NS March 28th, 2009
My eyes were closed and I had my hands up in a protective stance. I could feel the heat and smell the beer-sodden sweat of whichever man was closest to me. He put a hand above my head, hovering as if he was considering what to do next with it. My stomach dropped like I had just started freefalling on a roller coaster and waves of nausea washed over me. I thought about running but was afraid that would worsen the situation. I hoped that they’d minimise the damage and let us go after they’d had their fun, though I wasn’t sure how much ‘fun’ they planned on having. That was the worst part, imagining what they might do, what they could do because they were men and they were bigger than us.
The attack I was so certain was coming was stopped in its tracks abruptly by a pair of approaching headlights and the screech of tires. The hand above my head dropped and I could sense my ‘guard’ retreat a few steps. I heard different voices swearing and shouting and my eyes flew open to see what was happening. I was astonished to see a taxi smack dab in the middle of us and an Italian man hanging out the half-open door, revving his engine and making starts and stops towards the legs of our German antagonists. After a cursory attempt at fighting back, the gang of men fled into the night, leaving the American traveler, the Irish barmaids and the Italian taxi driver in their wake.
Our saviour was aptly named Angelo and he had seen our plight as he walked back to his taxi after answering the call of nature down the end of the cobblestone street. He thought first of minding his own business, he told us as he drove, but then the thought of his sister and what he would do if it was her surrounded by seven men in a dark corner had him running to his car. Orla said “He’s cute AND sweet. I think I’ll take him home,” and we burst out laughing. The tension we’d all been under was finally broken and we breathed a collective sigh of relief. I sunk back into the torn leather seat and watched the orange lights from the lamp posts punctuate the landscape flying past. It was a balmy night and the wind rushing through the windows felt smooth and wet like a stone fresh from the river. Air never tasted sweeter than from the backseat of Angelo’s taxi. All the memories of that town, that summer, that life…they still smell like dawn.
We explained about the missing keys and how we had nowhere to go but Angelo said in his heavy Italian accent “Surely you musta know someone you can go to. I take you there, just tell me.” Maeve had a friend who lived not far away and said he would be awake. He was a bit of an insomniac dope smoker and Nintendo addict: the early-morning afficionado that we were praying for. After a few pebble tosses at his window, we were in. We each kissed Angelo on the cheek before filing into the marijuana-scented apartment and watched him drive away in wonder. A few hits on the resident bong and we were out for the count, sprawled across sofas and floors.
I got to sleep at about 5.30 but had to be up two hours later. With a nap under my belt and 20 marks lent to me by Maeve, I set off for the train station in a fug but with a sense of relief that the nightmare journey was ending. I waited on the platform for the train that would take me to Frankfurt airport. And waited. And waited some more. Turns out someone had done a jumper (thrown themselves in front of a moving train — more common than you might think) and so they were all delayed. I made it to the check-in desk only a half hour before departure time. They told me the gate was closing and they were boarding the passengers. It was too late, they said. The thought of not making it now, after all I’d been through, was absolutely unbearable. So I did the only thing I knew would work — death, tears and pity. I told the agent that my mother was on her deathbed (forgive me, Mom) and that I had no luggage to check, just my small carry-on. I produced the finest of tears and the most heartbreaking of sobs. After a brief consultation between them, the two agents said they’d get me to the gate before it shut. I got to jump on one of those golf cart-type things and was rushed there just as the last person was handing their ticket in. I slept like the dead once I was in that seat.
There was more drama, of course, when I got back to the States. I had some explaining to do to my parents but I think they were relieved that I was okay more than anything. Now, the matter of getting my luggage back is an entirely different story and one I will tell another time (along with the story of a taxi ride with two just-released neo-Nazi convicts who licked my neck — what is with me and taxis?!) but for now I’ll leave you with what I learned from my European mishap: No matter how insane or ugly people can be or how badly and wrongly things can go, there are more good people out there than bad. John McAirlineAgent, Maeve the Irish barmaid and Bob and Angelo the taxi drivers are proof of that. Lecherous Guys and Elbowers and Train Jumpers exist, sure, but they’re just part of the human experience and the strange, itchy, sometimes uncomfortable fabric of society.
Like a sweater knitted by your Aunt Mildred, it doesn’t really fit at first and you hate it. You mock it and put it at the back of your closet, dreading its appearance. But after awhile you start accepting of it. You grow to love it for its uneven seams, tightly knit pockets and loose threads. And, like adventurous mishaps such as these, you eventually learn to grow fond of what it represents: the weaving of something out of nothing. Isn’t that, ulitmately, what living life is about?
I’d like to think so.