“I don’t want you to freak out,” I cautioned the constable, watching with minor concern as he pulled on a pair of latex gloves in preparation to take down my fingerprints, “but I’m missing a couple of fingers.”
He paused, and shot a barely concealed glance of surprise down at my hands. Probably wondering if this was my idea of a joke. It wasn’t. “Uh. Should be all good…” He mumbled, turning away from me momentarily to retrieve what I could only assume was the Queensland Police Fingerprint Manual for Mutants. Constable Roberts was a big guy. Not in the ‘I eat McDonald’s three times a day’ type way, but big as in he looked as though he could bench press a paddy wagon without breaking much of a sweat. A brown shrubby beard covered his boxy jaw, and he was at least six foot. A stark comparison to my petite barely-five-foot-three physique. But still he somehow suddenly managed to look awkwardly uncomfortable in my presence.
“Don’t worry,” I smiled, “That’s as far as my superpowers go!”
Const. Roberts didn’t get the joke.
Over the other side of the room, another officer looked up, “It’s probably good that you warned us!” He grinned, “Roberts would have run straight outta here if you just sprung that on him!”
Const. Roberts shifted his solid weight from foot to foot and muttered humorlessly “Probably. Just because it’s a break in procedure and I wouldn’t know what to do.” No bedside manner at all, this guy.
I guess before I go any further I should stress that I’m definitely not a criminal. Apart from the odd parking ticket, and that one time I stole a Cherry Ripe chocolate bar from my grade 3 ballet class fundraiser (age six, I showed budding promise as Victoria’s youngest chocolate thief) (Mum, if you’re reading this I swear it wasn’t me), I’ve never been in trouble with the law.
The fingerprints were needed for the final stages of my U.S. Visa application, one part of which requested a police and fingerprint check. Even so, as the officer began to awkwardly cover my hands in thick, black, foul smelling ink, I couldn’t help but feel kind of nervous. “Why don’t you guys use digital technology?” I squeaked.
“S’not protocol for visa applications.” Came the short reply. “But for you, would’ve been easier.”
Oh. Okay then.
“Where are you going?!” The second officer jumped back into the conversation like an excitable puppy wanting attention. Everything he said ended with a giant exclamation mark and a wide, happy smile. I tried to work out whether or not it was because he felt sorry for me, or he just really, really loved his job.
“America.” I supplied readily, “I’m getting married.”
“You might as well stop the process now,” he said grinning, “they don’t accept immigrants who’re missing fingers!”
THANKS FOR THE VOTE OF CONFIDENCE, QUEENSLAND POLICE.
Const. Roberts remained silent, except to begin grunting commands at me. Roll my fingers this way, press my palms that way, more ink, less pressure, it was obvious he wanted to be back at his desk reading the newspaper, or getting cheeky with the receptionist I’d seen him chatting up as I’d first entered. (If Constable Roberts knew how to be cheeky. I somewhat doubted he could.) I complied dutifully, because, you know. This was a police station. Regardless of my spotless track record with The Law, I didn’t want to somehow end up on their bad side.
As we came to my unfortunate right hand, he paused as he flipped through the manual, grim mouth moving silently as he read through the instructions. He coughed awkwardly, and said, rather apologetically I felt, “I’m….I’m going to have to ask how it happened.”
“The proposal or the fingers?” I joked.
Officer smiley over at the desk guffawed appreciatively, but Const. Roberts looked at me like I’d insulted ten generations of his family and replied flatly, “The fingers.”
I’ve had the same question so much sometimes I take to making up exciting stories because the truth – that I was born like that – is so terribly boring. Instead I’ll tell them that I was mauled by lions on an African Safari, or my fingers were shot off by Hungarian warriors in Budapest. Ridiculous scenarios that push the limits of believability – but because people can’t seem to handle any sort of physical defect without getting flushed and awkward, they’ll stare at me in awe and breath “Wow. Really?!!!”
Somehow, I didn’t think now was the time to start telling tales, so I replied in the traditional airy fairy sing song voice I adopted when answering a much repeated question: “Oh, I was born like that.” The constable nodded, and diligently recorded this down in the empty boxes where my prints should have gone. Once this was done, he straightened, and grunted toward a large tin of foul smelling lanolin. “We’re done here. You can clean your hands with that.”
Before I got to ask any more questions, he’d disappeared to file the paperwork, returning only briefly to make sure I could find my way out.
Officer Smiley waved from behind his desk, “Good luck in the States, mate!” He called after me. I waved awkwardly in response, hoping that if ever there was a chance I’d need another set done, I might somehow miraculously sprout two extra fingers. The whole experience was terribly, terribly awkward.