Not a Stranger - Part Two

On Sunday morning, we got up quite early. H. was cheerful. She knew she was on her way back to India. We only hoped that everything would be all right and that she’d be able to fly home.

It was very hard to get to the airport. Roissy was and remained under lockdown for a long time, or what seemed to be a very long time. Nothing very serious actually - a couple of “forgotten” suitcases that the army had to blow up. Such a routine operation. Except that we still had to buy a ticket for H. and get her through all those unpleasant check-ins we all have to go through nowadays.

We bought her ticket without any problem. The flight was not full.
The next thing was to get her through check-in. She was getting very tired and bewildered and a little bit frightened by the crowd around her. She had to go to the check-in desk on her own. Could we leave H. on her own? She was not very keen to go to the check-in desk by herself. She was grabbing my arm from time to time. Roissy had definitely been a terrible experience for her.
Security was very tight at Roissy. Our president had declared a state of emergency after November 13. The airport was under close police surveillance and we had arrived there right after a bomb scare.  

This was where and when Popeye’s Air France status card came very handy. And the “mathematician-from-India-who-has-spent-two-days-totally-lost-and-forgotten-in-Roissy-and-who-is-extremely-under-stress-and-now-wants-to-go-home-very-badly”. Wonders did not cease. The “card” and the “mathematician stuff” got H. AND Popeye priority access to the closest check-in counter. No luggage. Great. I was standing back, waiting for them. No need to push our luck. Popeye made it through to a place where no one is ever allowed to be without a ticket. He made it. I waited.

By then time was running short because of the bomb scare. We still had to get H. through the passport check.

Popeye used his card again to get her through the priority line. There were hundreds of (angry) people around trying to use this priority line because the airport had remained under lockdown for a long time and there was only one hostess to check the cards and the tickets before allowing their holders to go through priority or not. She was very patient and extremely firm. “The other line, please. Thank you.”

Once more I stayed behind and let Popeye do the talking. With his card but no plane ticket, dragging H. along with her plane ticket but no card, he managed to get her on her way to the police and passport checkpoint. He did not go far though. A woman from security stopped them before they arrived to the booth. No ticket. No entry. And the card was of no use. The “mathematician” stuff did not seem to work. H. had to go on her own. She did not look very happy but she walked away. Then the woman from security shrugged, turned back and walked with her to the checkpoint. We were waiting very anxiously. What would happen there?

The woman talked a couple of minutes with the policeman, then she turned around and motioned to Popeye to catch up with them. And she came back to her post. From where I was, I could see Popeye and H. She had already handed her passport to the policeman and Popeye looked like he arguing. Long minutes went by. He was still there talking and talking and then he was holding her passport. He gave it back to her and patted her shoulder, talked to her again and then she went through, through to the unknown, to a place where Popeye could not go, not anymore. She was on her way to her departure lounge.

Popeye walked back towards me, looking very tired and depressed. “Well, this could have been a real disaster. Expired visa. The guy wanted to send her to a detention center until her embassy got in touch with them and sorted the visa problem. And then deportation after a few days in detention. I argued with him and I won. I finally got him to understand that after all she was very different from an illegal immigrant. She did not want to stay in France. She wanted to go home. Expired visa or not. I had quite a hard time to get this message through but the guy finally agreed with me and… oh well, he waved her through.”

And it hit us hard. What if she did not find her departure lounge and got lost again?

We almost ran back to the Air France desk where we had bought her ticket. A stewardess was there. Once more, the card and the mathematician stuff in a hurry this time because passengers to Mumbai were already boarding and the flight was scheduled on time. We begged her to go to the departure lounge and make sure that H. was really getting on board of the plane bound to Mumbai. And then maybe she could let us know that everything was all-right.

The stewardess said no. “No, no and no. There are strict rules and the desk cannot interfere with the people in charge of boarding passengers. And it is totally forbidden to let strangers know if someone is on board of a plane. And… and… and.”

We probably looked so miserable that she said: “Wait for me here. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”  And she left.

We waited and waited. Boarding was over and we were still waiting, still very worried and getting depressed. The stewardess would never come back and we’d hear from Niruj that H. was not on the plane in Mumbai and… and…

And there she was, the stewardess with a big smile on her face: “Your friend will be in Mumbai on time. That is all I can tell you.”

I could have kissed her but I didn’t. We thanked her profusely and shook hands instead. And we left.

We sent a new message to Niruj whom we had been constantly in touch with, all morning long. “Flight AF… Mumbai 00h05 local time tonight. We got confirmation she’s on it.” He then called M. to let him know.

A few long hours later, M. was at the airport and drove his sister home. A few days later she was admitted to an hospital where she stayed for a few months. Now she’s out. On medication. She should be getting back to her life as a mathematician. Hopefully for good.

A few days after all this happened, Niruj said: “This would be an incredible story for you to write, wouldn’t it?” And I said: “I don’t think I’ll ever write anything about H. Too personal and harrowing.”

And then it all came back when M. told me what his friend had written about us. This was very, very kind indeed but a little bit extreme as far as I was concerned.

Because now it is the right time to thank all the people at Roissy who helped us so much - several stewardesses, quite a few people in charge of security and one policeman, all of them perfect strangers who offered us a helping hand, most of the time going the extra mile so that H. would go back home safely. Strangers helping strangers... 

*Good Luck, and Good Night*


Myrna said...

That was beautiful. How wonderful that there were people ready to go the extra mile, including vous deux. I am glad she got safely home. So glad P has good negotiation skills because that could have gone so much worse with the visa problem. Hurray for a happy ending!

LeRon and Colleen Torrie said...

So glad to hear the happy ending. You are a great writer as well as a thoughtful person.

LeRon and Colleen Torrie said...

You were at the right place at the right time with the right skills to help! Good for you! So nice to know there are good people in the world who will help others in need!