'Have you a visa?' 'I'll be in transit.'
'You need an ESTA number or you won't be able to transit in Houston.'
'But, . . .(panic)...but, (rising panic)...the plane leaves in ......'
'You looking for ESTA too?' a New Zealand voice asked us, pushing her overflowing trolley into what the staff at Terminal 4 in Heathrow call, 'an internet cafe'- three computers and a queue of panicked travellers asking each other panicked questions as they competed to complete their applications for the Electronic System for the Transportation of Aliens(or something like that).
I thought she'd said, 'ESKI'-a small fridge that Antipodeans take on picnics. I could have done with a cold beer at that point as I'd forgotten everything I'd ever learnt about using a computer.
Some of my companions had even forgotten where they were heading.
'Is Texas in North or South America'
'What's our flight number?'
Then it became more co-operative:
'Can you change a fiver?'
'Does anyone have a pen?'
and from the Kiwi about my IT skills,
'You're worse than me! Quick, you're running out of time. Put another pound in the slot or you'll lose ESTA.'
It was then I realised I'd seen her before. In Rhys' painting, 'The Blue Woman'-hair of spiked cobalt.
I saw her blue mop again in the immigration queue at Houston where she was interrogated for being an alien in transit. And again, as we re-entered the country, went through customs, were frisked, had ourselves and our hand luggage re-searched and ended up exactly at the same point we started-back on the plane.
'What a bloody waste of time that was,' she said. 'Haven't the Yanks heard of transit lounges?
Not for aliens, obviously.