The man who nearly didn’t arrive…

IT’S gone eleven when the phone rings. I drive across the dead leaves and head into town. The wind is getting up and the leaves are restless. At the station our latest guest is sitting on a bench looking tired and frazzled.

Originally he wanted to arrive at five when I was booked to play squash (or swearing and despairing, as this game is also known). So we settled on 6.30pm.

Sometime after that our guest, a visiting doctor, phoned to explain what had happened to him. His simple journey from London to York had turned into a nightmare. And he was still in London, waiting for the next train.

But he is here now, at long last. I take him to the car, drive home and park over the dead leaves.

‘Ah, autumn,’ he says as we go inside.

I don’t usually pick guests up, but this one had had a hell of a day and had sounded flustered on the phone.

Inside the silent house I make him a cup of tea. Sitting at the dining table he tells me his story. Sometimes it is a little difficult to understand what he is saying. But then he doesn’t always catch my words either. Incidentally the guest before this one thought I sounded German, which was odd.

Halfway to York, our guest had realised that he’d lost his money-belt bag containing his passport, visas, all of his money and his credit cards. He made his plight known to the guard. A frantic phone call to the offices at King’s Cross station followed. Our guest realised he must have dropped the bag when he went to the lavatory. The bag had been found and was being kept for him at the station. But it couldn’t be forwarded and he would have to pick it up.

The guard wrote out a special ticket so that our guest could return to London for his bag. When he arrived, the bag wasn’t at the station. Due to reasons of bureaucracy it had been forwarded to the relevant consulate. Our guest chased over but the consulate had closed at 5pm.

Without money or anywhere to stay, he was in a panic. But his misfortune now ran into a good deed. Someone returned to open the consulate and retrieve the bag.

Back at the station, around the time that he phoned me, our visitor encountered another good deed. When he explained what had happened, the ticket office gave him a new hand-written ticket. So his interrupted journey hadn’t cost anything extra.

Over a late-night cup of tea, he tells me about his stressful day. The waves of anxiety are almost visible. Then he tells me about his life, tells me quite a lot about his life, private things that it wouldn’t be fair to repeat here. Nothing shocking, but some people’s lives are very different, and difficult.

Now it is 7.30am and he is sitting at the dining table again with another cup of tea.

‘Let’s hope today is simpler,’ I say.

‘Ah, yes, no, yes!’ he says.

Shortly after that I walk him round to the bus-stop. I haven’t seen him again. So the bus must have arrived. And he must have left on it, with all of his belongings. I return to the house, yawning.

Intersecting lives – that’s one of the pleasures of being an Airbnb host. Well mostly I think that. Sometimes my wife thinks we let guests intersect a little too much. When we stayed at an Airbnb in Bristol, there wasn’t much overlapping or talking. Just a pleasant room for the night and breakfast. On the Sunday morning we got our own breakfast and left without seeing our hosts again.

Maybe we should be more like that. Then again I enjoy meeting people from different places with different stories to tell. Or people from the same place but with different stories to tell. People come wrapped in so many tales.

It’s a big world out there. I may be contained in a semi in York, trying to sort out my life. But sometimes the world comes to your door. And that’s good. Even when they arrive late and in a terrible fluster.

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