CHAPTER 3 - LOST IN SHANGHAI
As the plane descended and the ground approached, a multiple set of tires were unlocked to meet the black tarmac - a meeting of compact gravel, oil and condensed rubber.
Other than the screeching sound, sparks of white light, rising smoke and a slight jerk, it was a smooth landing.
With just one handbag in hand, Bashai - all by himself - passed through immigration barriers and, after walking for quite sometime through long corridors and tunnels full of shinning glasses, adverts and information of all kinds, he reached the arrival lounge expecting to find someone waiting for him.
He felt so exhausted and lonely.
If there was anything familiar in that overcrowded arrival lounge, it was unfamiliarity itself. Everything or every moving body looked Chinese - too unfamiliar for Bashai.
He never felt so lost in his entire life. This must be the beginning or the end of something.
It must be. He thought.
Time flew by and there was practically nothing he could do. There wasn't a single face he could recognize. He just sat there for hours searching for anything familiar.
He was approaching dangerous levels of desperation when a seemingly familiar guy passed him by.
"Scusi," shouted Bashai from the top of his lungs. He felt a sense of relief.
He walked with quick steps towards the man as the steps left tales or traces of desperation.
The man, quite by reflex, turned around and looked at Bashai with an expression of non-recognition.
Bashai, taken by surprise himself, said, "Sorry, I thought you were someone I knew."
"Everybody says the same thing here," the passer-by said in English and, with some assurance in his voice, added, "Maybe you do and maybe you don't. That is the way things look like here."
He was an Englishman, all right.
Quite relieved that he got some response from someone 'unfamiliar,' Bashai asked, "Where are we?"
"And where is that?" asked Bashai - with a facial expression beyond description. It was a mixture of surprise, loss, wonder, desperation, expectation and other mixed-up feelings that would make the whole place stranger that it already was.
"What do you mean 'where?'" asked the already friendly stranger. "Shanghai is an advanced version of China town. We are in China," he said, with a feeling of concern and as if he lived there for ages.
"China?" gasped Bashai and left his mouth open for longer than was necessary.
"The name is High by the way. Mark High," the stranger introduced himself and, he went on, "from the looks of you, I guess you are cyber-shy."
Bashai smiled - the first smile of recognition after so many hours.
"Yes," he said with a newly acquired confidence, "they call me Bashai. Piacere! [pleased to meet you].
Relieved beyond belief but with that not-so-sure expression, Bashai said, "I am not sure how I ended up in Shanghai."
"We all end up here - eventually," Mark High agreed with a kind-of-sure attitude.
"But I boarded the plane to go to ዓዲ ታሕታይ and not to Shanghai," Bashai was saying while Mark High was smiling.
"And where is that?" asked ማርካይ [Mark High].
ዓዲ ታሕታይ: a village so dear to Bashai. It was the name of a place Mark High never heard of.
Bashai was at a loss to translate. "The village of the lower land," he finally said and, as if he was trying to reassure himself, he repeated in Italian, "villagio di terra bassa!"
Not at all surprised and not bothered to find out where it was, Mark said, "I boarded the plane to travel to Havana myself and ended up here."
"You mean everybody is ending up here?" Bashai asked - quite unable to make sense of all that.
"More or less!" replied Mark.
"But why?" wondered Bashai.
"A lot of people forget to take their flights on time. They tend to forget their check-in time. It is like when we are too late and we don't know where we are going. The airports get extremely crowded and those passengers who are late are boarded on any plane that is on stand-by and with empty seats." Mark tried to explain. "And from there onwards," he concluded, "it's all a matter of luck!"
"But why Shanghai?" Bashai was still wondering. "ስለምንታይ ሻንጋይ?" He repeats in his own language – an involuntary reaction - as if his mother tongue would pose a better question.
"The Chinese are becoming good at providing stand-by planes with lots of empty seats all over the world. It is as simple as that."
"So, where do we go from here?" asked Bashai with a scared voice.
"If you have the money, buy another ticket and be on time. Otherwise, you will end up elsewhere. You could end up in Iceland and freeze to death next time," Mark advised.
Bashai was almost shivering by the thought of it.
Shortly after, Mark had to go.
"I am sorry but I have to take my next flight now. I don't want to be late in case I end up in Mongolia," Mark said, smiling and added, "maybe we will meet somewhere next time. Goodbye for now Bashai of Shanghai."
He left Bashai standing on his own - looking like an out-of-place statue that was surrounded by moving Chinese figures.
Bashai had no idea what to do or where to go. He just stood frozen.,, right there.