Paige and I approached passport control together. Simultaneously, we handed our passports to the angry-looking woman in charge.
She opened up my passport and studied the photograph.
She looked at me.
She looked at the passport.
I smiled nervously.
She furrowed her bushy eyebrows.
Then she repeated the whole process with Paige.
Slowly and deliberately, the woman pushed a passport across the desk to my waiting hands, maintaining eye contact the whole time.
The whole time.
She did the same with Paige.
“That was weird,” Paige said.
“No kidding,” I responded.
Relieved to have escaped, we tucked our passports straight into our bags and boarded our flight from Madrid to London.
Two days later, I was back at Heathrow, preparing to fly back to Indianapolis after nearly a year abroad. I had mixed feelings about returning – I wanted to see my friends and family, but I wasn’t ready to leave London, a city that I fell madly in love with after six short months.
I waited in the check-in line with my enormously oversized suitcase (rookie mistake), thinking about all the things I would miss: Portobello Market in Notting Hill, strolling along the Thames, even riding the tube.
Seriously. I loved the tube. Part of me still does.
“Excuse me, ma’am? This line is free.” An slick blonde flight attendant directed me to an available agent.
“Well hi there. Passport please.” She was American. It reminded me that I was going back to a world where everything was entirely familiar.
Despair and disappointment set in. I did not want to get on that plane, not yet.
As luck would have it, I didn’t have to.
“Um, ma’am?” The agent had been evaluating my passport for much longer than normal. What was with people these days?
“I’m sorry, but is this you?”
She turned the open passport around and my knees buckled. I slumped across the counter.
“That’s not me,” I whispered.
It was Paige.
“That’s Paige,” I explained, as if it meant anything to the woman. “My roommate. She must have my passport.”
Then it hit me. Madrid! Of course. She had deliberately given us the wrong passports, knowing we wouldn’t figure it out until it was too late. That heinous troublemaker.
I was certain of it. Certain! Who checks their passports in that situation?
I do now, but that’s beside the point.
“I obviously can’t let you fly on this ID,” the woman said.
I stepped away from the desk and rang Paige on my little orange mobile, the one I was hanging onto for the next time I visited London.
“Paige,” I gasped, on the edge of panic. “I have your passport.”
“Passport,” I said, gulping for breath.”You have mine.”
I didn’t handle situations like these very well back then.
“What are you talking about?” she asked. “Hang on.”
I heard rustling and footsteps on her end of the line.
“Lauren.” Her voice was flat. “I have your passport. This isn’t me. It’s you.”
“Madrid,” I said.
We were silent for a second.
“Bitch,” she whispered. “I’ll get a cab. See you soon.”
My flight left without me.
I didn’t want to leave, but I didn’t want to be stuck at Heathrow, either. Be careful what you wish for, right?
Paige eventually came tearing into the airport, my passport in hand.
“Sorry,” she explained. “Traffic.”
We swapped passports and looked at each other.
“Well,” I said. “I guess this is goodbye. Again.”
After briefly rehashing the goodbyes we’d already said that morning, I went to see what one does when they miss their flight.
The customer service rep for American Airlines banged furiously at her keyboard. I felt like it was more for show than practicality.
“I can put you on standby for the next flight to Chicago. If you make that, you’ll be on standby for the next flight to Indianapolis.”
I’d never been on standby before, and I haven’t since. They should really call it ‘limbo,’ because that’s what it’s like. I waited while all of the babies and VIPs boarded the plane. I watched as zones 1,2,3, and 4 scrambled to get on. I looked on enviously as two other standby passengers were called up.
When all of the seats at the gate were empty, a flight attendant came over.
“Lauren Fitzpatrick? We’ve got a seat for you,” she said. “I just need to see your passport.”
This time, I was ready.
“Don’t worry,” I said, handing it over. “It’s mine.”