Excerpt: My Polish Informant

Occasionally, I’ll be sharing excerpts from my book DUE NORTH which is a collection of travel observations, reflections, and snapshots spanning two decades across colors, cultures, and continents.

September 2003.

Our party bus crosses the border into Poland from Slovakia. We’re pulled aside and a control officer hops on. He glides down the aisle, sucking air and grabbing passports. He must love his job.

He reaches me and pauses, pinning me to the leather seat with a glassy blue stare. I slip my worn, forest-green Nigerian passport into his long, lean hand. He flips through green-tinted pages and studies the unfamiliar document.

“It’s a passport!” my inner voice yells. It has already screamed twice earlier today. I could go hoarse easily at this rate.

Grabbing the foreign item from me, he slides it beneath the stack of blue (U.S.) and red (E.U.) documents already in hand. He needs easier access, I tell my American seatmate. The official grabs her navy passport and places it atop the pile.

He hops off the bus and summons a colleague. Draws his attention to that forest-green book. Ten noses press against glass windows like school kids’, as my companions observe their interaction below.

“Uh-oh! Lola is in trouble again!” my friends chant. I smile. They pull me back into the fold, but the officers win the tug of war. The first official signals for me to disembark. I need to explain that green book in person. This will mean arriving into Kraków later than anticipated.

The city is quite sexy beneath the veil of night. I wasn’t expecting her to be. She senses my dejection and steers us underground to Club Fusion with its labyrinth of lounges carved from rock; its magenta, cyan, and yellow strobe lights.

Hip hop night. I check out the dancing Poles. I feel out their vibe. I proceed to a corner to dance… and dance and dance until a man approaches me, covered in black. Tall. Head shaven. Eyes similar to those that had pinned me to my seat earlier that evening, demanding I explain what I wanted in his country… and from his country.

We dance silently for 15 minutes.

“Michal,” he finally introduces himself. I nod weakly. I want nothing to do with him. We dance some more. He studies my face. I turn away.

“Where are you from?” he asks. I tell him about my green passport.

Blue eyes now dyed red from the strobes light up in recognition. He grabs my hand and pulls me forcefully. He drags me through underground caves. We sail through masses of sweaty people.

He plants me squarely in front of a group leaning against a wall.

I study their faces. My countrymen. “These are my friends!” he introduces. I turn to Michal. The words never come but he hears them anyway.

He grabs my hand and gives it a kiss.