“The Testing Center” by English Major and Journalism Minor student Laila M. Mostafa.

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Ajman Testing Center

Then there was my turn. It would come right after the Emirati woman in the black abaya in front of me was done with her test. Only a handful of people waited at every booth for their turn in the silent hall of Ajman’s laser testing center. The men and women on the other side of the booth were covered head-to-toe in see-through long gowns, rubber gloves, and protective respiratory masks. They would routinely greet the person-in-line, smiling through their thick, shielded masks, and start the testing process. It was a well-run center, designed for maximum efficiency and a safe, Covid-free facility for the hundreds of people visiting every day. 

I looked around, dwelling on the possible reasons behind each person taking the test. Do they want to go to Abu Dhabi too? Do they have a case in their family? There must be a reason. I thought. No, I must snap out of it. Who cares if there’s a reason? It’s not my place to think about, not my business. I should stop now; I instructed myself. 

“Next.”

My thoughts were interrupted by one of the heavily protected men on the booth in front of me. His voice was low but rough. I gathered by his weary tone, his red, sleepy eyes, and the occasional stutter in his words that he was tired. Of course, he was, I thought. Who wouldn’t be after such a long day? It was 10 o’clock in the evening, after all. If it weren’t for my grandmother’s birthday tomorrow, I would have been asleep myself. I waited for one of the green-dressed helpers to sanitize the chair and then sat in the assigned testing booth. 

Salam Alaikum.”

Wa Alaikum Al Salam.”

“How are you? I Hope everything is well.”

“Yes. Alhamdulilah. Your hand, please?”

The sore-voiced man reached out his hand, holding a sterilized cotton pad between his thumb and index finger. I extended my arm towards him and lifted my sleeve upwards, thinking he would use the visible blue veins at the top of my elbow for the test. To my shock, he shook his head, grabbed a hold of my index finger, and covered it with the pad softly. 

“May I have your ID, please?”

I reached into my recently-purchased black bag and searched for my wallet. After rummaging through it for a few seconds, I fished the card out of my wallet and handed it over to him.

“Here you go,” I said, “Sorry that it took me a while.”

“No problem, ma’am.”

He took the ID card and pressed it over a card-reading machine; he repeated this process multiple times, pressing the card down each time harder than the previous one as if extracting information from a flight risk criminal. Beep. Beep. Beep. The card was repeatedly rejected. Why is this happening? Must be an error in the card reader, I hoped. 

“Is everything okay?”

“Yes. The machine is just taking some time. Ah, it’s working now.”

Beep. I heard the noise again, but it was smoother this time, more accepting. The man scanned the card and returned it nicely, drawing a smile that I could only make out from the squint in his eyes. He reached for my hand once again and grabbed an injection syringe from the fully equipped, white table at his right-hand side. He gently pressed the needle into my finger and drew blood, slowly filling the plastic tube but also making sure it doesn’t overflow and cause inconclusive test results. A few seconds later, the man detached the needle and released it from my finger with a sleight of hand. 

“All done.”

“Wow, you’re very good. I didn’t feel a thing.”

“Thank you, ma’am.”

He took the blood-covered syringe and emptied a sample on a nearby medical scanner. 

“You should be receiving a text message with the results in a minute, ma’am.”

Ding. I could feel my heart drop to my feet at the sound of that notification. I leaned down, grabbed my phone from my bag, and pressed my finger to the screen. A sudden flash of light burned my eyes as the phone turned on, presenting the notification in a small green box at the center of the screen. I squinted my eyes to cope with the glaring brightness and read:

“Name: Laila Mostafa. EID No: XXXX. Result: No Swab.”

Now that the result had come, I could leave the city and come back whenever I wanted. I put the phone back down, exhaling the stress away. I stood up and walked to my mother, who had already finished her test and was waiting for me. She looked at me with deep concern in her eyes. 

Eh? Did you get the result?”

“Negative, mama. I tested negative.”