This little note, it was necessary to play on the elbow to have it. There were only about ten people in front of us when we arrived, around noon. 5:30. Some had slept there. Others had already arrived before they had been told: come back 24 hours before your trip, not earlier.
Posted at 05.00
It filled faster and faster. In the absence of staff, the queue managed itself. People were nervous but polite. Then a security guard arrived and ordered them at the end of the queue to move on, not to block the road. She rushed them to the front of the queue and there it screamed; I’ve been here since last night, madam; yes but me, my flight is 5pm today, sir, take your place in the queue; there is no line, shouts the agent.
A man we guess is young under his mask has finally arrived with the long-awaited little numbers. Like a farmer in a hen house, he quickly found himself surrounded by squeals and outstretched beaks: I was there before you, yes, but not before me, pushing, invective.
And then we go back to our seats and squeeze this little piece of yellow paper in our fingers as if the future depended on it. The atmosphere relaxes, we chat, you leave when you go where, there are two Morocco, several France, one Cancún, one Miami. A Berlin, to celebrate his 20th birthday there with friends, then joined his mother in Italy and then the south of France, Brussels, Paris. Wow, are you going away for four months, or what? And then New York and Disney: I saved my whole life for that trip. My sons are autistic, this is the first time they travel, it has been their dream since they were little.
We are waiting and waiting …
Through these projects, we tell each other our lives, we bond quickly. And we wonder: you, your request, when did you send it? April. Able to. February. December. Did you do that there? No, there were no vacancies, I sent everything. We’re looking for similarities, we’re making connections, we’re all in the same boat.
At some point, an agent comes to pick up the people who travel the same day, then those who travel tomorrow early, then those who travel tomorrow afternoon (it was us), then we have to get off, form. a line that goes’ stretch much more after us than before. An officer notes in hand, on a yellow notebook, name, date of birth and telephone number and then checks the travel document. Do not go too far, we will call you.
Meanwhile, the temporary camps built by those who had not yet applied are awaiting. Looking worried, their residents sigh, their file, which they have checked 30 times, lies in their hands. We go upstairs with a light heart.
And then we wait, we wait, we wait. We are told to stay in the section where there are tables. Basement campers pass slowly; there are only about twenty empty camping chairs left. It’s almost 5pm, the offices should close at 4pm. We pretend we have something to do on the other side to go and gather pieces of conversation, we come back with rumors.
Near the large windows, people are tired. A man called a journalist who was escorted by agents: no right to film inside. The woman who gave the interview predicts that she will not get her passport, to punish her for having spoken. At our table, someone heard that this one you know who was here with his son was called up: his pictures are not correct, he had to go. And it seems that the lady in the blue sweater was having problems because her respondent could not be reached. We throw ourselves on our phones, we call our respondents: You can still be reached, promise? Lovet.
The police are here!
The couple behind us, who are there for the children’s passports, tell us that the young agent would have assured this woman, who is smilingly talking on the phone, that if we had not received a phone call, it’s fine we’re getting our passports. A small moment of joy. I go back to idle near the door, out of idle, and I hear people one after the other being called up to tell them they’ll have to call a number tomorrow. The number of what we do not know. The woman who gave the interview said: they are calling us one by one so as not to have to make a group announcement and create tumult, as this afternoon in Laval.
Someone with purple hair passes behind us: she had a flight this afternoon, she does not want to travel. And we wait, we wait, we wait.
Then suddenly silence falls over us, you can see something is wrong. I turn around. Morocco sighs to me: “The police. The police are there. »
We spy for at least another hour. The agents come with a list on a yellow sheet, almost saying a name, go. There are no longer many people queuing in front of the passport office.
The persons who made their express request on the same day have all passed or are in the process of obtaining their document. It is only us, Morocco, France, Berlin, Cancún and our demands from April and February. From December.
The agents return. Six police officers follow them. They start shouting names. Many of us are called; we line up in front of the office. What relief, what happiness! And then the officers stop calling names, go to the glass entrance, accompanied by the police. That’s a tough talk. They return to the group that remained at the tables.
Your files, they begin, had to be transferred from the office where you made the request, or from Gatineau, where they were sent. The transfer was not made. The offices are closed. There is nothing we can do. You can call this number from tomorrow morning to get an appointment. It will be from case to case. You can come back Monday morning.
Why them, why us?
The nerves slackened. People raise their hands, shout, seek a solution. But I have already postponed my flight twice, madam, shouts a man. When do I get my passport? Another burst into tears: his mother died in Kinshasa, he will not attend the funeral.
On our side we are witnesses to this, these strangers have become our waiting companions, why them, why us, we know nothing, we have not known anything all day, and that is what is useful more than anything else. We are ashamed of our luck. Berlin, next to me in the queue, is shedding a tear, because Morocco was not elected, and yet we spent the afternoon together, it’s unfair. Disney is concerned: she was named after her husband’s passport, but not for her or her sons’.
We wait again, again, again. We end up entering the passport office. We sit down. We are called, we go forward in dribbles. We wish each other good luck and good luck when we leave. Disney has her face in tears as she leaves the room with four passports in hand. Fatigue and relief finally prevailed over the Olympic calm she displayed all day, her optimistic good humor, which many of us returned to when hope failed.
Around 11.30pm, after an 18 hour wait, it was our turn. We do not go long after the woman who gave the interview to the journalists. We are euphoric, on the verge of emotional exhaustion. I look at the two or three employees who calmly continue to issue one passport after another. It’s almost midnight, there are at least thirty people waiting.
Our number 39? No one will have asked us.
I came home wondering what it must be like to go through this, not to go to Morocco, France, Cancún or Berlin to celebrate your 20th birthday, but to save your life. What it must be like to be a victim of not bureaucratic whims, but of political repression. And then the fine line between the two; nothing comparable, I know, but the line sometimes becomes blurred, expanding to become an area where one slides from one to the other, quietly until it’s too late. And let it be said as elsewhere: I never thought it would happen here.
It is something to hold in itself both the kind of collective trauma that we are currently experiencing in passport offices, and the awareness of one’s privilege. I do not know what it is worth judging your experience from a simple “we do not die from it after all, count us lucky”. I know nothing.
Except that Lili has to celebrate her 20th birthday in Berlin with her friends and then join me in Italy and it makes my heart feel better.
Read in the news section: Isabelle Hachey’s column.