Thursday, June 7, 2007

This time it's mostly about a train

continued from yesterday's installment . . .

Undaunted, Number One went a-traveling once again just a shy year later. This time, he took his 17 year old sister, Beautiful. A month together in France, Spain and Portugal. Just the two of them. No tour group. No parent or other responsible party. Just them. I already mentioned the concerns of my extended family?

Depositing our two oldest children with their backpacks and guidebooks at the airport, we gave our son one instruction and one instruction only: Do not lose your sister. Period.

They were about halfway into their trip when . . .

Having enjoyed Arles, the kids were hurrying for the morning train. They hadn't eaten breakfast and knew it would be 7 or 8 hours before they would have the chance to eat again. A plan was hastily concocted. Beautiful would walk the quarter mile down the main road to the train station. Number One would buy bread from the bakery next to their hotel and then jog to the train station to catch up with her.

It was a simple plan. It was a foolproof plan. So you know it could never work.

Beautiful is not a stupid girl. In most situations she's the one you want for a navigator. She's in tune with direction. She notices details. In fact, it was a little detail that derailed Number One's perfect plan.

About halfway to the train station, Beautiful saw a sign with a train symbol on it and figured that must be the way to the train. She had a quick conversation with herself as to why her brother's directions had been a little off, but she figured the folks in Arles knew where their train was better than her brother did. She put her faith in the sign.

When the sign took her beyond the dense town into the less populated residential area, she had a flicker of doubt. When happy, close little houses gave way to open fields, the flicker became a smoky, choking blaze. By that time she was 3 miles out of town. She knew she had missed the train. She knew her brother would be frantic. She knew it was going to be an ugly reunion.

Meanwhile, back at the train station . . .

Number One had been anxious during the trial separation from his sister. He knew nothing could possibly go wrong, but he would feel so much better when reunited with Beautiful.

He entered the station with some apprehension as his parents' words "Do not lose your sister" played over and over inside his head, looping themselves like a noose around his conscience. Not catching sight of her face right away cranked the adrenaline meter up a few notches. When searching the crowd a little more closely yielded still no sister results, his adrenaline blew through the roof. Trying to keep his nerves in check, he looked through the passenger cars of the train--hoping she'd boarded before he arrived. She hadn't.

I am not sure at what point he started praying. But I do know he prayed. A lot. He would tell me much later that when the train pulled out and the station was all but abandoned and he stood in the middle of France with not a ghost of a clue as to his sister's whereabouts--or well being--he was terrified in a way he had never been before. And this is the boy who had stood alone in the wee hours in the shady part of Athens and had lain helplessly ill in a sad hotel room in Turkey. This boy knew from terrified.

Abandoning the backpack, he set out running to find her. He ran back down the road to their hotel. He looked in the bakery. He looked down all the side streets. He widened his circle again and again--as fast as he could run--and still found no sign of her.

Hope fracturing into desperation, he thought of asking the Station Master for help.

Did I leave out the fact that Number One doesn't speak French? Beautiful knows just enough French and Spanish to get by. Number One doesn't. They did not anticipate that becoming a problem.

Number One addressed the Station Master in English. Mr. Master did not speak English. Mr. Master replied in French. They didn't get very far.

Hearkening back to his previous travels, Number One thought of maybe substituting another Romance language. He attempted the plea for help in Italian. Mr. Master appreciated the effort, but didn't understand. He did understand that Number One had an important message and was casting about for a common tongue. Mr. Master made a valiant, but wasted, attempt at Spanish.

Feeling himself coming unhinged, Number One took the only route left open--he plead his case in what little Latin he could reconstruct from his lessons all those years before. Blessedly, Mr. Master understood enough of the hurried, broken Latin that he called the police to help locate the lost American sister.

[The moral of this story, by the way, is that Latin is not a dead language and should be a requirement for everyone! Okay, and maybe before traveling to a foreign land one should have a rudimentary acquaintance with its language . . . ]

Just as Mr. Master was hanging up the phone, in walked a sheepish Beautiful. In a split second Number One understood the meaning of being overcome with emotion. He didn't know whether to cry or cry. He didn't know whether to hug her or hug the life out of her. In the end, all he could to do was collapse onto a bench and breathe again. As Beautiful said it (when they finally told me this story, which was well over 2 months after returning home,) "He was awash in relief just like any mother hen would have been."

After calming down a bit, they continued with their travel plans and all went relatively smoothly from that point on. Just before flying home, they spent a couple days in Paris. They called me from somewhere on Champs Elysees to wish me a happy birthday and they brought me back French chocolate and perfume.

And here is the point of my story:

If you're ever thinking of allowing your underage children to travel abroad on their own, do it near your birthday because the presents (since the kids will be full of love for their far away parents and guilt for not having followed the rules to the letter) are bounteous and well worth the trouble!


Rick said...

Well done! I felt sick when the two were separated.!

whitenoise said...

Thank goodness for the happy ending!