officer flipped open Kalem’s passport and scrutinized the photo.
I tapped my foot. Come on, come on, don’t you know we’ve got a
wedding to get to? My perfect wedding, nonetheless. And on top of
that, the duty-free shops were seriously calling my name. We’d
already been shuffling along in the security queue for forty-five
minutes like a couple of tortoises, and I could almost smell the
teasing waft of bargain perfumes, designer lipsticks that stay on for
three days, and bumper packs of chocolate sending out silent buy
me signals in the shopping area beyond.
Luckily, we’d got to the Airport in plenty of time. Kalem wanted to
check in early to try and get a seat with extra leg-room. Not that it
bothered me, really. At five foot nothing, I never had a problem with
being crammed in like a stuffed sausage, but Kalem’s legs were long
and toned and…well, pretty damn sexy.
Kalem ran a hand through his cropped dark hair and nodded towards the
passport. ‘I probably had more hair then,’ he said to the customs
I giggled, remembering the frizzy out-of-control footballer’s perm
he’d had when the photo was taken, which resembled my unruly curls
on a good hair day.
‘I don’t think so,’ the customs officer muttered,
narrowing his eyes at Kalem.
I stepped out from behind Kalem and leaned on the counter. A wave of
loud tutting broke out from the queue behind me.
‘It’s a serious offense to tamper with a passport, sir,’ the
customs officer said in a deadly tone, glaring at Kalem.
‘Pardon?’ Kalem’s eyes widened with surprise. ‘I can assure
you that my passport hasn’t been out of my sight. And it definitely
hasn’t been tampered with. If you’ll just let me show you –’
Kalem reached out his hand.
The customs officer shot his hand in the air, passport held up high,
so Kalem couldn’t get anywhere near it.
‘Sorry…’ my eyes shot to his name badge, ‘Officer Head. What
seems to be the problem?’ I asked, thinking he was obviously some
sort of jobsworth with nothing better to do than annoy innocent travelers.
Officer Head tried the same suspicious glare on me and shot his other
hand up for silence. Then he picked up a phone on the counter and
whispered something into it. I heard the words ‘possible’ and
‘terrorist’ but the rest of it was inaudible.
I gulped. What was going on? This was ridiculous.
‘Right. You two will have to come with me.’ Officer Head climbed
out from behind the passport control booth and marched off along the
Another loud tutting session erupted from the group of people behind
I glanced at Kalem with a questioning look. ‘What’s happening?’
He shrugged. ‘I don’t know. It’s probably just some kind of
simple misunderstanding. The quicker we get this over with, the
quicker we can get on with our pre-honeymoon.’ He lowered his voice
to a whisper. ‘And don’t say anything.’
‘What do you mean, don’t say anything? If he asks me a question,
I’ll have to say something, won’t I?’
‘You know what I mean – don’t say anything ridiculous.’
Me? Ridiculous? As if.
We fell into step behind the crazy customs guy. ‘I know.’
I smirked at Kalem. ‘This is the surprise you said you’d
organized, isn’t it? I bet we’re really going to be escorted to a
VIP lounge, where we can drink champagne and eat those little canape
things. Ooh, great. I love those. I wonder if they’ve got those
little smoked salmon rolls with the cream cheese fillings. Yum.’
‘This isn’t the surprise.’ Kalem’s forehead scrunched up into
‘Oh, yeah, good one. I bet you’re just saying that so I’ll be
even more surprised when we get there.’ I paused. ‘Well done.
Good surprise.’ I giggled. Wow, this was going to be such a great
start to our brand new, exciting life together.
‘It’s not,’ he hissed at me.
My jaw dropped open. ‘What do you mean, it’s not? What is it
then?’ A sudden blanket of fear swept over me.
Kalem was saved from answering as we reached a door marked Customs
Officer Head punched in a security code on the keypad lock and led us
into a massive rectangular interrogation room with a desk at the far
end, separated by two chairs on one side and two on the other. The
desk seemed miles away from the entrance, like I’d suddenly been
transported into a freaky Alice in Wonderland world, where everything
was out of proportion. I felt like Kalem and I had turned into tiny
little munchkin-type people, but everyone and everything else was
‘Sit,’ Officer Head barked so loud that my ear almost imploded.
We dropped down onto the hard plastic chairs. This was not good. Not
good at all.
‘Another officer will be joining us shortly,’ Officer Head began,
‘but until then, I’m going to ask you some questions.’ He
opened Kalem’s passport again. ‘Right. Let’s start with you.’
He looked at Kalem. ‘What is your name?’
I gazed at Officer Head, who actually looked like Mr. Potato Head –
only his nose was a little less red – and panicked. My brain
flickered away like a dodgy light bulb. There had to be some
completely rational and normal explanation for this mix-up. I mean,
yes, normal and rational weren’t words that I could usually
associate with my life. I would probably describe myself more as
accidentally challenged. But still, this was just a simple mix-up,
‘Kalem Mustafa,’ Kalem replied.
‘Ha-ha.’ I let out a nervous laugh.
Officer Head gave me a narrow-eyed stare, then turned back to Kalem.
‘Is that your real name?’
‘Er…excuse me. Is that a trick question? It’s obvious what his
name is. It’s in his passport,’ I said, not wanting to state the
obvious, but someone had to do it.
Oh, I get it now. It must be a dream. Yes, that was it.
Recently, I’d been having a few of those pre-wedding jittery dreams –
well, more like nightmares, actually – where I turned up at the
venue in front of all our guests, and my wedding dress had suddenly
turned see-through. And, even worse, I’d somehow decided to have my
bikini area waxed into the shape of a dartboard, complete with
bullseye. This was just one of those nightmares, that was all.
I leaped off the chair. ‘Come on Kalem, let’s go.’
‘You can’t go until I say you can go,’ Officer Head insisted.
‘I can do whatever I want. It’s my dream,’ I said to him
with a haughty gleam in my eye.
‘SIT DOWN,’ he shouted back at me.
I heard a loud ringing in my ear. Surely you didn’t hear
ear-ringing in a dream? I pinched myself. Ow! Shit. I was
still awake. I slumped back in the chair. Uh-oh. This was for real.
The door swung open and another customs official with a toilet brush
crew cut walked in.
‘Richard,’ the second officer acknowledged his colleague with a
tilt of his head and then turned to us. ‘I’m officer Goodbody.’
He sat down, and I heard a noise like a whoopee cushion exploding. I
couldn’t tell if it was him or the chair, though.
‘Let’s start again, shall we?’ Officer Head leaned forward. ‘Is
that your real name?’
Kalem swallowed. ‘Of course it’s my real name.’
I looked between the customs men with suspicion. Richard Head? Was
this for real? The light bulb was back on full power now. ‘Ha! I
know what’s going on.’
They both raised an intrigued eyebrow and waited for me to enlighten
‘No one could be called Dick Head and Officer Goodbody. It sounds
like something out of a bad Seventies porn movie. This is one of
those TV shows, isn’t it?’ My eyes darted around the room like a
maniac, looking for any signs of hidden cameras and cabling. ‘It’s
like Candid Camera, or You’ve Been Punk’d, or something. Or…I
know.’ I squinted at them. ‘Are you Ant and Dec in disguise? Are
we going to be on their Saturday Night Takeaway show where they’re
always playing practical jokes on people?’ I leaped up and leaned
over the desk, so I was inches away from their faces, examining them
for signs of false noses and excessive, disguising make-up.
Kalem shot me a horrified look.
‘Give me your passport.’ Goodbody ignored my outburst and held
his hand out to me.
OK then, maybe not.
I reached into my bag and handed it to him.
‘Now, where were we?’ Dick Head shuffled in his chair. ‘Ah,
yes. Kalem Mustafa. I will ask you again. Is that your real name?’
He glowered at Kalem.
‘Yes.’ Kalem shot me a silencing side glance.
‘And what’s your name, hmm?’ Goodbody asked me.
‘You know what my name is; it’s on my p–’
Kalem stared at me, jerking his head towards Dick Head and Goodbody,
silently willing me to just answer their questions.
I sighed. ‘Helen Mustafa.’
‘Ah ha!’ Goodbody waved my passport around. ‘It says Helen Grey
here. Is this a fake passport?’
‘No! Sorry, I meant to say that my name’s going to be
Helen Mustafa in six days time. We’re getting married. At the
moment, I’m Helen Grey. You know how it is when a girl’s getting
married: she gets a bit over-excited and starts signing her new
married name for months in advance and repeating “Mrs. Mustafa”
over and over again.’ I could tell by the look on his face that he
didn’t have a clue what I was on about. ‘In fact…’ I glanced
at my watch. ‘We’re supposed to be catching our plane in
about forty-five minutes. We’re supposed to be having a few
days of relaxing pre-wedding sand, sea and s… ’
‘Sharap,’ Kalem interjected.
‘Did you just tell me to shut up?’ Dick Head frowned at Kalem.
‘No, he said sharap. It’s Turkish for wine,’ I informed
him. Since I’d found out that Kalem and I were going to be moving
to North Cyprus, I’d desperately been trying to learn some Turkish
words. So far, I’d mastered the important things like: “More wine
please” and “Where are the toilets?” I could also say: “cat”,
“thanks”, “very much”, “I’m full”, “cucumber”,
“large”, and “melon”. It wasn’t a lot, I know, but it could
make for an interesting sentence.
‘Why have you got a single plane ticket? Why aren’t you returning
to the UK?’ Dick Head peered at us as if this were highly
‘We’re moving abroad. We’re going to live the dream.’ I gave
him a wistful smile as I thought about how perfect our new life was
going to be.
‘What dream?’ Goodybody said.
‘You know, we’re escaping the dreary British weather and the rat
race to experience life in the sunny and relaxing Mediterranean.’
Daydreams rapidly filled my head: walking hand in hand with Kalem on
a sandy beach after a leisurely swim in the warm sea; sitting on our
orange blossom scented, sun-baked villa terrace with a chilled glass
of rosé as we watched the blazing sun set over the sea; sipping tiny
cups of strong coffee in a chic waterfront café; eating succulent,
freshly caught sea bass or juicy king prawns, cooked to perfection on
‘Your name sounds like a Muslim name. Are you a Muslim?’ Officer
Head’s voice broke into my daydreams, sending me spiraling back to
the reality of being stuck in a tiny, lifeless room with overpowering
lights and a sweaty, stale smell. ‘Well?’ He peered at Kalem,
waiting for his answer.
Kalem folded his arms casually across his chest. ‘Not really.’
‘Hmm. Not really. That’s a strange answer. What does “not
‘Well, my parents are Turkish Cypriot. The religion of Turkish
Cypriots is Muslim, but we don’t exactly practice it or anything.
Most Turkish Cypriots are relaxed in their religious practices and
very tolerant of other people’s religions.’ Kalem shrugged.
I jigged my leg up and down. We were going to miss our flight. My
wonderful pre-honeymoon would be ruined.
‘Is that what they told you to say?’ Goodbody leaned in
closer, resting his elbows on the desk.
‘Who?’ Kalem asked.
‘Are you a member of Al-Qaeda?’ Officer Head looked deadly
serious. ‘We have to be extremely vigilant these days, you know.’
‘What?’ Kalem blustered. ‘Of course not!’
‘Where are you traveling to?’ Goodbody wanted to know.
‘North Cyprus,’ I said, jigging harder. ‘We’ll miss our
flight if you keep us here any longer. What’s going on?’ I
whined, feeling my heart bouncing around in my chest. I was going to
have a panic attack in a minute. Maybe if I fainted, they would let
us go. I slouched down further in my chair, so I wouldn’t have as
far to fall if I hit the ground.
‘Are you a suicide bomber?’ Dick Head growled at Kalem.
‘He’s a teacher!’ I cried.
‘And who do you teach? Terrorist cells?’ Dick Head beamed with
excitement at Officer Goodbody. ‘I think we’ve got one of the
Al-Qaeda’s main men here.’
Kalem shook his head in amazement. ‘I teach woodcarving and
‘Is that a code name of some sort?’ Goodbody asked Dick Head. ‘I
seem to recall one of the Bin Laden breakaway groups had a code name
like that. What was it now?’ He scratched his toilet brush head,
deep in concentration. ‘Ah yes! The Splinter Group.’
‘I haven’t heard of that one before.’ Dick Head frowned. ‘But
it’s possible. Woodcarving… splinter…yes, it sounds possible to
‘Why are we here?’ I furrowed my brow and gazed at both of them,
interrupting what seemed like the most surreal conversation I’d
ever heard in my life.
Dick Head ignored my question and stood up. ‘Hand over your bags,
please. I want to take a look inside.’
I gave him mine. Kalem lifted his rucksack and put it on the table in
front of us.
Goodbody rummaged around in my bag with interest and then pulled out
my camera. ‘Why do you need such a big camera? Are you going to be
taking surveillance photos?’
‘I’m a photographer,’ I said.
‘Hmm. A likely story.’ Goodbody’s eyebrow shot up.
Dick Head started on Kalem’s rucksack, pulling out a book, a couple
of apples, and a tub of edible chocolate body paint. He held up the
body paint to Kalem. ‘What’s this?’ He unscrewed the lid and
glared at it as if it were packed full of Semtex.
Kalem shrugged. ‘Well, it is going to be our pre-honeymoon.’
I felt my insides turn to goo. He still had that effect on me. Oh,
yes, bring on the chocolate body paint!
‘Was that the surprise you were talking about?’ I said to
Kalem, turning my head away from the customs men who were busy
scouring our bags for hidden compartments.
Satisfied there was no Semtex, suspicious looking shoes, or packets
of nails in our hand luggage, they returned their attention to us.
‘We’re going to miss our flight.’ I looked at my watch again,
desperately hoping they’d hurry up.
‘Why has your passport been tampered with?’ Dick Head asked Kalem
‘It hasn’t,’ Kalem insisted.
‘Well what do you call that then?’ Dick Head turned the
passport around to face Kalem.
I gulped and my brain did a silent mental shriek. ‘Oops,’ I
squeaked, suddenly feeling nauseous.
Kalem stared at the photo section on his passport. The picture of a
footballer-permed Kalem had been replaced with a picture of an old,
fat, bald man with huge black square glasses.
‘I think I’m going to pass out,’ I muttered. If I caused a
distraction, maybe we could just make a run for it.
‘What’s that?’ Kalem gasped, turning his head slowly to
me with dread.
Dick Head and Goodbody gave me an icy glare.
‘Ah,’ I croaked. It was all my fault. How was I going to explain
‘Well?’ they said in unison.
‘Erm…well…what happened was…Kalem is always playing practical
jokes on me,’ I paused, thinking how this was going to sound.
‘Anyway, about four months ago I bought this hair dye…’
‘What does hair dye have to do with this?’ Dick Head growled.
‘It’s very relevant, actually,’ I started again, running a
shaky hand through my hair. ‘So, I bought this hair dye, and when I
got it home, I realized I didn’t like the colour.’ My eyes darted
to Kalem, who gawped at me. ‘A few days later, I took it back to
the shop and asked the woman at the counter if I could return it. But
when she took the box back off me, she stared at it for a while with
a puzzled look and then turned it around to show me.’
Dick Head and Goodbody had deadly straight faces.
‘Do go on. This is thoroughly enlightening,’ Goodbody said in a
voice that clearly meant it wasn’t at all.
‘Well, that was when I noticed that someone had drawn a mustache
and beard on the picture of the woman on the front of the box.’ I
narrowed my eyes at Kalem, who chuckled under his breath,
‘Anyway, I was really embarrassed and had to pretend that it must
have been like that in the shop when I’d bought it.’
‘Is there a point to this?’ Goodbody asked, glancing at his
‘I wanted to get Kalem back, and I knew he was going to the
building society a few days later to get some money out, and he
needed to take some ID. He can never find his driving licence, so he
always takes his passport,’ I paused. ‘Because I’m a
photographer, obviously I’ve got loads of old photos lying around,
so I thought it would be really funny to pay him back for all the
practical jokes he plays on me. I found this photo, cut it out, then
stuck it over his passport photo with removable adhesive and put it
back in the drawer. Then, of course, I forgot all about it.’ I
tried to swallow, but my throat felt like I’d swallowed a Brillo
Pad. ‘Until now.’ I tucked my hair behind my ears with shaky
Kalem coughed. ‘Actually, I managed to find my driving license and
took that to the building society instead.’
I cast him a sheepish look. ‘Yes, I realize that now.’
‘You see! This is all perfectly innocent,’ Kalem said to Dick
Head and Goodbody. ‘Can we go now?’
‘Not yet. Are you a Muslim too?’ Goodbody asked me.
‘No, I’m not a Muslim,’ I said.
A confused glance passed between Dick Head and Goodbody. ‘Well you
certainly look like one. Can you please explain why you’re wearing
a burka if you’re not Muslim,’ Goodbody asked me.
I glanced down at the floor length, head-to-toe black burka that I’d
almost forgotten I was wearing. Even if the rest of the stuff sounded
slightly odd, there was at least a perfectly reasonable explanation
‘Well, there’s an ancient tradition with Turkish Cypriot
families. When a new bride-to-be arrives in North Cyprus to get
married, it’s good luck for her to be wearing a burka, isn’t it?’
I glanced at Kalem, willing him to explain this peculiar custom
further. Instead, he kind of gave me a small shake of his head, and
his jaw dropped.
Oh, God. I recognized that look. There was no such custom. This was
another one of his wind-Helen-up practical jokes. If they could’ve
seen my face, which of course they couldn’t because I only had a
two inch rectangular slit for my eyes, they would’ve seen it
completely drain of colour. Luckily, they accepted this explanation,
and neither of the customs officers seemed to notice that my eyelids
had just pinged open in surprise or that Kalem’s face had turned a
scorching-hot shade of pink.
Dick Head picked at the adhesive on Kalem’s passport photo and
pulled it off, examining the official picture of Kalem underneath.
‘What do you think?’ He handed the passport to Goodbody.
‘Mmm.’ Goodbody scrutinized it. ‘It looks legitimate.’ He
‘That’s a shame,’ Dick Head huffed and turned to Officer
Goodbody, frowning. ‘Seems like we’ll miss out on our CAT bonus.’
‘What’s that?’ Kalem asked.
‘Catch-a-terrorist bonus,’ Dick Head grumbled at us. It was clear
from the look on his face that he’d already worked out what he was
going to spend it on.
‘Can we go now?’ I pleaded.
‘OK,’ Goodbody said with much reluctance. ‘But don’t let this
‘Thanks, Dick.’ I yanked Kalem’s arm and hurried him away to
catch our plane before they changed their minds.
We arrived at the gate with minutes to spare, just as a rather
harassed looking baggage handler was about to search for our luggage
OK, maybe this wasn’t exactly the kind of start to our perfect life
together that I had in mind, and one day I was actually going to
laugh about this, but I couldn’t allow myself to relax until we
were sitting in our allocated seats and the plane was taxiing down
the runway. We were on our way to an exciting destination, full of
possibilities. Living a life abroad that most people just dreamed
about but never got to experience. An amazing adventure that nothing
was going to spoil.
Nothing will spoil my wedding. Nothing will spoil my wedding.
Nothing will spoil my wedding.
Or so I thought.
**Please note – comments take a few moments to appear. Refresh the page to view new comments.