The Building that Saved Me

We were waiting aboard this modern jet for takeoff, me and several of the people from my CELTA group. There was no telling where we were headed but everyone was strapped in and specifically one of the teachers, she was seated in the back, atop this sort of sofa which stretched the width of the fuselage. I looked back at her from mid-plane and exchanged with her a warming smile.

The air was abuzz with nervous, excited twittering:

“Will it work?”

“I feel so lucky!”

“…history is being made here today.”

…and the like. The aircraft must have been new technology, and that day must have been its inaugural flight.

After a short time the lights dimmed and an engine whirred to life. It kept a low hum, and contrasted with conventional airplanes the way an electric car might with an old Peugeot. I braced myself, not knowing what to expect.

With smooth but sickening alacrity the jet whipped forward and up. Our ascent, we were making it through a short corridor of tall buildings, punctuated at the far end by two pylon-shaped structures dotted up and down with windows. As we were passing them the aircraft banked left at an impossible angle and began to extend a bit in the middle, wrapping around the left pylon like a salamander; we were breaking some barrier, possibly light as physical matter was bending as we went snugly around this huge pylon-structure. I understood then that we were to be shot like a slingshot outward at some unintelligible speed toward our destination. We’d be there in minutes.

Just as we were on the brink of coming full around, we failed to clear the pylon. The pilot had driven too close and one of the wings clipped the structure. No one could hear it as the plane cracked at my seat, and I didn’t have the presence of mind to call out, futile as that may have been. Strapped to my seat I tumbled through the air into the bay below as the plane frisbeed down and down, disintegrating in stages until it landed somewhere in the bay-side city in loose pieces without an explosion; all its fuel had been sprayed out in a mist, dissipating in the air.

I was the only survivor, bobbing in the water.

Yesterday morning I woke up from this dream and stumbled into the shower. Of course I was disturbed, trying to piece a meaning together. The only survivor of a plane crash; what was happening in my life right now and how could I relate it? As the light bulb in our bathroom is out and our hot water tank is very small, I quickly scrubbed down in the dim light, was sudsy when Savi broke in and said, “The bus is leaving in twenty minutes.”

She had shut our alarm, the one which would tell us to rise in time to shower and pack, she had clicked it off in her sleep. That day we were headed to Gibraltar for a little border magic. It was the day after which I’d become an overstayed tourist in Spain and my mission was to leave the Schengen Area on my American passport, check in to the UK’s littlest territory on my Canadian passport, and re-enter Spain a few hours later, when none of the border guards on duty would recognize me. I’d shoot a few pictures of the Rock of Gibraltar, a few of the airport runway which cuts straight through the territory (and is in fact in the middle of an urban area), all while Savi waits in a rented car in a big city park in La Linea de la Concepcion.

We ran for a few minutes up the narrow, cobbled streets of Zafra, past the baffled pre-dawn cleaning crews, until Savi couldn’t continue. Lately she’d been coughing the night through, leading me to suspect the onset of asthma. Lungs burning in the cold, wheezing cough, and both of these exacerbated by a seasonal cold…even at a slowed pace we made the bus and I outfitted her with travel pillow, eye mask, and ear plugs. In the gloaming I shot a little of the trip, up until sunrise, while she stole back a couple hours of sleep.

Fog was resting heavily over and through northern Sevilla when we arrived. I woke Sav from the depths of a sleep cycle and she only woke fully when we ordered hamburger-bun tostadas and burned café con leche at the bus station café. The old ladies at the next table sat scandalized and staring, and the trick, I’ve learned, is to stare back and outlast them, to remind them of manners. Sated we collected a map and the bus number we’d have to take to get to the car rental place. The driver eyed us a bit and collected our money, and after ten or so minutes clinging to the padded handrail I surveyed the map and learned we’d be riding nearly the whole C1 line before we’d reach the rental office a full hour late.

In vying for deals, Savi had reserved some cheap Citroën in my name. We showed IDs, we showed the reservation number, and when it came time to show a credit card, we were found wanting; we had left the card at home, in Zafra. They refused to rent to us, and our plan was a shambles. Back at the bus station, across the street from the rental office, Savi wallowed and I tried to comfort her. What had been a complicated plan had indeed been too complicated and we had no reason then to be in Sevilla. Our hostel reservation for that night would go unanswered-for by us, and the car rental money was gone. Our bus fare had not borne fruit and we were starving and tired. All of Spain was buzzing from shop to shop in preparing for Tres Reyes Magos, their gift-exchange day. If we could get to Zafra and back with the card we could have the car, they had said; that would mean four lost hours on a bus and another 40 Euros down the drain…I collected Sav and we decided to head home and think of a solution after a meal. On the way back, beautiful Andalusia and its castles were visible from the highway.

After devouring a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, some reheated Chinese food, and the rest of the leftover pizza, I read online stories of Americans deported from Spain. It was a short read; there was only one, and from its dissuasive tenor and cleanliness I suspected the writing team of having been on government payroll. The other, completely positive accounts on ESL message boards felt less machined.

At risk of being judged a sun-worshipper, I admit that morning’s dream returned to me then. The whirlwinds looked too alike, and the forced removal from a situation felt so natural I couldn’t help but decide to let my tourist visa lapse. Having been so buffeted twice I opted for the sea, and let come what may.

Tomorrow we make for Sevilla again, and relative leisure along its storied streets and relative peace in our rescheduled hostel beds.