By Mamta Naidu
A telephone conversation with my sister on a chirpy Thursday morning went something like this:
"Guess what! I'm going to Barcelona this weekend - all on my own! I'm slightly nervous, but very excited!" *Giggles*
"WHAT? Barcelona? On your own? You must be out of your goddamn mind! What if someone mugs you? Or kidnaps you? Or murders you and sells your body parts? What if someone rapes you?"
"Now that's just morbid. Next time I'll call you only when I have absolutely no one else to talk to." And I hung up.
I've got to hand it to my sister. It's incredible how she manages to survive, being so negative every waking hour.
In the meanwhile, I batted my lashes and took advantage of a colleague's benevolent heart to book my weekend holiday. Little did I know that everything that could possibly go wrong, would go wrong on this trip, and Murphy would have a merry laugh at my expense!
Saturday 6AM at the Charles De Gaulle airport:
The lady at the ticket counter was smiling, up until I handed her a printout of my ticket and passport. Her head oscillated between the printout and her computer several times while she punched at some stubborn keys. Bored I turned around and shot a "Barcelona huh? Me too!" look at the people in the queue behind me. No one so much as blinked. So I turned back around, picked up a couple of baggage tags and strapped them on to my luggage, imagining I was efficiently saving five minutes of my precious weekend.
"Parle francais?" Speak French? The lady finally asked me, after what felt like an eternity.
"Juste un peu." Just a little, I replied apologetically.
"Do you have any other reservation number? This booking is cancelled."
"What? That's not possible. Could you please look it up with my passport number?"
"I've done that already." Pointing towards the help desk few yards away she said, "You can talk to them."
Following her instructions diligently, I hobbled away with my bags, luggage tags still intact.
Unfortunately, the lady at the help desk confirmed that my booking was in fact cancelled, and she couldn't book me on another flight until Sunday morning.
I couldn't access the internet at the cafe until 10 AM and was in absolutely no mood to access the airport kiosk and follow instructions in French. And I definitely didn't want to head back to the hotel, as I had already spent a fortune on the taxi to the airport.
Surprisingly though, after all the hullaballoo had settled and I realised I wasn't going to be spending my weekend in Barcelona, I found myself extremely composed. It looked like all those weeks of meditation were finally paying off!
At 7:30 my colleague finally answered what was probably my 27th call, and said in his raspy Australian accent "Ma'amta, what happened? Are you OK?" And that's when I knew I was going to Barcelona again.
It took me an hour and thirty minutes to reach Barcelona from Paris. Barcelona's warmer breeze (as opposed to the chill, nippy winds of Paris) brushing against my cheek transformed my mood from muddled and zonked, to cheerful and content.
I was thrilled that the polite (and handsome!) taxi driver didn't have any trouble locating my hotel. But as soon as I walked into reception and told them my name, the receptionist looked at me like I was Interpol's most wanted illicit drug trafficker: "Sorry, your booking has been cancelled."
"But but but…my friend, his name is Richard, called you to rebook the hotel."
"No we don't have any reservations in your name."
"Can I book it right now?"
Well, this was going to be fun.
The receptionist was kind enough to hand me a map (the size of a yoga mat), and circling an invisible dot, told me to try my luck with some hostels. In reply to which I pointed out that it would also be helpful to know where I was right now.
After walking for about a kilometre, and interrupting people busy at their chores, I found out that in all of Barcelona, the only people who spoke English were my taxi driver and the receptionist at the hotel. I was truly in a soup!
In the depths of my misery, feeling hopelessly lost in the middle of a deserted street, I saw a good-looking man walk out of a shop, pushing a pram.
A man with a pram, I told myself, will not have time or energy to kidnap me, murder me, or sell my body parts. As for rape, that will definitely be the last thing on his mind after a baby. So I ran up to him and quickly introduced myself. "I need your help, please! I don't have a place to stay and I think I'm lost. I'm on my own here; I never once did this before my whole life. I don't know what I was thinking when I booked my flight. The lady from the hotel gave me this map and said I might find some hostels here. Can you help? Do you speak English?"
"Yes I speak English," he said in his Spanish-accented English. It was music to my ears.
I really wanted to hug and kiss him but I had to make do with breathing a huge sigh of relief!
"Where are you from?"
"I'm from India, but right now I'm coming in from Paris. I have friends and colleagues in Paris, but not here."
"Where in India?"
"Oh! You know India? From Bangalore."
"I was in Pune for work once," he replied.
"Pune? Nice place!" I could feel the kinship between the two nations already.
"You speak good English!" I said
"My wife is an American"
(Ah, mystery solved!)
"What's your name?"
"Uh, how do you spell that?"
"X A V I"