Normally Aassem’s day at the embassy as cultural attaché involved a great deal of reading, networking and event organizing. Today on the other hand, was completely different. Today he was not merely a US embassy employee; today he was to wear a different hat, one a lot more intimidating. Today, he got to be an applicant.
He intended to visit the United States that Christmas for some sightseeing and to meet up with some old friends who’d relocated to the land of opportunity. He had never been on American soil before and being an embassy employee it would follow that getting a visa would be a sure thing. Only experience has taught him never to take anything for granted. He’d seen the mighty, the wealthy and the connected get rejected over the stupidest and most irrational of reasons. He found himself nervous as he sat at his desk. His legs kept shaking rhythmically and he nervously tapped his desk counting the seconds till 11:00 am. His heart went out to the hopefuls standing outside in the scorching sun. He understood their anxiety, perhaps for the first time. He wished them all well. He stood up grabbed his jacket and headed for the lift.
She arrived at the Nile City Towers, Orascom’s fort of an office building and one of the newest and fanciest icons of the Cairo skyline. She left her ID with the security at the front and took the elevator up to the 24th floor. Her ears rung as they adjusted to the pressure as the elevator flew upwards. She’d always had problems with pressure; it made her a bad flyer as the cabin pressure always got to her. She still felt as squeamish as she did in the earlier hours of the day. She descended on the correct floor only to be greeted by a marble lobby at the centre of which a giant 3D IFC logo formed some sort of reception desk.
There were black and red leather couches and no-one at the desk. There was a glass wall with a glass door fitted with a remotely operated electronic security lock. An IP camera stared at her from the ceiling as it scanned that small lobby. She stood there for a while looking completely lost and fiddling with her CV. A young woman appears at the door which opens automatically granting her access to the lobby. She is probably in her mid 30s, in amazing shape and very sharply dressed. Her 5 cm heels very audible on the marble floor as her steps echo in the eerily silent hall. She was asked what she was there for then asked to have a seat in that waiting area till the person who called her came to claim her.
Once inside the villa she was welcomed into the reception area of the council. A young intern asked her what she was there for, after showing her credentials, she was asked to follow her upstairs to the red room. There were a bunch of other applicants sitting down waiting to be interviewed. Such a small number compared to the first time, initial screening must have been brutal. Few of the face were familiar, her friends had not made it this far. She kept reassuring herself that all her friends who had applied in previous years had made it.
She took a seat and embarked once again on that nervewracking wait. She was so self-engrossed in her stream of thoughts that the room seemed to cease to exist. Her seconds of lucid consciousness where her eyes landed on and focused on specific items in the room startled her. She looked at her watch then at the clock on the wall then back at her watch again, her mind verifying the information out of habit.
Every 30 to 40 minutes a young man stepped out of the classroom they were using for the interviews with a clip board and read a name out loud. The owner of this name jumped to his/her feet and quickly followed the man with the clipboard as he ushered them in. He had come out yet again, she looked at him expectantly but he read “Samiha Rassem”. The young woman looked over to her apologetically before resigning to her fate and following him in.