Finally, I was talking to a manger. He came over, looked at my boarding pass and then handed it back pointing at the date. Sunday, December 12th. Desperately hoping I was wrong, I flipped my wrist to see my watch. Monday, December 13th.
I had missed my plane.
December 12th minutes after “Russell Tankov” had gotten into the taxi.
“Paging Russell Tankov to Indian Airlines kiosk. Russell Tankov to Indian Airlines. Your flight is leaving”
Where had this foreigner gotten to? All the other connecting international passengers had easily funnelled through the customs’ area to the next leg of their flight from Mumbai to Newark … yet this Russell Tankov had disappeared. Impossible of course since to get out of the airport he would have had to waltz through rows and rows of customs and front gate security. If he had gotten through this there would have been a record of it. There was no record so he must be lost somewhere in the airport.
A half hour later they finally gave up, stopped paging “Russell Tankov”, pulled his luggage off the plane and allowed the jumbo jet full of frustrated, delayed, international passengers on it’s way.
December 13th minutes after I realize I had missed my international flight and was broke and stranded in Mumbai.
I quickly pulled out my travel agent’s flight itinerary to compare. Here it read Monday the 13th as I had remembered it. How had I possibly gotten a boarding pass for the 12th? My mind went back to the words of the new attendant at the ticket counter in Delhi.
“I haven’t done that before but I know I can … just a second.”
He must have accidentally changed my flight from Mumbai to Newark a day earlier when he tried to check my baggage through and I hadn’t noticed the change on my boarding pass. I handed the printout of my itinerary to the manager and looked down at my shoes.
“I thought I was supposed to leave today …”
At this point he must have been taken off guard. He had finally found the “Rusty Tankov” that had ruined his previous day. However now, instead of being a belligerent North American tourist who didn’t think that Indian law applied to him, or a stereotypical thug trying to disappear off the radar into the dark underbelly of Mumbai’s crime world, I was just this impossibly naive and helpless kid.
I figured he had two options.
Option number one. He could try to do everything by the book and try to get my passport fixed to say that I hadn’t left India yesterday after all. Then he could help me claim my baggage and take it through security and customs so it could be checked again.
Option number two. He could ignore me. I’d have to find out on my own what I needed to do if I ever wanted to see his my bags again (possibly still enjoying their lonely journey around and around the carousel that only transit passengers has access to). I could try on my own to get through customs even though my passport said that I had left India yesterday.
Either of these options would result in me missing a second flight and being stranded in India. Not to mention all the paperwork it would cause him on how this could possibly have happened in the first place.
Fortunately for me he thought of option number three. He called in a favour on his cell phone and got a friend to stick my bags on the plane. He then escorted me to the plane and flashed his own I.D. badge at all the same security people that had had a different badge flashed at them the previous day when I waltzed past them the other direction. I’m not confident that this was legal, but it probably caused him a heck of a lot less paper work and kept me from the red flags associated with being deported for illegally being in India (even if it was unintentional).
I settled into my seat mere minutes before we were asked to buckle up.
I can’t remember a time I felt quite as alien, helpless and alone as those few minutes between the manager explaining my predicament and taking mercy on me. When I realized that I was illegally in India without a valid ticket out, no cash and nothing on me except a small pack with a pair of dirty socks and underwear. At the time I didn’t realize the privilege that came with my white skin and Canadian passport. I have since had a good friend who didn’t have those and who had a very different experience at a different border with a different misunderstanding. Have you ever experienced grace or mercy in the midst of an environment completely alien to you? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.