The day began without my permission, at around 4am when I awoke to the unmistakable sensation of a person getting into bed with me. I whipped myself around to see the lanky Irishman who normally sleeps in the far corner, pulling my blanket over his legs as if it were his own bed.
It was so absurdly inappropriate my body sprung to life and gave him a hard shove that almost sent him over the side.
He regained his balance and gave me a puzzled look, like I was being rude to him and he was genuinely hurt.
“Calm down,” he urged, as if he were the voice of reason.
“What?! Are you insane? This is my bed!”
He sprang up and marched back to his own bed. “Fucking yankee!” he snapped, then dropped into the fetal position on his mattress.
It took a few moments before I realized that it wasn’t a dream, and there was no hope of getting back to sleep. I wasn’t exactly frightened, just completely stunned. I will never know what he was thinking.
I sat out on the hostel’s porch and read my book until sunrise.
My flight was supposed to leave at noon, so I gave myself plenty of time, getting packed and on the airport train by 10. There were delays en route due to track work, so I ended up arriving at the international terminal with only 30 minutes before I had to be checked in.
But my 12:15 Brisbane-to-Auckland was nowhere to be found on the big board. I asked at the information desk, where I was reminded that my flight has a stopover in Sydney, so I was technically checking in for a domestic flight. The domestic terminal was the next stop on the train I’d taken, but I’d already surrendered my ticket.
I went back to the train ticket desk, beginning to trot now. The ticket man swore he didn’t recognize me, but still ended up giving me a free pass to catch the next train. Stroke of luck number one. Twenty minutes later I arrived at the domestic terminal.
The auto-check-in kiosk rejected my passport and ticket number, so I queued up for the counter. When I finally got there I was informed that I needed to present a printed copy of my e-ticket out of Auckland.
“Oh they’re very strict about that,” she assured me. “They won’t let you in without proof of onward passage. So I can’t possibly check you in for this flight.” She stressed the “possibly.”
I told her I could show her my ticket if I could only access my email. Or she could call Cathay Pacific and confirm it.
“Oh I can’t phone. There are internet terminals upstairs, but there are no printing services. It is your responsibility to provide all necessary documentation.”
Stroke of luck two arrived at this moment: the board now said my flight was delayed by 40 minutes. That gave me a bit of extra time, but not enough to zip back to the city to find a printer. So I lugged my bags to the sales desk, hoping to change my flight to the following day.
The Qantas guy told me my fare didn’t exist the next day, and it would be quite expensive to change. “All I can think of is calling somebody who could get it from your email, print up your ticket and fax it here.”
Praying that I could catch my Mom at home (the only person I knew with a fax machine) I rushed to the nearest pay phone, punched in the 35 digits necessary to use my calling card, getting at least one of them wrong, evidently, before I realized that I didn’t know the number to have it faxed to. I ran back and snaked my way into the exit of the velvet-rope maze.
The clerk caught a glance of my distressed face, and told me to follow him behind the counter. He led me into the cramped offices behind the big Qantas sign to an ancient desktop computer and said, “Do what you can do.” I flipped on the grubby monitor and was thrilled to find Google’s homepage waiting for me.
I pulled up my ticket in Gmail, and clicked Print. Nothing happened.
“Oh we can’t print from webmail here,” some other guy said, “That’s just the way it’s set up.”
My heart tightened. “I really hope you’re wrong,” I said.
We waited. Just as I stopped holding my breath, the printer kicked on and shuffled out my itinerary.
I made my way out of the cubicle maze, bidding profuse thank yous, and bolted to the check in.
After passing security, I heard my flight number mentioned in an announcement. The woman at the counter (the fourth counter of the day so far) told me my flight was delayed again and would not make my connection in Sydney. She put me on a direct flight from Brisbane to Auckland, which left at 7pm and arrived at midnight.
Sometime during the six extra hours I had at the airport, I came across the internet terminal the meaner clerk had referred to. Sitting beside it, mocking me, was a public-use HP laser printer.
I jumped off the airport bus, somehow having gone three stops too far, onto Auckland’s busy Queen Street a little after 1am.
After six weeks out of the country, I had almost forgotten this, but virtually all New Zealand towns get a bit rowdy at night. Back home in Canada, you see drunks roam the streets in threes and fours, but in New Zealand it’s in tens and twelves. You can hear them shouting and howling and smashing bottles, blind drunk and in big enough groups that they feel invincible.
Most of the bars are up on the notorious K Road, which I would have been happy to avoid, but it was the only way to cross the motorway, so I walked fast and tried to look not worth the trouble.
A pack of ten or so was headed my way on the other side of the street. They were twentysomethings, probably young professionals by day, who looked like they’d been well-dressed when they left home. Guys in button-up shirts, now mostly unbuttoned and untucked, girls stumbling in heels and miniskirts, all of them loud and shitfaced.
On the other side of the bridge it was a lot quieter. There was one last bar, a poorly-lit working-class place. I marched by on the other side of the street, and glanced over at a huge tattooed Maori guy standing out front. He was far away but I felt like he saw me look at him.
“That’s it! Stick to the light, mate! Stick to the light!” He laughed like a movie villain, and it echoed.
When I was past the bar strip, I slipped down a sidestreet to get off K Road into the residential area. I couldn’t hear the drunks any more, and this neighborhood was completely asleep. I walked for blocks and blocks on the way to my host’s place, with no sign of people until the last block.
It was a young woman carrying a violin case, coming down the sidewalk. She was looked happy about something.
When we got close I said “Hi” but my voice didn’t work. She said “Bonjour” but she definitely wasn’t French.
I found my host’s place. He made us some tea, we talked a bit and he showed me to my room.
At 4am, I was sitting up in a bed in the centre of a freezing garage, wrapped in a quilt, watching my breath billow out in front of my tiny laptop screen. I couldn’t sleep. I played solitaire and won.
When I finally did put my head down to sleep, I wondered for a second what the rest of the Irishman’s day had been like.
Truth #17: Every passing face on the street represents a story as complex and compelling as yours.
Photo by Jason Pratt