We are our brother’s keeper, sometimes. A short tale of our human inter-dependency.

In October, I arrived at my AirB&B in the 11th Arrondissement of Paris. It was the third AirB&B I had arranged (of five) for my month-long trip, which sent me through the central train stations of Paris several times that month, in between visits to other parts of France. 

Each time, so far, it had gone perfectly.

This time, the instructions were lengthy. Outer door code (to the ‘porte cochère’, the massive door that opens inward onto Parisian courtyards). Inner mailbox code, to provide the key to the correct apartment tower. Code for the lockbox next to the apartment door. Seamless, they said when they sent me all the codes. Easy.

Unless someone makes a mistake.

The first code worked fine. When I entered the courtyard, the first thing I saw was one of the mailboxes hanging open. Yep. Mine. The one that allegedly should have contained the key to the apartment tower. 

No key.

One cannot call the AirB&B host. All you can do is contact AirB&B, in general, wherever they are. But my American phone wasn’t working yet in France. I could have set that up better, but it wouldn’t have mattered, I guessed, since you can’t contact them directly. 

I tried everything, but the possibilities were extremely limited. The key wasn’t there. I couldn’t get in. I had spent the whole day on high-speed trains, lugging all my stuff from platform to platform and all over the métro to get here. I needed food. A nap. Rest.

Paris train stations can be a marathon of endurance!

Through a ground floor courtyard window, a woman was moving about in a well-lit apartment. I knocked on her window. She was very friendly. (My fluency in French helped.)

She knew that sometimes people came through the courtyard looking for a lockbox to an AirB&B. We looked. There was a lockbox, lying on the ground near the wall. We tried everything. No key.

She had no computer. We had no idea how to contact anyone concerned. We talked with everyone who passed by (it was rush hour, and everyone was coming home from work). No ideas.

By now I was hungrier, and even more tired. I needed a bathroom. I was out of options. The friendly woman gave me information about a hotel around the corner, that she knew and recommended. 

But I had already paid for my room. 

By this point I was asking everyone who came through the courtyard on their way up to their apartment about the AirB&B apartment. Many of them knew it, but no one knew the person who ran it, or had any idea how to get in.

A young man entered the courtyard, picked up his mail, overheard my conversations. He asked what was wrong.

He was probably my son’s age, and as we chatted I learned he was in the military and worked with NATO. Friendly, open. Concerned about my plight. His phone worked just fine, and he began trying numbers he found on line. I just let him work. He knew my story, and apparently, he knew how to get things done. Between attempts, we chatted. I tried to keep things light, but I probably sounded pretty desperate by then. 

AirB&B is an American thing; I was sure that even if he could contact them, on the other side of the world, there was little they could do for me here, in Paris. In the evening. Right now. 

“Oui, madame,” I heard him say finally, “parfait. (Perfect!) Une demie-heure.” (A half-hour.) I didn’t dare believe it!

He’d done it! After many attempts, he’d finally reached someone, somewhere, who could have someone in Paris come find me with a key. 

My hero!

I could feel tears threatening. I thanked him profusely, and he finally headed upstairs to his apartment. I invited him to come have coffee, or dinner — a stab at my immense gratitude — but he had to go out in a little while. He told me his name, but I was in no state by then to remember details like that. After almost 2 hours of imagining myself sleeping on the ground or in the seedy little hotel around the corner (I hadn’t been impressed by the neighborhood), after a whole day of traveling, I was beside myself. My mind had shut down.

A half-hour later, when he came down to go meet his friends, he was surprised to see me still there, waiting. But he had obligations, and on the phone they had told him someone was on the way. So he left.

Someone did eventually come with the key. He was irate that either the mailman had left the mailbox open so someone stole the key, or that something else unknown had occurred. The whole time we walked up to get into the apartment, he was on his phone, berating someone about having had to drive across all of Paris to fix this. He was angry. I was exhausted. We both did our best to be civil. 

All’s well that ends well.

But it might not have ended so well if my young man hadn’t stopped to help me. I hope he reads this someday, and knows how grateful I am that he was there, and willing to take the time to help me. 

Sometimes, on our own, we’re just out of options. It’s not a question of how independent or strong we are. 

Sometimes, we just need each other.

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