‘Every morning when I wake up, I think to myself, if something can go wrong, it will’.
My cousin says this to me on my recent trip to India…my other home. As we speak, I hear the cheers, groans and shouts of young men who play cricket in the indoor playground on the opposite side of the street, I hear traffic… loud horns, I hear the shouts of men in Kannada while they bang, bang, bang away at creating a new building next door, and closer…the whistle of the pressure cooker making my daal. I feel the dust in my nostrils, the warm air make contact with my skin. I smell the home-cooked food of my childhood.
After the ghostly silence, the great absence and the grey world of Oegstgeest in COVID times, the big buzz of Bangalore was evidence of things going right. Exactly right. There is life, where life is meant to be. I look at my cousin indulgently. Affectionately.
Soon enough, it is time to go back home, and I need a COVID test and report that shows negative within 72 hours of landing in Amsterdam. And so I call up a lab and get to speak to miss M, who assures me that a technician will be standing at my front door before 8.30 the next morning, and that I will have the report on my phone within 12 hours of the test and would I be so kind as to send her a location pin on Google maps? And so I do.
The next morning I am up very early, ready for the test. When the technician does not arrive by 7.45, a sound goes ‘ping’ in my head. Like an alert on my telephone. Only this one is in my head. There’s a flight ticket booked and I need a test and a report today, otherwise I will not be getting on that flight tomorrow.
Irrespective of it being ‘before office hours’, I call the same number I had used to speak to miss M the previous day. I hear a sleepy voice say ‘hello’. It isn’t Miss M but Miss R who listens to me.
Where is the technician who was supposed to come and test me?
Did he not call you asks sleepy Miss R.
No, I say, with a good deal of firmness. Please give me his phone number.
Miss R spends a few moments searching, and gives me the number of the technician, and (I imagine) goes back to sleep. I call Mr P (who is wide awake) who immediately says…but madam, I called you thrice yesterday evening. Your calls, I say, never registered on my telephone. If that is the case, he asks, how did you get my number? Because I called the lab number, I say. And I got Miss R who gave it to me, I say, very truthfully. And where are you, I ask, aggressively.
He promises to come in twenty minutes to test me.
It then dawns on me that while I was in the frenzy of packing the previous evening, I had seen a call come in. An unknown number. Tele – marketing, I had thought – a constant irritant in India, and so I had ignored the call. I look at the number of the call that came in the previous evening at 7.30 and compare to the one I had used to call Mr. P this morning. It is the same one, and indeed, there were three calls from him on my phone between 7.30 and 9.30 pm, all registered as missed calls.
So then I think of what my cousin said and retrace the events that led to this moment.
Miss M sounds very convincing when she tells me that the technician will be at my door before 8.30 am, and asks for my location on Google maps which I share with her.
I save the number I called her at with the name of the lab on my phone.
When Mr. P calls me (thrice after office hours), I don’t pick up because I am not expecting the lab technician to call me. Miss M did not tell me that he would call.
I call the lab number at 7.45 am when actually the technician is expected any time before 8.30. (the ‘ping’ in my head told me that if something can go wrong it will).
And lo and behold sleepy Miss R picks up the phone and connects me to Mr. P by giving me his number. (Hopefully Miss R goes back to sleep).
Mr P sees my number on his screen and picks up the phone, because something is clearly going wrong and he should be on his way to test me (I am the client with the capital C, otherwise called Miss C).
Mr P, the technician shows up, as promised, masked, with kit and documents all in order. Takes the test of Miss C and will therefore not get penalised for not doing his job .
All is well that ends well.
But perhaps that’s because, growing up in India one develops antennae that are customized to sense ‘if something can go wrong it will’. Even if this is not the waking thought in my head, those antennae are still around, twenty years after moving to the Netherlands. Just as well. They’re needed in India.
My cousin was right. Exactly right.
I made it back with the negative test report in my bag, which as promised was to be seen on my phone on the same day as the test.