Author NIAL GRIFFITHS continues his occasional series of articles on adventures around the continent with his recollection of arriving in Romania with no luggage, no cash and not enough underpants.
It’s a uniquely horrible experience, watching the sacks and suitcases revolve on the carousel and yours isn’t amongst them. Those cherished contours and colours of the bag that has accompanied you around the globe are an absence blaring from the belt. It’s not only the inconvenience, the sheer pain-in-the-arsedness of it all (no clean clothes, no toiletries, no books to read or write in), it’s the sensation of aloneness in a strange place, of suddenly having no trusted companion. There’s an odd sense of abandonment. You stand and watch and hope. Eventually you’re alone with the emptily-shunting belt.
You find a man in uniform and wrestle with him over the language barrier and you give him your contact details and enter the airport concourse. You have your cashcard, at least, but the ATM refuses to give you money so you call your bank only it’s late and you are passed across several departments and, it seems, time zones, until you reach a real human being and you are told that the country you’re in is on a finance fraud watchlist and you should’ve informed the relevant people of your intent to travel there at least a day beforehand. You’ll be able to withdraw cash at opening of business tomorrow. But you’re broke now; bereft of both lei and sterling. But the process cannot be expedited. You must, just, wait.
Sigh. Well, okay. You call your hotel and ask them if you can put a taxi fare from the airport on your account and you can so you do. You check in and don’t unpack because you can’t and you go for a wander, hungry and thirsty and the bars and takeaways that are still open are maddening to the moneyless; all that unattainable fun around, the lights and the music and the smells and the teeming people and all of it to be discovered and experienced with avidity and glee but not tonight, no; your first night in this new city will be a hungry and sober one. A manky-mouthed one, too; the hotel has no toothpaste or brush. But you can bathe, at least, and go to bed clean, if a bit peckish and halitotic. The unknown city throbs and croons outside the window. It looks like a good place.
The morning brings money. You buy toiletries and have a proper spruce, except you must put dirty clothes back on your sparkling body. You eat a tower of pastries and drink a gallon of coffee and then visit a department store of a type that hasn’t been seen in Britain since the early 1980s. You buy socks. Two shirts. A jacket. You buy the only boxer shorts available, elasticated things with the words ‘Mr Big’ emblazoned on the – ahem – business area.
You return to the hotel and change and then properly hit the city with a step that is sprung like a true Mr Big. You’re re-invigorated, yes, but your missing luggage is a gap at your side and you wonder where in the world it is. What adventures it might be having. You take a bus to Bran castle which you’ve seen in your dreams; the tall white towers in the forest and the conical red raven-circled rooves. It is exactly what you expected it to be, as is Sighisoara, with its looming battlements and stalls selling Dracula-related tat (with which you fill your new pockets) and gaggles of goths milling moodily.
You’re having a wonderful time. Here is the joy of discovery. There is a costumed man with a drum welcoming people in several European languages and you teach him the Cymraeg and he beams and adds it to his repertoire.
Two days later and your bag arrives at the hotel. You sign for it on a document that tells you it was diverted to Brisbane, a city in which you lived, a long time ago. As you unpack, you fancy that you can smell eucalyptus and it totters you a little to think that your sack, without you, has been in a place where you, as a bewildered little boy, last were three decades ago. The world and time shrink and expand like living lungs.
So now your familiar clothes are on hangers and your toiletries are arrayed. You tot up what you’ve spent so far and convert it to sterling on your phone and are startled; you’ve spent less than the cost of a packet of biscuits back home. The Mr Bigs were five pairs for a few pennies and they’re what lasts longest; when the socks have gone through and the jacket has come apart, the undies still stand strong. Indeed, the elastic on the final pair snapped last night, years after they’d been purchased. I’ll miss Mr Big.