Image: Unsplash, downloaded (https://unsplash.com/photos/L54zc2NEkTQ) 01.05.2022.
I'll start with the good news. The Myers Hotel found my passport. The bad news is everything that happened after that.
I didn't realize it was missing until we were on the train closing in on Bratislava. It wasn't the first time I’d misplaced it on an international trip, but Lucy intended to make sure it was the last. "From now on I'm holding on to yours too," she said. First thing, I called The Myers to see if it was there. Sure enough, the male voice at the other end confirmed it was discovered in our room and waiting for me at the front desk. That didn't leave a lot of time to make a decision as the train clacked through an industrial zone, then went over a bridge into the city center. The stop in Bratislava would be only a few minutes.
After a brief back and forth, Lucy and I agreed, I'd go back to Vienna to get it. Since we were familiar with Budapest, she would continue on to the hotel we'd booked for the next two nights. It seemed a better option than my going to the embassy to apply for a new one.
"Who knows how long that will take?" I said.
"Or if you'll even get it in time for our flight back," Lucy said.
In any case, I gave Lucy a quick kiss, stepped down onto the platform, checked the Departure Board and pulled my suitcase over to another track. It was my good luck the next train to Vienna arrived fifteen minutes later.
I took a window seat in the second-class compartment and bought a ticket from the conductor. Soon after that there was a hiss of compressed air, and the train was on its way. Beyond the city it picked up speed. Passing through the lush spring countryside I read The New York Times on my phone. I sent a few texts to Lucy. It was an hour back to Vienna and what happened after I got off train at Westbahnhof station is something that took me a while to figure out.
From there it was a ten-minute walk to The Meyers. In the door, the place was abuzz with business. Waiting in line at the reception desk, I noticed the people working behind it were different than the ones that had checked out Lucy and I earlier. In fact, I was sure I hadn’t seen any of them in the three days we were there. It also occurred to me the lighting was different. Instead of bright white, it had a fuzzy, neon aura. Spooky as the whole scene felt, it didn’t matter. I was there with a single purpose, then I'd be on my way.
When my turn came up, I was greeted by a young woman with light-brown hair and a pleasant way of welcoming me. A bright, capable presence. Or so I thought until I stated my purpose.
She curled her brow. "Entschuldigung," she said. "Ich verstehen nicht."
I'll admit my German is unexceptional. That it was possible I'd confused her. Switching to English, I gave her my name again and repeated my purpose. "I was told you have my passport. I left it here by mistake."
"I see. So you are here for your passport?" She stated that as if she had never heard of such a thing.
"Yes. It was found in my room. Our room. My wife and I checked out this morning. I had to come back to get it."
"Sir, would you please tell me when you were told this?"
"About two or so hours ago."
"Who told it to you?"
"A man. I didn't get his name."
"Now I understand," she said. "If you will be so kind to wait here, I will be right back to you." She stepped away and pushed through the door behind her.
A minute later she returned with a woman in her forties, I guessed, dressed in neat professional clothing.
"This is our manager, Ms. Horvath," she said. The introduction made, she stood off to the side to let Ms. Horvath take it from there.
"If you don't mind me asking, why do you believe you need a passport?"
It was a question I might have reacted to with a sarcastic question of my own, but since I was in a hurry to get out of there, I said, "Ms. Horvath, I need it so my wife and I can continue our travels."
Ms. Horvath stared into my eyes. "I'm sorry, you don't realize what's going on, do you?" she said.
"I do understand. I understand very well. You either have my passport, or you don't. If not, please tell me. I'd prefer not to waste any more of my vacation time."
At that point I started to feel light-headed. Perturbed too. It wasn't a giant leap to think the two were related.
"Please give me a minute," Ms. Horvath said. "I must find something out before I can give you a final answer."
"Fine, I'll do that, I've waited this long," I said.
I moved away from the counter to let the next person in line step up. Listed in the boutique category, The Myers had maybe thirty rooms. But people kept coming in the door as if there were many times more than that. So many came in that I became claustrophobic. I closed my eyes and inhaled a deep breath. It was then I saw what had happened on the street outside Westbahnhof station as if it was a video on Facebook that came with a trigger warning.
I'd gotten off the train and went out the main exit. Pulling my suitcase behind me, moving ahead with a purpose, I started across the wide avenue preoccupied with my passport. I was maybe four steps off the sidewalk when from up close a horn sounded out. A split second later there was an earsplitting screech of tires. I turned to see it was too late to react. In that instant I braced for the impact that was followed by a loud thump and a tremendous flash of pain in my head and chest. I saw stars, as the idiom goes. Only they weren't stars. More like the blinding lights over an operating table you have no choice but to stare into until the anesthesia kicks in.
From there I went to the place I was familiar with. I didn’t look back to find out what had happened. I was at The Meyers asking about my passport. But there was a problem. Then I wasn't at The Meyers. I was lying motionless on the avenue. Three of Vienna's finest stood around me talking among themselves. They were big, fit men in crisp, cobalt blue uniforms. A throng of people outside the station and on the sidewalk stared our way. I was with them doing the same, checking out the pool of blood next to my head that gleamed in the bright sunlight. Several feet away I saw my suitcase had survived the impact. It was a recent purchase, sturdy and not cheap.
It wasn't much longer that I heard a siren. The high-pitched rhee-raw rhee-raw sound that always reminded me of British t.v. dramas.
It became clear why I wouldn't need my passport. I'd stepped into traffic as my thoughts were fixated on getting it. Lucy often said I was spacey. That I needed to pay more attention to what I was doing in the moment. I knew if she were with me she would have been mindful of our movements. She would have made sure we waited for the traffic light to change and the traffic to stop. We would have my passport and when we got to Budapest we would dump our bags in our room and head off to soak in the Lukács Baths as we had planned.
The next moment there was a commotion on the street. The stalled traffic had to back up to make room for the emergency vehicle. The rhee-raw rhee-raw went silent as it pulled up next to me. Two medics got out and went around to the back. They chatted with the police a while. Not about me, I heard as I moved closer. That conversation was over, and even I laughed at my own bad joke.
One of the police nodded at me. In response, the female medic opened the back of the vehicle and took out a white blanket she unfolded and covered me with. After that, her partner pulled the stretcher out and rolled it my way. The female took hold of my shoulders. Her partner had my legs. With a one, two, three, they hefted me up onto the stretcher and fussed with me until I was fully covered and strapped secure on it. Watching their efforts, I was appreciative. When I was in the vehicle ready to go, they closed the doors, went around to the front and the engine started up. They didn't know, they couldn't, but I was going with them.
The siren remained off as we rolled along the streets, starting and stopping as the traffic let us. It must have been twenty minutes later that we pulled up to the Emergency Entrance of a large, nondescript building. I was taken out on the stretcher. The female medic pushed me through the sliding doors and into an elevator. On the lowest level I was wheeled down a long hallway. Next to us her partner pulled my suitcase. In a few more moments we turned into a spacious room with tables, basins and instruments. Two men in it wore hospital garments. I supposed an autopsy would be done. Though to me it would make no difference. It was obvious why I had died. The way I thought a lot of others did, by making a mindless mistake that couldn't be unwound.
One of the men gathered my personal possessions, wallet, some loose change, my bloodied shoulder pack, and stuffed them into a clear plastic bag he put on a table. My iPhone was intact and was set aside until a woman came in the room. She was official looking, in regular office clothes. The man handed my phone to her, and she used it to make a call to my emergency number. When the connection was made, she spoke into it in English. When she stopped talking, I heard Lucy's voice. I knew she was trying to be calm. To let the information sink in before she reacted. When she did there was no disguising the shock in her voice. I tried to grab the phone to talk to her. I had a lot to say. Everything to say I hadn't yet said. But I'd lost that power. I wasn't a corporeal presence any longer. Then I heard Lucy screaming. "Nooooo, no, no, it's not true, nooooo." I heard her start to sob. The woman tried to calm her, but there was no stopping the torrent of emotions I knew she felt. I couldn't take any more. I had to get out.
From there I went back down the hallway. I waited at the elevator with two others. On the first floor I went out the swinging doors of the main entrance without realizing until then doors were no longer of any use to me. I could go into any building I wanted to enter. I no longer needed a passport to cross borders. I was free to go anywhere I wanted.
Out on the sidewalk I started off in the direction I thought Westbahnhof station was in. I didn't know what I could do, but I wanted to go to Budapest. I wanted to see Lucy. I wanted to make sure she was going to be all right. I wanted to stay with her until my situation was settled and we were back in New York. After that, I had no idea where I'd go or what I'd do for the rest of all time.
Author about Himself: I live in Brooklyn, NY. My fiction and nonfiction have appeared in places such as The European, Baltimore Magazine, Poets & Writers Magazine, New Observations Magazine, and more recently in The Transnational, Overland, Numero Cinque, Thema, Adelaide Literary Magazine, Aethlon, and other places. My novelette "Roman Days" is out in The Write Launch. I've also published four chapbooks and been included in several anthologies.