The day 500-euro bills swirled around me

Moments

A magical story by Nirav.

money flying

It’s a chilly but sunny morning here in Corfu and I am pulling out my favorite sweater, a navy blue cardigan that has followed me everywhere since that morning 10 years ago, when I had just checked in and was settling in to my room on the 17th floor of my hotel in Bangkok.

Although I certainly have the Money Line, cash is something that I always had to work for and create. Except maybe that one day!

Let me backtrack a few hours and take you to New Delhi where I had just arrived from an extended stay in the Himalayas. It had been a long bus trip down from the mountains; we’d been delayed by a few landslides and a punctured tire, and it was near about midnight. I had a flight to Thailand the next morning and just needed a room for the night.

Exhausted, I made my way to the Paharganj main Bazaar that I knew like my own pockets. I hesitated between a couple of places as the rickshaw zoomed through the night, but “Take me to Hare Rama Guest House” is what came out of my mouth as we approached the bazaar. My words were met by a “Yes Sir, no problem, Sir,” and my driver soon stopped in front of the sleepy guest house. Hare Rama was a cheap den, rundown, gloomy, but I knew that their two rooms upstairs were usually available and that the bed was comfy enough for the night.

Indeed, room number 502 on the fifth floor was available. After the usual formalities, I walked up the steep marble staircase with my backpack, opened the door, turned on the fan, locked the door behind me, and fell on the bed delighted to finally be horizontal after a long journey…

I was pleased with my room; it had no windows, no a/c, no nothing, but the bed was as I remembered it, rather new and unusually comfortable. The white sheets and the pillow were also nice. I got up and took a cold shower. I could have easily called Reception and asked for “hot water please” and magic would have probably happened and hot water would have finally run through my shower – but how long it would have taken no one knew – and I could not be bothered.

As I got myself ready for bed I did something I don’t recall ever doing before – and something I would never fail to do after that night… I put my two hands under the edge of the mattress and lifted it. I don’t know what I thought, maybe I was just checking the quality of the mattress or was curious about the wooden plank it was sitting on. As I let go and the mattress fell back into place, a vacuum was created and one paper note swirled out and fell on the floor. I scratched my tired eyes, hardly believing it – it looked like a 500-euro note. I lifted the mattress again and whooooosh… here flew another 500-euro note from under the mattress.

Now, flabbergasted, I lifted up the mattress again and kept it in the air, properly checking what was hiding there underneath. Another perfectly flat, crispy, purple note was lying there. I inspected it with the other two more closely – yes, 1500 euros in total.

Hardly believing my luck while already dreaming of more, I searched on the other side of the bed also. No, that was it. “The previous person probably left in a hurry and forgot his stash,” I thought. Hippies like myself staying in this cheap part of town were famous for carrying cash, sometimes the full amount of what they needed for a six-month stay in India. And of course those 500-euro notes were extremely convenient and lucrative when exchanged on the black market.

It was getting late and I decided to get the sleep I needed and keep the bills on the bedside table until morning. I looked at them again, dazzled yet aware of the many thoughts running through my head, from “Maybe I should take them down to the reception now” to “Maybe I should hide them in case someone comes looking for them.” Leaving them there until morning felt like taking a smart middle way, and that’s what I did and I quickly fell asleep.

A knock at my door woke me up in the middle of a dream. “7 o’clock sir, your taxi is waiting,” said a voice on the other side of the door. Oh, yes, I remembered that I had ordered a taxi for 7:00! I sat on my bed, turned the light on, and quickly assessed the situation. The three notes were still there on the little plastic table, my bag was basically ready and I had plenty of time to get to the airport and catch my flight to Bangkok. I would have a coffee and something to eat at the airport. “Ok, I will be down in 10 minutes,” I replied.

I stood up and got ready, put on my pants, secured my money belt around my waist, and looked at those three big notes again, thinking… I put them in my pocket, planning a final spontaneous decision in the next five minutes. As I reached Reception, haggard, with my pack on my back, I was handed a small cup of sweetened tea and asked to sign the entry book with my time of departure and next destination. As I filled in the details I looked a few lines above mine to see who had been in room 502 before me. Gunter Schmid, check-out yesterday at 8 pm, next destination Frankfurt. OK, I thought, the owner of those notes was probably airborne to the West, and keeping the cash felt the only sensible thing to do. It was a gift from Existence, and I sighed in relief with a smile in my heart.

I paid my 350-rupees hotel bill, the taxi driver put my pack in the boot, I waved everyone goodbye, and off I went to the airport.

A few hours later, still exhilarated by my good luck, I was sitting in a full Thai Airways aircraft en route to Bangkok. The trip to the airport had been smooth as Thai silk, the flight left on time and I was now looking forward to my next adventure. Thailand was always my favorite place to hang out for a month or so while I renewed my Indian visa.

Sitting in a window seat, enjoying my lunch, a beer and the delightful Thai hospitality, I reflected upon that weird find in the Hare Rama Guest House last night. I couldn’t help but imagine the story behind my discovery, what had happened to that mysterious Mr. Schmid and if he had yet realized… I imagined him about to land in Frankfurt, short of 1500 euros. I also recalled the times I’d kept my own cash under the mattress and had to leave a hotel room in a hurry, maybe not yet well awake after a short night’s sleep. Had I ever left something behind?

“We are now flying over flooded Bangladesh,” announced the captain over the speakers, bringing to a standstill my fantasizing mind in full swing. I guessed that we were already halfway to Bangkok and it was time to stretch my legs. I stood up and slowly made my way to the back of the aircraft. The four toilets being occupied, I opted for another stroll. I remember feeling my money belt under my shirt and already planning to look at my three unexplained purple bills while in the lavatory. Somehow I was still in a kind of wonder and a part of me probably expected them to no longer be there.

Back at the lavatories. Above the doors, two lights were green, two were red. Hmmm, I thought, which one? Without time to inquire into the process that would see me push one door rather than the other, I pushed the one on the left.

I entered the cubicle. Aircraft lavatories have always fascinated me; the striking contrast between the tiny physical space and the considerable sense of privacy they provide. Aside from doing the obvious, here is a space where you suddenly can, as if by enchantment, make faces in the mirror, rearrange your balls, and check your wallet. I opened my money belt and pulled out the three notes I had carefully placed behind my own stash. There they were, still. I smiled, looked into the mirror and mumbled, “I am really lucky, I wonder what comes next?”

My eyes suddenly fell on something greenish behind the plastic hand cream dispenser. I reached out. Five notes nicely folded. 500 dollars in total. Now this was too much! I looked around and behind, looked on the floor… but that was it. No wallet, no ID, just those five notes. Had the passenger before me sorted her money and forgotten it there? Who was it? What to do now? What was going on?

Had it been in a wallet or with an ID next to it, I would have certainly taken it to an attendant, I thought, but just cash? I considered… Someone knocked on the door! I guessed I had been in there long enough and that it was time to go out. Was it the person whose cash I’d found? I put the five notes into my pocket, opened the door, looked at the man about to take my place and said, “Did you forget something?” I still remember the look on his face and his “No, I just need to shit.” OH? OK… sorry for asking such a question. I went back to my seat.

The rest of the flight was uneventful. I didn’t get up again but kept my senses open in case someone was looking for their lost money, and I decided to keep my treasure until someone asked for it – but eventually no one did and I landed in Bangkok with 500 extra dollars in my pocket.

I finally arrived at my longtime favorite condo just 10 minutes from buzzing Kao San Road. The lady at Reception simply gave me the key and told me to get the lift to the 17th floor and find my apartment. I would need to bring my passport down later, she explained, but there was no hurry. The flat looked delightful, with a large window and balcony overlooking the Chao Phraya River. It was beautifully clean and the floor was still wet. Someone had obviously checked out not long before.

I jumped on the big cozy bed. Wow, what a journey, I thought, so happy to be here! I would have a good shower and head to the streets in search of fruits and coconuts, and I would eat a green curry. It was my ritual on my first day here. I was hungry.

Coming from India, Thailand was a delight in many ways, and one of them was the safety box in each room. There it was, between the huge flat screen and the fridge. This one had a number lock, which meant one less key to carry and to lose. I fiddled with the door and the numbers, bent down, reached inside with my hand and there… a bulging wallet, huge, full to the max. I looked more carefully inside the dark metal box, went over the black velvet and emptied it. A few elastic bands and plastic pins and a pencil… otherwise nothing else but this wallet. I opened it. Travellers cheques, credit cards, dozens of big notes in Euro and US dollars, a bundle of 1000 Baht notes. Herr Rolf Honegger. Berlin.

A few crazy thoughts went through my mind, but I closed the wallet and put it back where I’d found it. I would keep it there as if I had not seen it, put my own valuables somewhere else and see what life had in store for me. I could not understand what this was all about. Was it a test? A gift? An omen?

For the third time on such a short trip, money which didn’t belong to me had appeared in front of me. Had this ever happened before? No, never.

I was so absorbed in my thoughts, staring at the safe and its mysterious wallet, feeling my rumbling stomach and floating in the magic of this inexplicable happening, that I almost didn’t hear the phone ringing.

“Hallo Mister!?” I recognized the voice of the lady at the reception.

“The person who checked out this morning just called,” she continued. “He was on his way to Ko Samet, but forgot his passport in the room. He will come back very soon. Do you mind if we come in with him when he arrives?”

“Yes of course, no problem,” I replied.

“Thank you, Mister, see you soon.”

I looked at the safe. “That is a lot of money in there,” I thought. But this time there wasn’t much to cogitate, the owner was on his way and would soon knock on my door. I emptied my bag onto the bed and started putting my few belongings away. As I opened the cupboard to hang my shirts, there was a gorgeous navy blue jumper neatly folded on one of the shelves. I looked at it, tried it on, and immediately fell in love with it. Perfect fit. I folded it back and put it where I had found it.

A knock on the door. “Excuse me for disturb,” said a middle-aged gentleman, “I forgot my wallet this morning, my taxi is waiting downstairs, do you mind if I come in?” I let him in and he walked straight to the safe, bent down, put his hairy hand inside and pulled out the wallet. “Here it is, thank you so much and enjoy your stay.” He must have trusted me because he hardly went through it.

“There is a blue jumper in the cupboard,” I added. “You must have also forgotten it.”

I took it from the shelf and handed it to him. “Oh, yes, but I don’t need it. You can keep it; it is brand new.”

I shook his hand, wished him a lovely trip to Samet and closed the door.

Nirav

Nirav is a painter and writer. philippenirav.wordpress.com

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