Passport to Nowhere

Shoving her passport into the scanner for the umpteenth time despite her multiple protests to the attendant that it would not work no matter how many times she thrust it at a different angle, he finally had to admit something was wrong. Forced to concede that the temperamental document was out of the range of expertise of what his job description typically required, he called upon a female superior (though it goes without saying that most females are superior).

She looked from Iliana to the passport, bearing the mark of the Italian seal. “Ah yes, it is probably because the passport is Italian. They’re always a bit shoddy.” Of course, by now Iliana was accustomed to digs like this made at her “lesser than” country. Digs that were at their most rampant in the twee environments of France and England. And since she had been trying to seek employment in either milieu, she really only had herself to blame. She already felt guilty enough as it was in her attempts to turn her back on her country without these “enforcer” types making her feel worse.

Yet she had no choice but to leave Italy, of this she was sure. There was nothing left for her there. She had tried every approach in the art of “making it work”–even taking thankless administrative positions that required her to commute all the way from Naples to Rome or Naples to Caserta. But no more, she decided after almost a decade of this. She had saved enough to flee, part of that savings including travel expenses for any worthwhile interviews she might finagle. This was her third time on the merry-go-round, so to speak. The one that kept her just on the precipice of jumping off the cliff of Italy into the more profitable gorge of England.

She had originally had high hopes for Paris but soon realized learning English turned out to be easier than her forays into French. And she also detested the hacking accent of Napoleon’s kind. So England it would have to be, she reconciled. Particularly since the men of Britain seemed more rugged and rough-hewn than the French ones. The thing was, she needed to secure a job first and that would be very difficult to do if her passport couldn’t be scanned, therefore causing her not to make it to the interview in time. For she was scheduled to land at Heathrow and make it to Shoreditch within a two-hour timeframe. If she missed her flight, she would be, quite bluntly, fucked.

Oh curse her congenital Italian tardiness. She should have gotten to the gate sooner, but the transfer in Paris lasting one hour had made her believe she would have no need to rush. For no matter how many years evaporated so as to further ensure a more backlogged and bureaucratic process at the airport, her sense of leisureliness could not be quelled. Or maybe some part of her wanted to sabotage this interview, a position that would allow her to write fashion editorials to her heart’s content (for, you see, the English automatically assume Italians have a better instinct for the sartorially chic). Because if she didn’t get it, her family–her country–couldn’t resent her for escaping. For abandoning it at the first chance she got just like everyone else. Which was chief among the reasons why Italy was and would forever remain in shambles.

Iliana felt culpable, a lingering sense of responsibility holding her back–in addition to her faulty passport, which seemed to be screaming at her in a fury, “Ma che cazzo fai? Non puoi lasciare Italia così!” Then, miraculously, the line moved quickly enough for her to show her document to an actual person instead of a machine. “Bon voyage,” the French official offered more goadingly than encouragingly.

The plane ride was a flash, the accents of British people re-training her ear to speak English. She must remember not to carry on in Italian. It would be offputting rather than charming, especially to her interviewers. Upon landing at Heathrow, she flung herself into the public transportation scene so that she might have just enough time to drop her bag off at the Airbnb on the decidedly Italian-inspired in name Worship Street.

Splashing cold water on her face to reinvigorate her spirit, she spruced up with a daub of eyeshadow and a flourish of eyeliner (defying the assumption that Italian women prefer an “earthen” look). She hurriedly topped off her black leather knee-length slit skirt and navy pale pink angora sweater with a denim jacket featuring a giant rendering of a bejeweled pietà on the back. It was sure to invoke their confidence in her flair for bombast paired with staid attire–combining the best elements of British and Italian fashion. And in that moment of glancing at herself in the mirror before leaving, she knew that she would be hired–therefore fired, by Italy.

She spent an hour in the offices at Repository47, a positive indication indeed. Afterward, she decided to reward her efforts with a drink at Queen of Hoxton, the bar closest to her lodging. Damn, London is fucking expensive, she rediscovered for about the third time that day despite not doing much of anything. No matter, she would be able to afford it now. And while Italy was technically “cheap,” it didn’t matter when every job there offered only a pittance to live on. Soon, she would be free of that oppressive environment.

Sipping carefreely on something called a flirtini, her phone rang. She recognized it as the number of the Repository47 office. This is it, the moment of my liberation being made official, she reckoned. She let it ring three times before answering. “Hello,” she tried to say as nonchalantly as possible. On the other end of the line was the voice of Candace, the woman who had been her primary interviewer. “Iliana, hi. Listen, there’s no easy way to say this because we all really enjoyed meeting you and seeing your sense of style… And I know you’re probably in high anticipation so I would rather just tell you now that the position is going to someone else. The editor-in-chief’s niece… You understand.”

Iliana was silent. She motioned to the bartender to make her another flirtini. “Iliana? You understand, right?”

She cleared her throat. “Yes. perfectly.” The fucking British. The fucking world. With its nepotism, not even cleverly concealed. Still, she found one last shred of arse-kissing ability within herself to conclude, “I appreciate you taking the time to meet with me.” They hung up, assurances of keeping Iliana informed of any opportunities “in the future.” Despite the fact that it was very apparent she didn’t have one based on this “politely” delivered death blow to her Exit Italy plan. But maybe she should have known it could never happen since Italy and exit can’t be seamlessly turned into a compound word like Brexit and Frexit.

Iliana was prompted to drink with further abandon in the face of knowing she needed to save her money now more than ever. For she wouldn’t get out of Italy, that “cheap” place that was so expensive to those who actually existed on the wages there.

Or, as it happened, she wouldn’t get back in. Once again at the airport, her passport would not scan, the same déjà vu line about it being the fault of an ill-made bar code on Italian passports causing her to curse her fate anew in having to be born in the boot. The snafu sent her into an interminable border patrol line, the one for “other Europeans,” since Britain considered itself part of its own separate and elevated caste (a little imperialism reference, if you will).

By the time she sprinted toward her gate, it was too late–the plane had departed back to her homeland without her. She knew instantly that it was Italy’s punishment. That it had no choice but to inflict her with the karma she deserved for trying to abandon it. But every Italian knows, within the deepest recesses of their core, that you cannot turn your back on la patria. Least of all for a place with such insulting food.

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