We then encountered a long queue of people holding their passports. At the head of the line was a large overweight gentleman in a grey tunic sitting on a wooden chair similar to the ones we had had at school twenty years previously. The customs official’s hair was thinning and combed backwards, though he had a fine walrus-like moustache. Mr One Dollar wheeled the trolley past the queue, which concerned me, so I indicated to him that we should join the queue at the back, rather than pushing in at the front. He shook his head and smiled.
As we drew level with the official, Mr One Dollar said something to him in Farsi. The official looked at me over a distance of about 5 metres with an expression that reminded me of a languid bloodhound. In perfect English he said, with a rather fierce tone, “Where are you from?” “The UK,” I said, brandishing my passport and smiling. He glared at me, “Do you have a visa for Iran?” “Yes, I do,” I replied and started to leaf through my passport. He waved his hand imperiously and said, “OK, you can go, please.” He didn’t even look at my passport let alone the visa. I must have looked awfully confused because Mr One Dollar tugged at my sleeve and beckoned me to continue. He smiled and said, “One dollar, one dollar.”
We squeaked along into the baggage check area, where an even larger gentleman wearing a grey tunic awaited me. Mr One Dollar heaved my bag onto the counter and the baggage checker looked at me straight in the eye, stroking his chin with a large clammy hand that had been stained by too many cheap cigarettes. Again this official spoke perfect unaccented English, “What have you got in your bag?” and slapped his hand on the holdall. I opened my mouth to start telling him the contents of my bag, but before I could begin, he continued, “You have toothbrush, you have razor, you have toothpaste.”
I nodded my head a couple of times and said, “Yes, yes, that’s right, and some clothes and.” He interrupted me, “You can go.” I was dumbfounded and again Mr One Dollar had to move me on. I was astonished. No visa check, no baggage check. I was half expecting hordes of police to drag me back to the passport control, but none were around. We walked on for twenty metres and then Mr One Dollar stopped the trolley and pointed at an open doorway. “Tehran,” he said and grinned.
I went through the door and walked into the calm night air. I was outside. No-one tried to arrest me. This wasn’t an Iranian version of “You’ve been framed”. Mr One Dollar wheeled up the trolley and held out a hand – ”One dollar,” he said. I shook his hand warmly and gave him a five dollar bill. He smiled and his eyes glowed with pride. He bowed to me and hurried back into the terminal building to try and help another passenger. I was still coming to terms with the quickest processing I have ever had through an arrivals hall when I heard shouts of “Sir, Sir, Taxi.” I turned around. “Taxi?” said four men almost simultaneously. I got out a piece of paper with my hotel’s name written on it in Farsi and showed it to one of the drivers, who nodded as if to say “I know where this is.” “How much?” I said. I shouldn’t have asked because the answer came back, of course, “One dollar”.