Whenever a trip comes to an end, it’s always bittersweet. Despite looking forward to coming home, I was still a little sad about leaving behind my new friends and a lovely city.
The cab arrived at 5:30, concurrent with the arrival of the apartment owner’s husband, who was here to inspect and make sure I hadn’t kicked holes in any of the walls or burned pentagrams into the floor. Unlike his wife, who spoke some English, Mr. R did not speak a word of English, and so we communicated through botched Spanish and hand gestures. I was able to explain that my cab was downstairs and ask if he needed anything from me, but after that, mutual understanding went out the window. He returned my security deposit and stood rooted to the spot, so I slung my bags over my shoulder and pointed at the money I’d left on the table.
A few hours earlier, David had come over to drink mate and gorge on facturas (while watching Charmed) and while he was over, he’d received a phone call from his maid. After hanging up, he explained who she was, and I mentally noted the word for maid. In retrospect, I wonder if he’d lapsed briefly into German and given me the German word for maid.
This is the explanation I’m sticking to.
Hoping to communicate more effectively in Spanish, I pointed at the money on the table and attempted to say, “This is the tip for the maid. ” What I actually said was “Esta dinero para la duende,” which roughly translates to, “This is money for the gnome.” Mr. R stared at me, so I more furiously pointed at the money and emphasized: “TIP for the GNOME.” When I realized my Spanish was not helping me, I began imitating what a maid might do, from sweeping the floor to wiping the chair and, apparently, the ceiling. Mr. R caught on excitedly and began dusting a mirror. We both nodded enthusiastically at each other and laughed.
“Si, chiquitita, Lucia.”
“Si!” I replied as he extended his hand to indicate that she had been a small woman, which I now realize made my gnome comment even more out of place.
After the debacle, I hopped in the cab only to sit in traffic for over an hour en route to Ezeiza. Nevertheless, all was not lost. I got my last taste of Argentinian radio, a black hole in the universe for neglected Bee Gees tunes and all the other tracks off of Natalie Imbruglia’s 90s hit album. In a row, I heard some obscure 90s acoustic tune, a twangy/techno remake of Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You Babe,” and finally Band-Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”
Once at the airport, I ran through check-in and security to my gate and quickly onto the plane where I sat, breathing heavily, until the gate was about to close. The seat to my left was vacant, and I wondered optimistically if I’d be without a companion. This hope was shattered when a woman resembling Mrs. Frizzle from the Magic School Bus frantically shuffled her way over to the seat, breathless.
“Hi! Hi! I’m so sorry, I was just…I had a nervous breakdown. I’m having a nervous breakdown.” She continued in this fashion, stuffing her oversized and poorly packed bag in front of her seat. “I lost my passport. I couldn’t believe it, I lost my passport. And they don’t let you fly without your passport, did you know that? I had a photocopy and they wouldn’t accept it.”
I’d been reading a magazine and she hadn’t stopped talking, so finally she asked, “Do you speak English?” This was my chance to feign ignorance, but I felt bad and said I did, and asked how she finally got on the flight.
“Well I was in line and I was shouting at everybody, I was accusing everybody of stealing my passport, because you know how people are down here. You put your sunglasses down for a second and then they’re swiped. So I yelled at everyone in line. Finally they asked me to just wait on the side, and I rechecked my bag and it was at the very bottom.”
This I could understand. She’d packed the fundamentals for a small village inside what looked like a mail bag. Why her passport would be flattened and crushed beneath all of this was beyond me, but I told her I was glad she had it and made it on. Still, she continued.
“Yes, I was on my knees. I got on my knees and begged them, ‘PLEASE LET ME BOARD!’ And then I got yelled at for crossing over a row of people on the plane. I guess you can’t do that. I was supposed to walk around the aisle. I didn’t know. I need a Zanax. Where are you from?”
We talked briefly, until she noticed the blanket and pillow I’d stuffed in the seatback in front of me. For overnight flights, airlines provide a blanket and pillow, which are both placed very visibly on your seat prior to boarding. The woman pointed at the blanket and said, “Where’d you get that?” I explained that she was sitting on hers, and she pulled the blanket out before pointing to my pillow, where I promptly repeated that she was also sitting on that.
I remained polite with her until she calmed down a little, just retelling pieces of the story instead of the whole thing. I thought we were done until an automaton-sounding announcement came on preparing us for takeoff and she shuddered, saying, “Was that the pilot? He sounded young. I always worry they don’t have enough experience to be flying.”
She continued chatting up the flight attendants throughout the flight, including hassling the beverage cart, but fell asleep somewhere over the Amazon. Between Houston and Newark, all went smoothly, and I arrived home partially stunned that my luggage hadn’t been lost, my flights hadn’t been delayed or canceled, and I was actually standing in my home state in the middle of some welcome August heat.