t all happened so fast. By the time I’d realized what was missing, it was already toolate. The airport at the sunny beach town of La Rochelle, France, was barely bigger than a bus shelter, but whoever had swiped my bags had managed to slip away unseen.After pacing the entire building for the fifth time, I gave up and decided to call the policeinstead – racking my brains for the French vocabulary I’d need and wishing I’d paid moreattention at school. With a mounting sense of desperation, I realized I’d left my cell phonein my luggage and it was probably already fifty miles away by now. Cursing silently tomyself, I stepped outside into the baking heat and tried to calm myself down.
A handful of people were milling around in the waiting areas just in front of themain doors, soaking up the summer sun and waiting for loved ones to disembark. Most of them were speaking French and smoking, but none of them looked as though they weretrying to high-tail it out of there with a satchel stuffed full of priceless cargo, so after acursory glance I decided to try and make it on foot to the nearest payphone. If there wereany to be found.As I crossed the concrete expanse toward the parking lot, one of the men hangingaround the smoking area stubbed out his half-finished cigarette and jogged over. He was black, dressed in shorts and a half-open white shirt, and I could see a chunky gold chainaround his neck which bounced against his bare chest as he ran.“Monsieur!” the man called out as he drew closer. “Voulez vous un taxi?”My French was pretty basic, but I understood a cabbie looking for work when I sawone.“Non, merci,” I managed, in the best accent I could fathom. “I don’t have anymoney on me.”“Ah, anglais,” he smiled, sidling up to me and matching my pace as I made my waytoward the main road. “It’s not a problem. I am here to meet you.”I stopped in my tracks.
I didn’t arrange for anyone to pick me up,
I thought,wondering whether all French taxi drivers were quite so forward.“You have the wrong person,” I replied eventually, picking up my feet and makinga bee-line for the exit.The taxi driver followed. “I have the right person. You are bringing a valuable package for delivery, it’s my job to make sure everything is okay. D’accord
” The mentionof my missing luggage stopped me in my tracks for the second time.
Only one person knows why I’m here. And he’s certainly in no hurry to meet up.
Trying to mask my confusion, I attempted to find the right words to reply. Before Ihad the chance to speak, I felt movement behind me and suddenly found myself standing ina pool of shade. Turning my head, I locked eyes with an impossibly tall man dressed in a black suit, who had somehow managed to sneak up at my rear and was looking down onme from at least a foot above the top of my head. The towering stranger was tall and burlyenough to block out the mid afternoon sun, and from the dour expression on his face I wasfairly sure he wasn’t from the
Office de Tourisme
.“Your car is waiting,” said the suit, in an American accent.The cabbie with the gold chain nodded profusely.“I think there must be some kind of mistake,” I replied, ignoring the taxi driver’sattempts to usher me in the direction of the pick up zone. “I didn’t arrange for anyone to pick me up. I’m here on holiday, visiting friends.”