Papers, Please

I was stopped in the metro by the police. This happened once before, except that time, the cop took one look at my passport, said, in a disappointed voice, “oh, your American,” and let me go.

This time they took me to their office. There was one portly officer, and two adolescent boys with berets. They reminded me of young soldiers.

I probably could have avoided the whole thing, but I made the mistake of looking like I didn’t know where I was going. I was aware of their presence, and right in front of them, I looked from one sign to another, trying to figure out which line would take me to the Voksal metro station. My indecision was the opening they needed.

“You don’t speak Russian?” he asked.

“Just Ukrainian,” I said, smiling, “and English.”

I think he took this as a challenge because he said “spraken zi Deutche,” and after I said no, he looked satisfied, his superiority re-established.

He asked where I was going and why and where I was from and why relatives weren’t with me and how long I’d lived in America.

“I was born there,” I said, and he, like most Ukrainians, wanted to know how I came to speak Ukrainian. Then he said he’d have to take me to their office.

On the long escalator, I asked his name, and I could tell the question worried him. “Andri,” he said. I felt bad for him and didn’t ask for a last name.

We were cordial to one another and he asked whether life is better (economically better) in America or Ukraine. I told him in America but this might change. I used it as an opening to talk about fiat money. I said there might be a collapse of the dollar eventually, just like the Kupony collapsed in Ukraine, and then the whole world would change. He didn’t think this would happen.

In the office, the two young men disappeared, as soldiers do when we returned from a long field problem, eager for some alone time. Andrij took me to their office, and asked if I any weapons or illegal things, like drugs.

I emptied my pockets. “I don’t think this counts as a weapon,” I said, showing the tiny Swiss army knife on my key chain. I counted the money in my wallet before setting it down. He asked how much there was. I counted again and told him. He looked at my passport, and asked more questions. He did a quick pat down of my pockets, then told me to gather everything.

He brought up the subject of drugs and asked what I think about them. I told him they should be legalized. He said they ruin people’s minds and ruin society. I told him I agreed, and that’s why I don’t use drugs. I brought up the example of Portugal and told him that usage was down in the 10 years since decriminalization.

On the escalator back, I said that drugs should be treated by doctors and parents and clergy. The two adolescents seemed to enjoy our conversation. He talked about how easily they can kill a man, and I attributed this to the fact that they’re illegal. When alcohol was made illegal, I explained, in the Soviet Union in the 80s, or in the US in the 20s, there were also people dying from a contaminated product.

He have me excessively detailed direction on how to get to the Vokzalni metro station and bid me a good day.