Stopover in Frankfurt -by Juan M.S.

Thiago had been waiting for this day for a long time. Back in Curitiba, he’d contacted a Polish university and they’d told him he could study there; he just needed to pay a fee because he wasn’t European. He’d always wanted to live in Europe, and Poland had appeared as a good option to him. He’d found a cheap ticket for a flight from Sao Paulo to Warsaw, with a stopover in Frankfurt. The air company was Condor, a German company that offered one way tickets for half the price of round trip tickets, which was something rare in air travelling, even though it sounded just fair enough. So he’d checked for prices in the lowest season and had got a flight ticket for 400 euros, and that’s how his dream of living in Europe had started. He knew he’d have to incur more expenses once he got to Poland. For one, he’d have to pay for studies, but he was already paying in Brazil, as he’d opted for a private university that offered him better services than public ones. He was by no means a rich guy, but his parents supported him financially and they helped him in everything they could.

He hadn’t signed any documents yet, because he preferred to do it in person, but he was in contact with the university. He hadn’t applied for a visa either because, in that case, he’d have to wait for it in his own country. It was much easier to go to Poland and process his visa there, since he had a three month visa free period in the Schengen area, so that was the plan.

He went from his city to Sao Paulo by bus and, once at the bust terminal, he took a shuttle that went directly to the airport, although its fee was six times the amount of city bus tickets. At the airport he saw that, as expected, he’d arrived eight hours before departure. He found a relatively comfortable chair and used this excessive amount of free time to try to finish Paulo Coelho’s O Diario de un Mago, which he wasn’t finding very interesting. He’d liked O Alquimista and Veronica decide morrer, but the book he was reading proved that you can never trust an author to write a good book. Two hours before departure, the check-in started and he was soon waiting at the departure area. Unfortunately they didn’t allow him to bring his bottle of coke with him so he needed to buy a new one. At the shop, an Argentinean guy started talking to him; something related to the book he was reading. He was always amiable, as most of Brazilians, but the Argentine caught him unawares and it took him some time to get used to his lazy pronunciation of the Portuguese nasals and his Spanish interference in his choice of words. When he finally started to make sense of what his interlocutor was saying, the topic was changed; the Argentine was asking him where he was going. Thiago explained his whole plan in simple words while he invited him for a walk; he needed to stretch his legs. When they touched upon the name of the company Thiago was traveling with, the Argentine made an ominous grimace and said simply: “I traveled with that company once.” The word “once”, accompanied by a dejected countenance, didn’t particularly make Thiago expect a positive story, but he asked him: “What happened?” anyway.

I was actually doing the same thing you’re doing. I study in Poland now, and back then I also didn’t have a visa and traveled by this cheap airline,” said the Argentine.

Amazing,” said Thiago, refering to the fact that both of them shared the same goal.

Yes,” continued the Argentine. “But when I arrived to Frankfurt, the police stopped me, as they stopped everyone else on that plane. I haven’t seen such a display of authoritarianism when I traveled by Air France to Paris or by KLM to Amsterdam. When I was without a visa, they usually just asked me where I was staying and I just showed my hostel reservations. But in Frankfurt almost every person was taken away for interrogation. When it was my turn at the port of entry, they asked me strange questions such as how much money I had, what was my whole plan for the journey, why I didn’t have a return ticket and why I hadn’t processed my visa in advance. I mean, I could’ve answered to all these questions by saying that I didn’t have a visa or return ticket because it wasn’t mandatory to enter the Schengen Area, and that what I did or didn’t do during my visa free period was my business, but I was really candid and explained my whole situation to that guy because his senseless questions inspired me with the fear of the unknown, as if the whole conversation were just a distraction maneuver to find out something he could use against me. But I felt clean so I opted to answer honestly to every question he made, so as to finish as soon as possible; my next plane departed in one hour. To my surprise, he didn’t let me pass but he called two policemen who escorted me to a small room. They didn’t ask me further questions, nor they responded to my entreatment to let me go because I was missing my plane. They released me just fifteen minutes to departure and I ran as a madman, but the bus that took passengers to the plane had already left. At the beginning I thought they were going to put me on another plane; thus I induced from the countenance of the woman at the check-in counter. But after a couple of phone calls, she calmly told me that the previous plane had arrived more than an hour before so the company wasn’t responsible for my missing the second plane. I said I was stopped by the police, but she simply said that that wasn’t the company’s fault. She immediately offered me a last minute flight ticket, which I logically thought to be cheaper. I despised the woman for trying to sell me stuff to help me out of a situation her company was responsible for, but I just wanted to finally arrive to my destination and, I don’t know why, the whole police affair instilled a fear of deportation in me, which I was happy to leave behind as soon as possible. So she showed me the way to another counter, where a man offered me a ridiculously overpriced ticket. While I struggled with the idea that airlines charge more for a place that is probably going to remain empty, I asked the guy to give me just a normal ticket. So I bought a not-so-expensive, but still very expensive ticket for a flight to Poznan the next day.

Now I just had to wait. While I sat somewhere near a socket, a Mexican guy approached me and, after he offered me something to drink, we became airport friends. I saw a pretty girl nearby and I went to say hi; she happened to be a Brazilian girl going to Berlin in a few hours. The three of us hung out together and, after deciding we were hungry, we went for a walk to try to find a supermarket, which the Mexican guy said was nearby. On our way, we passed by the train station, which happened to be next to the airport, and, to my deep regret, I learned that a train ticket to Poznan would’ve cost me less than half the price of the flight ticket and that the train departed that same night. I cursed a lot more the stuff at the air company, who hadn’t had the decency to tell me the train station was just a few steps away, but I just comforted myself with the idea that a couple of hundred euros was a small price to pay for my dream of being in Poland at last. On our way, we also met an Argentinean girl who was weeping inconsolably. When the Mexican guy asked her why she was crying, she said that her flight to Hamburg had been delayed and she needed to stay for one night at a hotel nearby the airport. For the way she was crying, I was waiting for something more, like: and I won’t make it to my German grandmother’s funeral tomorrow, or: and I have to pay for the hotel, or at least: and I’ve just hit my foot against the door, but… nothing. She was actually crying just because her flight had been delayed and the air company had behaved decently enough to give her a hotel room with food included. “Pampered higher class girl,” I thought, committing a pleonasm, “whose idea of tragedy is to be delayed while traveling through Europe with a budget that would feed a whole family for at least five months.” And we just walked away. The next day I took my plane and, fortunately, I arrived to Poznan in the end. A year later I met a German girl whom I told this story, and you know what she said to me? She said that it was my fault and that I should’ve booked two flights with more margin between them. We never met again.”

Thiago was upset by the story. He hadn’t thought of a possible delay once he got to Germany. On the airline website, it was written that he should be three hours earlier to go through customs for flights to the Schengen area and he’d actually arrived eight hours before. But he hadn’t thought he could still have trouble at his stopover in Frankfurt; besides, the company had offered him these flights with just an hour and a half of margin between them, and there was nothing he could do because those were promotional tickets. When it was time to board, he bid goodbye to the Argentine and got on his plane. He couldn’t sleep, as usual on planes, and he arrived already worried to Frankfurt. But nothing could’ve prepared him enough for what he saw once there. At the port of entry there was an interminable queue of Brazilians being stopped by the police; all the Germans coming back home with a reddish suntan were evidently gone in a few seconds. He saw just a few Brazilians been let through, while the majority was escorted somewhere. When his turn arrived, he already knew what was going to happen. The conversation developed as if it had been rehearsed. Everything the Argentine had told him, was happening to him now. He was hopelessly escorted to a small room, where he heard a Brazilian man sobbing while he paid a 4000 euros fine in cash for both him and his wife. But there was a new element in the story, an element that brought him up from slumber. A policeman was asking him for some contact number to the university he’d applied to. He gave it to them and they called. At the same time, they introduced him to an interpreter who was going to translate the questions they’d ask him. Apparently the previous policeman hadn’t understood him well and an interpreter was required. They told him this would cost him a hundred euros and he refused to pay, but they remarked that, if he didn’t accept, they’d simply deport him. They called the Polish embassy and he heard an argument between them; the German police was refusing to let him go. They alleged that his intention to study in Poland wasn’t clear enough and that if they released him, he might as well stay illegally in Germany. Thiago was outraged at what he was hearing. He knew he had the right to stay there without a visa for three months, so he felt simply violated by these unfounded accusations. But mainly he felt sad and desperate; he was so close, just a couple of hundred kilometers from his goal, and he was going to be sent back to where he’d started. He didn’t resist, the policeman beside him looked like a German shepherd on the brink of biting him, and he didn’t want to add more injuries to his already offended and injured self. The police gave Thiago’s passport to the plane captain and asked him to give it back once they arrived in Sao Paulo. When he got his passport back, not even a stamp had been put on it. It was as if he’d never been to Germany.

 

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