An Adventure in Winging It
We almost died. My dad and boyfriend would have had to pull a Liam Neeson and flown across oceans in the middle of the night to threaten an angry Spanish man in a language he surely didn't understand.
It turned out fine. It was just a friendly neighbor trying to give us a tip so the apartment building didn't explode, but that's not what's going through your head when you are woken up by the business end of a broom at 4:30 in the morning on your first night in a foreign country that speaks a language you barely know how to locate a bathroom in. Let me clue you in to what that inner monologue might be like: OH MY GOD I AM GOING TO DIE. MY FAMILY WILL NEVER KNOW WHAT HAPPENED AND THEY WILL HAVE TO BURY AN EMPTY CASKET. I AM NEVER GOING TO SEE MY CAT AGAIN. HOW DO I CALL THE POLICE IF I CAN'T SPEAK SPANISH. I AM GOING TO--KNOCK-KNOCK-KNOCK-KNOCK-KNOCK-- DIE. I AM GOING TO DIE.
Claire barges into my bedroom whisper screaming, "Someone is knocking on my window with a stick."
"What? No, don't be stupid." We are on the third floor up. We hover on the threshold of her bedroom. She's shaking and I'm just tired.
My stomach hits the floor. We bolt. LOCK ALL OF THE WINDOWS AND DOORS.
"What is going on?" I whisper shout, though probably with more expletives.
Claire cocks her head and looks at me funny, "Did you hear the cello playing before?"
What? She's gone bonkers. "What?" I live on St. Mark's Place; I tune out extraneous noise like the dead. I heard nothing.
"Yeah, someone was playing a cello all night. The same noise over and over again and I was annoyed. So I sighed. I shut my window. Do you think he's offended I didn't like his music?"
Hysterical laughter, panic, hyperventilating, hysterical laughter. It was the only noise I could produce. This is the part where I wake up. This is the moment it all falls away and I find myself in bed.
I pinch myself. Nothing happens.
The bedroom windows, the kitchen windows. Jiwon stumbles out of her room, wide eyed in annoyed panic. The knocking starts on the door. We had wine at dinner, a lot of cheap, delicious Spanish wine, and I have to pee. Only, the toilet won't flush.
I pop my head out of the bathroom. "The toilet's not flushing."
"The toilet. It won't flush."
"This is a tactic. We're getting kidnapped." Claire is living her own nightmare. "How do we call 911?"
We call our AirBNB host first. He doesn't answer. I don't know what I would have said if he did. "Hi, hello. This is Jess on Carrer de LePant and we are about to die. Send help, please. Thanks."
The knocking starts up again. Michal wakes up. We decide there is nothing left to do. We have to open the door. The walls are papier mache. If he wanted to kill us, he would have taken a spoon and tunneled through the bedroom wall by now. Claire hands me a wine bottle, frosted green that I grip by the neck and her cellphone pre-dialed to 112, as Google told us would summon the police. She untwists the mega deadbolt to angry Spanish shouting.
"English," she insists. "English." While I stand hidden around the corner debating whether or not to smash the bottle against the wall and make a shiv, trying instead to concentrate on how much I hate iOS7, because at least that feels safe.
There is something wrong with our water. It kept him up all night, didn't we hear the noise? Why didn't we hear him knocking? The machine was making a noise, a humming, he imitates it, and recognition dawns. Claire's cello was our broken water heater. The neighbor returns to his balcony across the tiny courtyard to show us how to turn it off. We might be stupid for opening the door, but we're not so mentally deficient that we'd let him inside the apartment. "I switched off your water downstairs," he explains. "Here, switch this back on, and keep that off, and be sure to call your host in the morning." The noise stops, the man goes back to bed.
We stand in the kitchen, huddled and barefoot and terrified. And agree simultaneously, without hesitation that we are pushing all of the beds into a giant one in the biggest room and sleeping together.
In the actual morning, the goddamn time the living wake up, we find the sun shining and the toilets disconcertingly empty and still refusing to flush. We call Daniel again, trying a different number than the one last night. A woman answers and sends him out to the apartment right away. Claire tries explanation, hand signals and everything short of interpretive dance, but Daniel's English is worse that he let on and we are an infant newborn in Spanish, so. Thankfully the neighbor comes out onto his balcony and explains.
Daniel rushes us off, after flooding our tiny bathroom to oblivion, promising it will all be fixed by the time we return. And thank god, because I was not wasting any of my precious hours mopping up toilet water in a paper thin apartment.
But you wanted to hear about how I loved Barcelona, and how delightfully pretty it was. Which, will come in the next post, I promise, I do promise you that, because Barcelona was gorgeous like real life Disneyland thanks to Gaudi, and I have so many pictures to share. But I needed you to know that you should definitely get over your fear of travel, because if I can survive that? We are all invincible, and nine times out of ten, people are not trying to kill you, they're trying to keep you from blowing up your apartment.