On December 23 a customs agent, with a thick uncut mustache, made his appearance in my life and denied me permission to board the plane to Delhi.
"There is no space in your passport to seal it. You need a new one, "he concluded after exhaustively reviewing my documents. I did not know whether to cry, laugh, scream, run or simply resign myself. I only regretted a little and said to myself "what's next". It seemed a bad joke, but, on the other hand, it was what there was, and there was a situation to solve that had been dragging for a few weeks. So, despite the frustration and anger, I trusted and let everything flow until it found its way.
We had no hotel in Frankfurt, or anything to do there, so together with my children, and with all our baggage, I decided to return to Paris, where I had lived some of my best years, to spend Christmas while I managed to resolve the issue of the passport , something that, especially considering the dates, would require all my delivery and action. The children were thrilled, because a Christmas in Paris meant snow and a beautiful view towards the Eiffel Tower, which tore the veil of the night with its three hundred meters of illuminated iron. Not everything was negative or regretful, there was a halo of joy and, especially, the attitude. The fact that we had got a hotel room was already a good sign.
Christmas dinner in the hotel lobby. On the other side of the window the Parisians, always unblemished in their attire, looked at us curiously while we distributed letters and gifts for each one. It was an extraordinary, unexpected dinner, one of those spontaneous rituals that you take everywhere and that make you feel good wherever you go.
Early the next morning I arrived at the Indian embassy to leave my passport in the hope that the process would be quick, a couple of days at the most. My family was already in Delhi, waiting for the children and me. Every morning we got ready to leave the hotel with the mountain of luggage, ready, according to us, to board the plane that would take us to the mystical land of the Upanishads. Every day the same story, going from the hotel to the embassy with our luggage, sometimes waiting up to three hours for the same official who had received my application to tell me that my passport was not ready yet. And so on the next day. We lived in a loop, between despair and humor, resignation and trust.
"Come back tomorrow please," said the man with a pronounced Indian accent, without the slightest embarrassment that I and the children had lost half a day in the embassy offices. And again to load the suitcases to the hotel where fortunately every day we find a room available in the middle of the holiday season, just to spend, perhaps, one more night. The children began to resent this strenuous routine. I noticed them tired, bored, fed up with the hours of unsuccessful waiting.
Day after day I formed in the same row, under the sign of procedures. The official always attended me. Today I barely remember his face, but at that time all day I thought of his face, full of frustration at not being able to reach others in Delhi. This man was shouting with his subordinates, sometimes he did it in his mother tongue and sometimes in English. A lady, whose presence I did not notice at the beginning, formed in front of me every morning. I do not know at what point I realized that I was wearing the same dress daily.
I wanted it to be a simple nightmare, that I wanted, but no, it was reality, a part of all reality. Deep down I felt calm, knowing that we do not always (or never) have control. Despite the stress, the monitoring and all the time and energy invested in fixing the mishap of the visa, in the end I was at peace, because I found myself doing absolutely everything and more than what was in my hands.
After waiting in line for about half an hour, sometimes a little longer, I was finally made to move into another room, where I sat, irremediably, in the same chair as usual for about two and a half hours, leafing through leaflets, Looking at the ceiling, the counter, at my children, the messages from my family that kept asking us how everything was going.
"Come back tomorrow, please," the screaming official repeated to me.
My trip became a slow and overwhelming repetition, a loop. My body began to resent the routine. I stopped perceiving the movement. The days passed identical, one after the other, farther and farther from the trip to India, as if time were in reverse, as if this force, this kind of invisible ballast, had taken over me and my children. As if for some reason that I did not know, life made me repeat the same experience every day, in order to enlighten my understanding so that I could discover what had anchored me to Paris.
There came a time when I asked myself, what would happen if this were the goal of my vacation? What would happen if it were a trip that never begins? I came to think that something inside of me, something that I had left unfinished, was being reflected in the outside world. I'm not saying it was a fantasy, at all. The fact was as real as the Eiffel Tower. I began to suspect that maybe there was something in my inner world that had led me to this repetition. I needed to solve all the pending things in my life, of which I, and only I, was responsible. And while I was realizing it, at the same time I wanted to cry and, two seconds later, send everyone from the embassy to the devil.
My vacations became a metaphor for repetition. How about life was that, a repetition, an endless line and a chair where you perpetually wait for something to happen? There was a moment, I do not remember which day with precision, in which the line of the embassy was filled with people who spoke all the languages of the world. I thought I was daydreaming with the Tower of Babel turned into a kind of international bureaucracy from which none would get what we needed. I wondered how I was participating in that stupid bureaucracy in which there was no movement. I dedicated myself to reflect, in my long hours of waiting, on the part of my life in which I was doing bureaucracy, pretending that I did and did not do things in reality.
In the midst of despair, I committed myself to carry forward all that was pending, all that I myself had left in immobility, stuck in my long line of bureaucracy. I would take care, as soon as I returned home, to solve situations that I had left in the quagmire, starting with my immigration status in the United States.
I finally made the determination to return to Mexico with my children. Twenty days after I left my passport at the embassy, I requested it back. When I finally arrived at the window where I could supposedly take my documents, the screaming official told me:
"I'm sorry, but your passport was lost."
I was struck down, as if lightning had struck me. If I had waited another twenty days, hoping that the embassy would solve my problem, it would not have helped. We would never make the happy trip to India.
I returned to Mexico without documents, with a letter from the consulate that said that I was who I said I was, so they would let me in. Emilio had to pick up the children. When I was waiting at the airport customs to be allowed to enter the country, I had that same feeling of immobility that I had become accustomed to at the Indian embassy. I had been sitting in a very uncomfortable plastic chair for a while, when a customs agent approached me, holding my letter in his hand, looked at me as if trying to find out if I was hiding something, and said:
"You can go out for that one door".
The journey that never begins, was finally over.