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A Tale of Two Envelopes

Sumaira Khalid

We had checked in for the flight well in time, divested ourselves of our checked baggage, and gone through the emigration process without a hitch, and now all we had to do was to just cross the security clearance hurdle, and we could finally go and sit in the international departure lounge.

By ‘we’ I mean my sister, me, and of course Lil Zee. I was exhausted because I had been alternately running after and carrying the almost 2-year-old not-so-little Zee for well over half an hour now; my hair looked even more disheveled than usual and on top of that I was carrying a heavy baby bag and my handbag on my other shoulder. My sister constantly complained about having to lug my blue bag, which contained all of Lil Zee’s clothes and other accessories, even though it had wheels!  Well, she was carrying her handbag and a leather jacket in the other hand, and I totally empathized with her. It was very hot indoors, despite the chilly January winds outside, so she was lucky that she could afford to take the darned thing off. No matter how hot I felt, I couldn’t risk taking off mine. What if I forget the jacket at the airport lounge, I worried. There’s nothing in it that would identify it as mine, nor enable anyone to return it to me, presuming an honest person found it.

“Please put your hand baggage on the conveyer belt for screening,” the security official said as he directed us towards the small cabin where ladies are body searched in such a cursory manner that I doubt they have ever caught anyone through this method. My heart skipped a beat. What if they can see what’s in my handbag? Will I be stopped and questioned? Or worse still, what if they just see it and decide to filch it while I am being searched by the bored-looking ladies, who invariably ask, “Where are you traveling to?” in a manner that clearly says that it wouldn’t matter whether you were going to Timbuktu or Swaziland. They just have to ask a routine question; answers do not matter.

The lady inside the small cabin seemed too diligent this time, or did I only feel that way because I had something to hide? It’s inside the left pocket, on the inner side of the jacket, a tiny voice kept repeating in my head and my heart thumped loudly. What if she can hear the tiny voice in my head? I had been carrying Zee on the left shoulder, and she insisted I put him down so she could search properly. She searched me up and down and groped at my jacket pocket. “Is that a mobile phone?” she asked casually, even though she had groped at it long enough. I heaved a sigh of relief, and replied, “Yes, it is.” I couldn’t possibly tell her about the envelope that was also in the same pocket. 

I stepped outside the blue-curtained cabin, feeling light-headed and sore-shouldered (because of carrying Zee, not because of the search!) The man sitting next to the screening machine said in a loud, gruff voice, “Please search this handbag” and my heartbeat stopped for a split second. Had I been found out then? Now I regretted my decision of not even telling my sister about those two envelopes. I wished I had listened to my husband Akif and handed her one of the envelopes. But I had wanted to be the sole custodian, not trusting anyone else.

It all started when my husband Akif told me to bring some cash with me (in USD). He had told me to keep it in two or three different places, and if possible give some of it to my sister. I had listened to him only partially; it was in two different places but both of those things belonged to me.


I could already imagine the breaking news headlines on the sensation-loving news channels. “Lady caught red-handed trying to smuggle a huge amount of cash outside the country.”

“We became suspicious because she looked flustered and tense throughout. The screening machine gave it all away,” some security officials would be telling them.

“Oh, she just coolly lied to me when I asked if it was a mobile phone in her pocket,” the lady in the blue-curtained cabin would chime in. And fellow passengers would be too eager to tell their part of the story, “We also were very suspicious from the start, especially after she kept running after that poor kid.”

“Oh yes,” another passenger would quickly offer, “she probably stole the kid too. He looks too cute to be hers anyway. And he was trying to run away from her all the time, kicking and thrashing the entire time.” Another one would shake their head sadly and say, “These people are very cruel and heartless. They would use anyone, even a little kid to distract the law. But you cannot get away with these tricks.”

They would probably want to search through my entire luggage now. And imagine what would my sister say? “Thank God I went to the trouble of ironing my clothes and packing them neatly in the suitcase!” She would have said triumphantly. She had spent a good part of the morning and half the afternoon ironing and neatly putting them in the suitcase, making sure the nicer and newer ones were on top. “Just in case they want to open it for searching,” she had said. And I had just thrown my stuff in, haphazardly. “They are going to be in a mess anyway, by the time the suitcase reaches home. So why should I go to the trouble,” I had reasoned. Oh dear!

“The pink one,” he added. I was confused. How could that be? I wondered to myself. The other envelope is in the black handbag and not in the pink baby bag! Ah, so I escaped the shame of being detained, questioned, and also of having my un-neatly packed bag searched. I tried to remember if I had done any good deeds lately to deserve this lucky break. The pink baby bag has nothing but knickknacks, Zee’s dirty clothes, the ones which he took off just before leaving home; then there was a bundle of diapers, baby powder, Vaseline, two bottles of cough syrup; and, er, a bar of soap wrapped in a purple Lux wrapper. The lady searching the bag raised a brow. Look here lady, I wanted to say, I am not cheap enough to carry soap bars around. For one, I don’t even remember putting any soap bars in. Secondly, this isn’t even a Lux bar, it’s a special soap for Lil Zee as he gets rashes from standard soap, but I was wise enough to keep my mouth shut.

She rummaged some more, ah what’s this, Tibet powder? The lady raised her brow even more; it seemed she thought I was the weirdest person on earth. Look, I tiredly thought in my head again, my aunt insisted on giving it to me; we used to be swathed in it as babies, and it brings back many childhood memories; my late mother was fond of it; once again I kept my mouth shut.

My sister just couldn’t stop frowning. “Why-am-I-travelling-with-this-idiot,” I could see it written all over her face. “What’s this?” One of the ladies rummaging in my bag found a jar of body butter. “That’s body butter,” my sister offered helpfully (as if it wasn’t written in bold letters all over the jar). “It’s used to moisturize the body,” she explained patiently, as if she were talking to a child. The ladies looked slightly annoyed. “We know what it is,” one of them said haughtily. Then there was a long, heated debate over the volume of the body butter jar. Was it or was it not above 100 ml. In the end, one of the ladies, who was somewhat nicer than the others (the Tibet-powder-and-soap-bar-finder lady) settled the debate by saying it was less than 100 ml. They stamped our boarding passes, and we were allowed to move on to the departure lounge! And throughout, no one found the two envelopes or they would have stopped me, just as they had stopped Rahat Fateh Ali Khan.

But when I told all of this, somewhat breathlessly (due to overexcitement) to my husband, he simply brushed it off. “It’s perfectly legal to take that amount out of cash out of the country.” Even telling him about how uncomfortable it was to keep wearing the leather jacket, even though I was boiling, wrought no empathy from his unperturbed heart, and I dared not debate it any further, lest he repeats the historical line, “Gosh, you are so melodramatic, I could write a thousand-episode soap about you.” Well, he should, as I am too lazy to write one myself!

Sumaira Khalid is a Pakistani writer and translator from Lahore, Pakistan, currently living in Dubai. She is a graduate of the University of Punjab, where she obtained an M.A. in English Language and Literature with distinction. Her writing focuses on universal human emotions, experiences, and intricacies of life in rural Punjab. Sumaira writes personal narrative, fiction, children’s literature, and poetry, in both English and Urdu languages. Her work was recently featured in the Akewi Magazine and on Sufinama's website.

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