The train tracks were wet and the sky darkened earlier than it should have. The storm they had anticipated last week was as furious as it was late. All around me buses were zooming over the edges of puddles, throwing sudden masses of water in the direction of unaware pedestrians. It looked as though the city were trying to send people home, but no one was listening. All around there was a buzz in the air much like nearby power lines.
I was on my way to the south of Holland for the week. My contacts in the company had directed me to immerse myself in the Dutch language for a couple weeks while the silence of the summer months passed unnoticed. They said this institute, run by nuns, was the finest one around and besides, the European Union reimburses our company for my time spent there, so on our side, it was a win all around. A real good deal, as they say in the business.
And the rhythm was swinging. After all, I was already saying hello to people in Dutch, had gone through 7 online lessons and CDs and even managed to meet some of the local barkeeps, which a great a way to do it, kids. Write that one down. I’m giving you gold here.
I was a little apprehensive about the nuns, though, unsure of what to expect from the old girls. I have no experience with the clergy, but I hear stories. Rumors, anecdotes, maybe even outright lies, but some of them confuse me and many I find terrifying. The details are not necessary but it is sufficient to say that the thought of spending a week in a stone-walled monastery speaking Dutch with sexless women dressed in black robes and strange hats that hide serious faces with a long ruler in one hand and a stern readiness in the other was enough to make me both pale with fear and giddy with anticipation.
Because the river does, you know, runs both ways; they were nuns after all. What would they think, and how would they react to a degenerate writer like me in their midst, toting strange books by even weirder old men, concealing flasks of unknown basque liquors under the battery of his laptop?
I’d planned on walking in to the place in the morning with Songs of the Doomed under my arm, Mein Kampf _duct taped to my left leg and a raw onion on my belt. _Mein Kampf was – you know, for effect. I would speak nothing but Portuguese from the interior, which is sort of like English from the hick south except that it sounds like gibberish even to native Brazilians. I wondered if not swallowing to the point that I would foam at the mouth was necessary, or even appropriate, but as you can see, I was getting ahead of myself. In any case, I expected it was going to be a week worth remembering, and I had no idea what the outcome would be.
I have never been in the gambling business.
Getting to this language institute should have a been a simple matter of fetching the car from the company garage and then driving the rest of the way south. A long but arguably direct shot on a bus to my company’s office should get me to my car, and from there it was all sunsets; I knew where the place was and the roads in Holland are not that difficult to figure out since they follow the rules here. No, the hard part would be getting to where my car was.
The sky was already unnaturally dark when I left the hotel to grab a bucket of noodles and veggies since wok food is so good for walking. By the time I made it to the bus stop the rain had become the stuff of old testament god, and was already heavy enough to hurt small children. It came in no short bursts and thirty minutes later when it finally thinned out a bit, I was still at the station, wondering what happened to “a bus every 5 minutes” like the hotel concierge had told me, those useless gits. As it turns out, on Sundays I have to change buses a couple times and they make sure to not tell you about it. This makes it a learning experience for me, I guess.
Luckily, they at least follow the rules here, and after 3 buses, a couple chapters in Tom Robbin’s Another Roadside Attraction, plenty of noodles and a short walk to the office, I found myself standing in front of a locked building. They follow the rules here so well, in fact, that the rule about it being illegal to work in The Netherlands on a weekend (which no one bothered to tell me, mind you) is followed to the letter. You can’t even go to the office to print something. You can’t get into the building. At all. Not even the lobby. After 23:00 on Friday nights, the entire building becomes an example of total and complete lock-down. Gates are closed, doors are shut, lights are off and key cards don’t work, like everything else in the building. Nao Funciona. Even the intercoms – which are turned off – are useless because there isn’t even a guard in the place, some facility person to talk to. Nothing.
The completeness of the lock-down made me uneasy, especially since at this point on a Sunday it would take an hour to get back to Amsterdam Proper and catch a train south, assuming I could be sure that said train even existed anymore. And I wasn’t.
Thinking quickly, I called my man Steven, a lifeline of sorts these days, and a damn fine one at that. I was looking for a suggestion, a phone number of some weekend security guard, someone with keys, anything that could get my car out of that garage. Hell, a discrete crowbar would’ve been given serious consideration at that point. Nothing was off the table, and my hope was running on fumes. But Steven doesn’t work like that.
Some people are above and beyond kind of people. Lending a hand, suggesting solutions — these aren’t things these people do; these are things they are. Why tell you who to call when they can call them for you? Why tell you where to look when they can show you, even look for you? Why tell you which train to take when they can drive you there even though it’s a two hour drive on a Sunday night?
Steven is this kind of person. A Sunday night hero who speeds out into the night with his wonder dog in the backseat, ready to head straight to the rescue of uninformed expatriates in angst. Usually I’m lucky; today, I’m thankful.
And so it is that in the stillness after the storm that was late by a week, under an ever-darkening sky and a heavy mist I found myself outside the lobby of my company’s headquarters south of Amsterdam, past the industry and the highway, dodging rain drops and gusts of wind, sitting cross-legged on the cold stone floor and using the heat from my notebook battery to keep warm. The anger and frustration eased out of me, dispersing into the evening and diluted by the nonchalance and the sheer Sunday-ness of the evening – it wouldn’t twist anything else today. Soon, rescue would come and it was looking like I’d get to the nuns after all.
Maybe the weirdness can wait a bit.
We’ll see how the week goes.