The man wearing a beige suit, matching silk tie and a pair of light brown shoes was definitely past his nineties. His stylishly aging wife, wrinkles adding to her grace, gently pushed his wheel chair.
The security personnel, armed to the teeth, looked on. People ahead, themselves weary with the tedious routine, did not bother. Chivalry flourishes only in leisure.
Under pressure, we are back to the basics; to our old days in the jungle; survival of the fittest!
As they reached the top, a battery of officials with steely looks descended on the senior citizens. First, they pulled the man's hat away exposing remaining strands of tired hairs.
They juggled with his shoelaces till the shoes were gone; then his watch. The hapless man, apathetic to the drill and incapable of making a difference, had his eyes locked on to distant nothings.
Two officers started pulling his jacket. He struggled to move his arms just about enough for the men to take it off.
As instructed, the lady squeezed the wheel chair in to the small space available between the two queues. As my queue moved, I could hear her restrained arguments with the officers.
"Gentlemen, my husband can barely get up. He is ninety two. You have taken most of his belongings away in any case. You want him to walk through that now?"
"Sorry madam, we have instructions to follow. In fact, we have to sanitize the chair as well."
"There must be a way out. A man of his age cannot be a security threat!" "Madam, we require you to cooperate with us. You kindly stay behind as we help your husband walk through the frame. My officers will take care. You relax."
"How can I relax when you strip my ailing husband and then want to further torture him this way?"
With no interest in more pleasantries, the officer said, "I cannot discuss procedures with you, madam. Do you want to proceed further from here or return?"
"Of course, we want to proceed."
"Then, this discussion is over. Please step aside." He moved away giving quick instructions to his colleagues.
It was heart-breaking! The senior citizen was processed through the rectangular frame. The wheel chair was 'sanitized'.
The security men helped the old man stay upright till it was brought back. The lady returned. An officer dumped the coat, tie, shoes et al on her hands.
The wheel chair became smaller and smaller till it disappeared into one of the distant alleys. My heart cried out for the couple.
After all, they just wanted to fly from one place to another in their own country. Who was responsible for the sordid state?
A decade later, I still do not have an answer. But, the disturbing images return to haunt me at that airport even today.
The bigger picture — how international travel has been robbed of all the fun and romance over last decade or so — hurts even more! The serpentine queues, the intrusive and at times offensive interrogations, and the silent scrutiny by ubiquitous prying eyes have become the ugly, inseparable part of air travel.
Gone are the days when one could hop on to a connecting flight in Heathrow in less than an hour. Gone are the days when one could share a few jokes with American immigration officials.
Wonder if we shall ever be able to fly again without having to prove repeatedly that we are ordinary peaceful citizens of this world. Shall we, ever again?
The author is a freelance writer based in Muscat. All the views and opinions expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not reflect those of Times of Oman.