July 2007, Paris. That was my second visit to Paris. I went to Brussels for an assignment of 4 weeks and before return, traveled to Paris for some work. The flight ticket was booked from India to Brussels & back, so had to catch another train for coming back to Brussels. I was put up in the Best Western hotel near place d’italie. On the other side of the crossing, there was a place where train tickets were available. I had to catch an evening train, so had plenty of time to buy the ticket. So, I packed my bag, left the hotel and went to the ticket office in the afternoon. I took a token – the number was something 300 plus. Soon I realized that my assumption of “plenty of time” was wrong……
There was only one counter open and the present running number was 56. So, even if she spends 5 minutes on each customer, in next 4 hours, only 48-50 tokens will be handled and my train will leave before I even reach the counter. I was slightly jeopardized and was thinking what to do. I suddenly heard a voice “Do you need some help, Sir”? It was a French lady with a grocery bag in her hand. “Ya, is there any alternative way I can book my ticket. I have a train to catch and not sure if I will get a ticket this way”.”Well, I can help you. I have an extra token. Number is 62. I took two tickets by mistake. You can take one of them”. I didn’t even think twice. I took the token and stood in the queue. My turn came soon after her and I reached the counter.
The real drama started after this. People who were standing in the line for long did not realize the token exchange story. They saw an Indian man coming in, taking the token from the machine and standing in the line and suddenly reaching the counter. The protest first started with an old lady approaching me and saying something in French. Without knowing even a single word in French, I realized that the words were not very nice. When she realized that I was not understanding her favorite words, she turned to the young lady at the counter. Then started an intense awe-inspiring game which I could only enjoy from the gallery. The gal tried to prove that I had the right token, but it was impossible in their eyes, so they demanded a proof. The token was already thrown in the dustbin, so only way to prove my innocence was to search in the dustbin and get it out. After some 15 minutes of long and nasty conversation, the gal emptied the dustbin in front of the crowd and started searching. When they found the token 62 in the dustbin, they had no more points to make. The gal was victorious, so was I. The face of the crowd was worth watching – they looked at me as they have never seen such a magician before. Some of them were speaking English too. I once thought I would clarify, but that would have initiated a new fight, so I decided just to keep shut, smile and enjoy the moment of victory.
It is a small incident in my life but I thought of writing it down before it gets washed off from my mind. A lot of things would have been different had I missed my train that day.