Like a giraffe going after a low-lying leaf, The Customs Agent bent forward from the waist and angled his head in the direction of my father’s open car window.
“What is your citizenship?” he asked.
“United States”, my father responded.
The Custom Agent’s eyes panned around my father’s luxury Buick Riviera, landing first on my brother, Brian, who was next to my father in the front seat.
“United States”, he answered, locking his eyes hard onto those of the custom agent.
Back seat, right. “United States”, my brother, Kevin, droned.
This was a rare occasion for my ever-rebellious brothers, who found themselves forced into acting respectfully towards authority. We all knew that one false move, one shifty eye or one, erroneous response could sweep us away forever, deep into the Canadian hinterlands and we’d never be seen or heard from again.
Back seat, left. “Yes”, I said, my eyes focused on the middle of the custom agent’s forehead. “Er…I mean…the United States.”
The Customs Agent, satisfied with the results of his first round of questioning, moved on to round two. “Do you have anything to declare?” he looked at my father.
This was the “adults-only” question.
My eyes locked onto the back of my father’s glistening head. My heart was skipping rope and my breathing shallowed to nothing. I felt my lips invert, then morph into a straight line.
“No”, my father flatlined. “We just spent the evening at Crystal Beach.”
The Customs Agent nodded.
I lowered my eyelids slowly down to the immaculate rubber floor mat which lay beneath my feet. The Customs Agent never asked me, but if he had, I would have had plenty to declare:
“Yes”, I would say, my eyes ablaze with the fire of my 10 year-old truth, “I’d like to declare that we’re all criminals and that my father has turned us into criminals. You see, Mr. Customs Agent, the spaces under our front seats are crammed full with the fireworks that we just bought on our way back from Crystal Beach Amusement Park, which, by the way, my brothers and I really love.”
“And furthermore, I’d like to declare that I’m very afraid right now. You see, Mr. Customs Agent, I’m a lousy liar. Wait!No!Wait! I need to declare that I’m not a liar at all! I’m afraid that you’re going to see on my face that my father is lying. I’d like to declare that I don’t want you to pull us over and tear our car apart and put us all in jail. That’s what I’d like to declare.”
At this point, my honest eyes would alert the customs agent that I still had more to tell. He would hold his eyes steady with mine until I finished singing.
“Okay. O-KAY,” I would confess, “I declare that we are lying, but it’s only for the sake of our Fourth of July celebration. You see, my brothers need those cherry bombs. They need those M-80s. Me, too. I mean, not the M-80s ‘cause I’m too little and those are too big and too dangerous for me, but I do need my three-foot-long sparklers and my ladyfinger firecrackers, even though my brothers say that they sound like a baby fart when they go off. Still…they’re a lot of fun.”
“And, furthermore, Mr. Customs Agent, just in case you didn’t notice, I’d like to declare that we’re just kids and that fireworks are a big part of our holiday. Just having a cookout isn’t going to be enough for the Fourth of July. We can do that anytime, don’t you agree?”
The Customs Agent would try to abort his nod of agreement and stifle the smile forming at his lips.
“Finally”, I’d like to declare…er… I mean… just ask you that, how come, anyway, fireworks are illegal in my country, but not in yours? Our countries look exactly the same, and we all speak the same language.”
But like I said, the customs agent never asked me.
Instead, he pulled his head away from my father’s window.
“Go ahead,” he said, waving us across the border, in the direction back home.
My father pressed the button to his power window and up it went, sealing us – and our fireworks – back into the shared secret of his overly air-conditioned car.