OVER AND UNDER by Caroline Swicegood • Cleaver Magazine
OVER AND UNDER by Caroline Swicegood “Where are you from?” The question, which comes from a smiling white-shirted waiter with a red towel over his arm, is friendly and typical, nothing but small talk with a tourist, the way it generally starts. Sabine begins flipping through her mental rolodex of possible answers: with slightly olive skin, warm brown hair, and green eyes, with three languages perfected (and two of them Western, no less), with a French name, she can pass for almost anything. She used to tell the truth more than she does now. In Istanbul, she either got slant-eyed suspicion or solidarity, depending on who she was talking to; she found herself over-tipping to prove that she isn’t like the other Syrians wandering the streets, covered and curve-palmed. In Athens, she was kicked out of a cab after speaking Arabic on the phone with her mother. In Dubai, no one gave a shit, because everyone knows they are being paid half as much to work twice as hard—the master’s degree hanging in her brother’s office there feels almost mocking. In Alexandria, in a country that has known its share of problems, it inspired a spirited coffee shop discussion about the nuances between refugee and immigrant and expatriate. In the Venice airport, her first time this far west since the war started and her home country gained notoriety, the customs agent flipped through her passport, looked repeatedly at her Schengen visa, escorted her to a room to wait three hours, be questioned for two, and wait four more.