Not a Stranger - Part One

Today, this message from a very faraway country: “A close friend… asked me to convey… [his] most sincere regards… I would like to share what he wrote: ‘What they did for a person who was a perfect stranger, restores my faith in humanity.’”

The story is strange and moving indeed. What happened was very sad and stressful, especially for "the perfect stranger" but I never felt like we had done something quite so special as to restore someone's faith in humanity. I still don't feel this way and this is the reason why I have to tell the story the way it happened.

Those of you who have been reading my blog for a long time already know Niruj, our Indian friend. He has been back to India for quite a long time now but our friendship endures and we keep in touch. A lot.

On the 9th of January, late in the evening, I received a message from him: “Need to chat urgently… help needed for friend and can’t get hold of ‘sp’”. We got on Skype instantly.

“My friend M. received a mail from his sister two days ago from Roissy. She has missed her flight back to Mumbai and he hasn’t heard from her again. She’s somewhere at the airport without any money and no ticket. And oh, she is sick. He’s been in touch with the embassy but there isn’t much they can do. Can you call the airport and try to check on her?”

Luckily we were spending the week-end in Paris.

Call the airport? Popeye and I know that no one ever calls Roissy to check on a lost passenger, especially on one who has been lost for the past two days. If you want to help, you have to go there and start looking for a needle in a haystack, several haystacks actually besides the fact that we had never met H.

We left at once. While we were on our way to Roissy, Niruj phoned his friend asking for pictures of his sister which he sent us immediately through WhatsApp. Plus more information about the airline she was supposed to fly with, which was great because we knew at least which terminal we’d go to first.

Actually this story is also all about modern technology… linking people from faraway places in a split-second. Mobile phones, Skype, WhatsApp. Sending pictures and documents using mobile data. From India to France.

We learnt that H. was a brilliant mathematician, about fifty years old, that she had been invited to Paris to attend a conference and that she was suffering from a mental illness with a possible worsened condition since she had most certainly stopped taking her medication while in France. A "beautiful mind" lost in Roissy.

Very stressful. We had thought that it might be a good idea to involve the police at the airport to help us find H. and now we knew that this would be utterly impossible. If they found her before we did, she would end up in a hospital in France and we had already made up our mind. She had to go back home and be with her family. We had to find her on our own. We had no idea how but we were very willing to give it a try.

We finally got to the Roissy air terminal where we thought she was most likely to be and we started looking for her, phone in hand with her picture. We walked up and down the terminal, once, twice, three times. Lots of women asleep but no H. in sight.

Why not ask an airport hostess to issue a call for H. asking her to meet us at the information counter? We were a little bit worried about the way the woman would react to our very unusual request. We explained that we were looking for our friend from India who was lost in Roissy ever since she had missed her flight. Because we know that people usually think that astronomers are awesome, we decided to mention that H. was a mathematician. The woman smiled and said: “Mathematicians are not like us, I imagine and so now she’s lost. Poor thing. I am going to make that call and we’ll find her.”

(This mathematician thing was so useful that we used it shamelessly until H. was safe and sound on her way to Mumbai.)

Except that when we showed her H.’s name, she just simply couldn’t pronounce it. We had to call Niruj again to teach her how to pronounce it correctly. Totally surreal. She did make the call. She even did it twice after fighting with her boss. “Only once. Only once.” We kept waiting for H. for quite a long time and she never showed up.

We still were at the information booth when we called Niruj. “We are so sorry but we have to go to the police now.” I turned around towards Popeye, feeling very helpless and sad. Behind Popeye, there was a row of seats. On one of those seats, a woman had curled herself up. We were not having visions. We had found H. Unbelievable but true. There she was at last!

As soon as I got close to her, she opened her eyes. She was frightened, so frightened, ready to bolt actually. I smiled and said: “Hello, H. Do you remember Niruj? He is your brother’s friend and we are Niruj’s friends.” She had such a terrified look in her eyes that I sat down not very far from her, put my hand on her arm and called Niruj, once more. “Please talk to her, ok. Tell her that she has to come with us, that she is safe now.”

He worked wonders. She gave me my phone back, looked at me and smiled: “Are you going to take me to your home?”

I have to admit that our initial plan before we got to Roissy was to find H., take her to a hotel for the night and then drive her back to the airport the following morning to get a ticket to fly back home.

But H. looked so exhausted, helpless and so lost that we answered with one voice: “Yes, we are going home.”

It took us less than one hour to get home. The ride was strange. She told us a lot of very odd stories about her stay in France. Then from time to time she was making sense for a few minutes and then she’d get lost again. She asked me a lot of questions too. Most of them about the meaning of life.

Popeye and I knew how to react. One of our friends’ son is very bright and bipolar. As soon he stops being on medication which happens a lot, he goes through a new crisis and he uses the same dialectics. It is impressively logical in a way which is not our way at all and you simply have to adapt to a different world.

Once at the apartment, I did not have much food to offer since our plan had been to go to the restaurant, before Niruj’s call, that is. Thanks to Swee’Pea being in Paris at the time but not that night, it was vegetarian food. She was famished. I don’t know how long she had been without food but she told us that she had managed to sleep in the toilet area while she was lost in Roissy. She took a much needed shower, and borrowed a nightgown from me. You see, no luggage. How she had managed not to loose her passport is still a mystery.

Popeye started looking for a flight to get her home as soon as possible. We found a direct flight with Air France, the following morning, quite early. Getting her on an Air France flight was a great idea anyway because of Popeye’s Air France flying status (after travelling all over the world for so long). This was to be a great help at Roissy, the following day. We could not buy the ticket on line (too close to departure, I imagine). This would have to wait until morning at Roissy but we knew that there were still seats available on the flight.

H. went to bed at once. She was exhausted but very happy. We called Niruj and sent a mail to her brother who had gotten in touch with us right after Niruj had talked to her. A human chain from Paris to India and back around H.

And we went to bed. The night would be short and we were a little bit worried about what might happen in the morning at Roissy.

“The perfect stranger” no longer was a stranger!

(To be continued)

*Good Luck, and Good Night*

1 comment:

Myrna said...

Wow. Awesome story. I can't wait to read the next part.