followed, each answered without incident or important misstep.
Quentin stared at Madam Stains, his combustive imagination picturing her naked, surrounded by giant, severely stimulated young men.
Unaware of secret sex parties, their interrogator returned to the important forms. Face down, she mentioned, “There are questions I can’t ask.”
“Perhaps you know. There’s a Maimun Temple three blocks from here.” One of the miniature hands pointed.
“I don’t know it,” his wife said.
“And I’m not supposed to ask if you do,” Barbara replied. “Your homeland is rather prickly about possible harassment of its citizens. Particularly citizens trying to leave them behind. You might call home, mention my harmless questions, and as a result some Western citizen in Persia instantly suffers similar abuse. At least that's the fear, supposedly.”
“I converted,” Farah said. “Last year.”
“Well, that’s entirely your choice,” Barbara said.
“I don’t belong to any church. But I worship with Christians on campus.” She looked at Quentin, adding, “With a Bible study group.”
She wanted her husband to verify her story.
But it would look bad, the agnostic defending the new convert. So he changed subjects.
“What was your major, madam?”
“Business administration.” A nest of happy memories teased a smile free, and the lady sat back. “I loved my teachers and loved living in the dorms.”
“Harp Hall,” he guessed.
“Do you know Harp?” Then with a subtle downward glance, she added, “Mr. Maurus.”
“I’ve been inside, once or twice.”
That earned a long, raucous laugh.
Farah sat quietly while the official and Quentin traded knowing winks. Then he mentioned professors that he didn’t know well, but whose names made this powerful soul happy.
Madam Stains eventually tired of old days.
“Look at the time,” she announced. Without rising, she said, “Here,” and handed a fresh document to Farah. “Fill this out, Madam Fakoor. And leave it with the girl at the front desk. We’ll see both of you here in six months. And if you can, enjoy what’s left of your day.”