We are strolling through memories today – here is a continuation of this story: Living Overseas and Meeting Fairy Tale People
What happened next was something out of Dickens. And when you live overseas you realize that Dickens was a truth-teller; he did reportage not creative writing. In the same way that when you visit small, inland towns in Maine you realize that Stephen King is not making up his stories; he’s writing what he sees.
And it’s all well and good to enjoy Dickens’ stories with the outlandish characters with amusing names. Then you move to the Middle East and find yourself in the middle of Great Expectations. or, heaven forfend!, Bleak House.
To resume my story:
I left the fairy-tale man’s wife and came down the elevator. I went to the counter to talk to the housing clerks about how to check out of my apartment. I had been told there were papers to sign and if not done correctly, the company would withhold part of my final paycheck in retaliation.
As I approached the counter, one of the clerks sitting on a stool smiled and called my name. He was so very sorry that I was leaving and so very sorry that he must bother me with paperwork. He pulled out a large bundle and we began going through them: me signing, initialing, writing in my passport number, my phone number, my mother’s maiden name, and all sorts of numerical flotsam and jetsam. I attested that I had not smoked in the apartment, that I had not had any pets, that I had not sublet the place, that I had not undertaken any illegal activity and that I was a certifiable human.
Finally, we were at the end and he copied each form three times, then handed me a copy resplendent with stamps with a smile, “to HR.”
My heart sank. I had planned to go straight to the airport – I didn’t want to return to the office. I couldn’t face it (not to mention that since the HR girls were no longer friendly, heavens knows what bureaucratic nightmare they would throw me into).
“Can’t you send it?” I asked
Oh the horror! No, of course THEY could not send the forms. I had to turn the forms into HR myself as I had to give blood, hair samples, a profession of my faith and 26 signatures before I was allowed to even get within 10 kilometers of the airport. My lovely escape plan was going up in smoke when there was a loud DING as the elevator door opened.
The fairy tale man’s wife walked by. Inspiration!
“Excuse me? Are you going to the office? Could you please give this to HR for me? I…”
She took the papers from my hand and said, “My husband told me that I should do anything I could if you needed assistance,” which sounded odd, and even odder, when she spoke she didn’t look at me but at the clerks and instead of putting the forms in her purse, she laid them on the counter.
The clerk at the far, large desk stood up, opened a drawer, drew out one thin sheet of paper and walked to the desk. It was as if the Venus de Milo had come to life – I had never seen him mobile before. I was not certain that he had the ability to walk.
He made a brief motion with his hand and the clerk who had been helping me swept the pile of forms I had signed off the counter and into the trash can. Then he laid down the form in his hand and pointed to one place where I wrote my initials.
“All finished, Madame,” he said, as the slight sheen of a cold perspiration bespangled his brow.
I looked at the heap of paperwork containing every detail of my life, nestled cozily in the wastepaper basket at his feet and wondered what I was supposed to do.
“Really?” the woman said. “You are going to…”
But before she could finish, the man pulled a small card from thin air, “and of course this, you need this for the airport. Take it, please.”
It was about twice the size of a business card and had my name typed on the front with five different stamps overlapping on the reverse.
“You will get her a car for the airport, with a man to take her to the counter,” the woman said.
“Yes, of course, we were just doing that, this minute.”
“And you will pay for that yourself.”
He gulped, adjusted his tie, smoothed his hair and nodded, “Yes, yes, we are always doing that for our dear guests.”
She turned and I called out, “thank you” towards her back as she went out through the doors. I never saw her again.
A Mercedes with a driver in suit and tie arrived three minutes later. When we pulled up at the departures terminal, a man opened the car door and took my luggage. Flourishing the small card as if it was Excaliber, he sweet talked the airline employees into not charging me for the extra bag and the extra weight, as well as an upgrade to business class.
I left in style, deeply confused, but very much in style and the full payment of my last paycheck was in my account within a day.
And the lessons I learned stood me in good stead as soon as I arrived at my new domicile, again a large apartment building which held all the expat staff of the company.
The counter was different, but I recognized the same characters. Especially when I asked for the man who I had exchanged e-mails with earlier that day.
“Oh madame, there is no one here with that name.”
“I am starting work next week, here is my work visa and, as you can see from this email that I sent today, I asked if my apartment was ready. And this man, you can see here in the e-mail, told me that I could move into my apartment today. You will notice how the e-mail has our company’s name and his e-mail signature says ‘housing section’.”
Histrionics abounding, oh the tragedy of it all – none of the three men at the counter had ever heard of a man with the name of the person who e-mailed me. No apartments were free. None would be free for days if not weeks, yet, such a relief!, they did happen to know of a charming, small hotel, very near-by, very clean, very cheap and just like staying with your family.
If I hadn’t already had a Dickensian morning, I might have given in but I realized that since no one was telling the truth, I should in no way feel bound to be honest. I should let my imagination fly as far as my whim would allow.
My brightest smile, “Not to worry, my father made me a reservation at the Beach Hotel for the week. I was so hoping I could move in now, but if there is nothing free, I will simply go there. He won’t mind paying for a five-star hotel for a week and I am sure he will not come here to complain loudly and often. May I use your phone so that I can call him and ask him to send the car here?”
Oh, how fortuitous, one of the clerks suddenly remembered that there was a free apartment, a corner apartment and after signing various papers, I was given the key.
I gave a huge tip to the clerk who brought my bags up and handed me a pile of menus from restaurants that delivered. And, after the door closed behind him, I went to the window and looked out. I had changed countries in less than 6 hours.
Triumph, of a sort.