The traveler arrived, motion-sick and weary, in the country where everyone was happy. She had slept on the trip over, but it was a journey kind of sleep, fitful and unrefreshing. She stood on aching legs until the official in the booth called her over to check her documents.
She had studied the language of happiness before. She’d spent several terms in university flipping through a dictionary, till the spine was cracked soft and flexible, and listening to recordings in the language lab, teaching her tongue to mimic the sound. She’d gotten up to the intermediate level—good enough to ask a difficult question but not to understand the answer—and then, for reasons of work and life, had set her studies aside. But recently, the stars and visas had aligned. On paper, she had a research grant in comparative economics between her land and the land of happiness. In her heart, she had questions, and in those questions, a desire, and now she was here. She was, perhaps, ready.
The official in the booth was used to dealing with travelers. Anyone coming through an airport after an overnight flight was bound to be a little unhappy; exhaustion stuck to the skin like sweat, clinging even more thickly than the actual damp of the late summer air. The officials, too, were a little unhappy. That must have been why the traveler was able to understand this one so well: he spoke clearly, like he was snapping the tough end from fresh asparagus.
The traveler stated her name and her purpose for entry. The official stamped a page somewhere in the middle of her passport. “Welcome,” he said.
“Thank you,” she said, and smiled. She could hear her accent improving already.