She finally saw that the exit door was right next to the ‘No entry’ door. It seemed pretty anonymous, since there was nothing marked on it. Presumably that meant one could go through without being surrounded by the French ‘flics’ in about ten seconds.
Sophie stepped through, but no alarms went on. The signs to Terminal C were well-marked, but Sophie got side-tracked into McDonald’s where at least she could eat any weird thing at this time of morning without a French waiter looking down his long nose at her stupid choice for breakfast.
In the end, she settled for Deluxe potatoes, as ironically that corresponded the most closely to her current diet. The young girl at the counter thought that Sophie had gone quite mad, when she asked her for just hot water and actually paid for it. Since Sophie didn't want to drink the vile liquid that passed for tea on the Continent, she had brought her own herbal tea-bag along.
She looked around and found a table by the window. Too bad it was meant for four people. But Sophie hated airports and had to be able to see the sky to feel even human, so she took the seat by the window.
In fact, she didn’t know if it was morning for her biological clock or not. She felt as if she were caught in a No Time Zone in the long haul from Toronto to New Delhi. And here she was, stuck at the Paris airport for four, long, grey hours.
‘Is this seat taken?’ asked a man with a slow Southern drawl. Sophie looked up in mid-bite and could only nod, as she gulped the rest down in a hurry. Two tall Americans complete with business suits and lap-tops settled down as if they owned the table.
Five minutes later, Sophie regretted her courteous act as they spoke non-stop in a slow, monotonous drawl as only certain species of Americans can.
‘Zzing… zzing…’ Sophie couldn’t help giving a start.
‘Sorry, just my cell-phone,’ said the older of the two. At least they were nice.
‘Sorry we won’t be able to make it to the first session…’ Sorry was obviously one of his favourite words.
‘You can go ahead without us, no problem… no, no… we just missed our flight, that’s all… by the time we figured out where our Gate was, the damned thing had taken off… yeah, they paged us all right, but we just couldn’t figure out where to go…’
Sophie turned her sudden chuckle into a choking sound and pretended that her tea had gone the wrong way.
‘Yeah… Jeff's right here… couldn’t figure it out either… ha, ha… a computer is something else altogether… certainly knows his way around one… don’t worry, just go ahead and start the meeting and we’ll get there around noon… see you!’
Sophie had another choking fit in her tea.
‘You all right there, Ma’am?’ Jeff, the IT whiz kid looked concerned.
Sophie had a hard time keeping a straight face as she nodded. She couldn't help feeling guilty that they seemed concerned about her, even though she was secretly laughing at them.
‘Where are you from?’
‘India, eh? Lots of IT folks down there, eh?’
‘Yeah. You guys manufacture them or what?’ The older guy joined in, laughing at his own joke. ‘Hullo, I’m Sean, and this is Jeff’, he quickly introduced them.
‘I'm Sophie…’ She had long given up pronouncing her name correctly, Soofia, because two seconds later, she was christened ‘Sophie’ anyway.
‘So what do you specialize in, then?’ Jeff intervened before Sean could respond.
‘I’m guessin’ Java, ‘cause most Indians I’ve come across know it inside out…’
‘Oh, I’m from India, not Indonesia…’ Sophie couldn’t believe that a whiz kid wouldn't know the difference between India and Indonesia, even if they were both in Asia. Apparently by American standards, they were not too far away to be distinguishable from each other.
‘I didn’t know they had these guys in Indonesia too… if it's not Java, then it must be C, huh?'
‘Actually my hometown is quite far away from the sea, India is quite big you know…’
‘OK, how about C++ then? Most of you guys learn it in your sleep…’
‘C plus what? They forced some algebra down my throat at school, but it's been such a long time…’
‘Come on, is that too basic for you? I mean, you can’t be programming if you don’t even know…’
‘Oh! I’m not that kind of an Indian.’
‘Programmers and so on…’
‘But I thought you just said you were a writer…’
‘I am a writer, not just a programmer…’
‘So how can you write if you can’t even program… wait a minute. Is this some new gig that you guys have come up with and are not letting on?’ Suddenly Jeff’s chubby features took on a menacing look.
Sophie gulped nervously, wondering if she had the nerve to scream for help in French, if it came to that. In her sudden panic, she couldn’t even remember the words. Instead words in both Urdu and Hindi popped up and started dancing around in her head. She looked around to see if anyone would understand English or Urdu or Hindi. People seemed to be just chomping contentedly or gazing vacantly into space.
‘Not everyone writes software. Maybe she just writes regular stuff…’ Sean cut in.
Sophie could help letting out a sigh of relief. There were some Americans after all.
‘Regular? Like what?’ Jeff looked genuinely perplexed.
‘Like this!’ Sean grabbed up the latest best-seller that Sophie had been reading and thrust it under Jeff’s pugnacious nose.
‘See books and stuff for newspapers and magazines’ Sean drove home his point to a bemused Jeff.
‘Oh, that kind of stuff, I see… whatever…’ Luckily for Sophie, Jeff’s interest in her seemed to have dropped by about eighty percent.
‘Jeff here just gets carried away sometimes in his own geekie way…’ Sean explained to her.
‘So what do you write then?’ Jeff cut in before Sean could expound on his virtues any further.
‘Oh, just corporate stuff… brochures and things like that.’ Sophie hoped that this time her answer would be clear for Jeff and even looked around to see if she could show him an example, in case brochure meant something else in a programming language.
‘So you’re a content provider, then…’ Sean looked at her with renewed interest.
‘You could say that, I suppose.’
‘We need people like you…’
‘Oh?’ Sophie couldn’t help clutching her handbag. Sean seemed mild enough, but one couldn’t be too careful.
‘To populate our portal…’
‘Portal?’ A sudden vision of a secret sect, with lots of people enclosed behind giant portals came to Sophie’s mind. These guys seemed normal enough, but one never knew… As unobtrusively as possible, she started to pull the book towards her. It was too new, too expensive, not to mention gripping, to be left behind.
‘Basically it’s our intranet where we post all the Firm’s content.’
‘Sean is our new Global Knowledge Manager.’ Jeff showed off his non-IT related knowledge of the world.
‘Knowledge manager? Do you actually manage knowledge?’ Sophie couldn’t help asking.
‘I’m trying to figure that one out myself…’ At least Sean had a sense of humour.
‘Basically we put all the Firm’s knowledge in one repository and make it accessible to everyone… and that’s where someone like you would come in, ‘cause you would provide us with the content for the Intranet…’ Sean expounded further.
‘Did you realize you are now responsible for 84 countries? Sean was just named our Global Knowledge partner.’ This was from Jeff to fill Sophie in.
‘So now you manage your firm’s knowledge in all those countries?’ Sophie hoped she sounded as impressed as she was supposed to be. She even blinked a few times, hoping that it didn't look fake.
‘If you want to put it like that….’ Sean grinned proudly.
‘That’s why we’re having this London meeting to kick-start the whole thing off…’
‘Shucks! The meeting! We’d better figure out the damned Gate this time around…’ Sean got up.
‘Actually, it took me about five minutes too, to get out of the Terminal I’d landed in…’ Sophie chipped in, hoping to make them feel better about getting lost earlier.
‘Five minutes? We went round and round… had just under an hour to catch our second flight, which as you can see, we ended up missing anyway.’
Sophie had a coughing fit this time, wondering if Sean managed knowledge the same way as his business trips.
‘We’d better get going now,’ from a worried Sean.
‘Isn’t it two hours from now? We’ve got plenty of time….’ Jeff was not very inclined to being pulled away from the remaining chips, which he was lazily gulping down.
‘Can you figure out what it says this time round?’ Sean handed over his boarding pass to Jeff who looked at it from every possible angle.
‘Doesn’t make an awful lot of sense to me… the whole darned thing’s in French… they re-issued it here, you know.’ Jeff explained to Sophie, who was getting ready to leave too.
‘Didn’t they explain it to you, when you got it?’
‘The ticket lady blabbered off in French….’
‘…and when Sean here asked her if she spoke English, she looked kind of annoyed…’
‘…’cause she thought she was speaking in English….’
‘…and we left real quick after that….’
‘…or she would’ve have sued us or something…’
‘…looked ready to kill us…’
‘…couldn’t appreciate the joke, you see….’
‘…’cause it was on her!’
‘Yes, sometimes people don’t realize how funny they are,’ Sophie couldn't help agreeing.
‘Uh-oh, You know what, Sean? We might even not be in the right airport for this flight...’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Look, it says, Roissy CDG here and that’s not what it said in our other ticket…’
‘You sure Jeff?’
‘Yeah, I remember that, ‘cause I practiced it on the way over…’
‘What on earth would you do that for?’
‘To impress all those cute French air-hostesses serving us…’
‘Those dragon ladies? Jeez, didn’t know you were such a wimp…’
‘And you should have gone easy on that ticket lady…’
‘What does my behavior have to do with this?’
‘We wouldn't be in this fix right now, that's what. What if she did this whole thing on purpose? To pay us for being nice to her? Huh?’
‘Forget about that now… it's all the past now… how do we go about finding this Roissy CDE?’ Sean pondered.
‘We have just about an hour left to do it…’
‘Actually, it’s the same airport as this one…’ Sophie finally managed to get the words in.
‘How do you know that?’ Jeff wasn’t going to trust anyone’s judgment who wrote, but not in C++.
‘Cut it out Jeff. Go ahead Sophie.’ Sean cut in.
‘Roissy is the name of this place and CDG stands for Charles de Gaulle airport, which is exactly where we are right now.’
‘Whew! That’s good news!’
‘Saves us from walking miles.’ Jeff stuffed the remaining chips in his mouth.
‘Est-ce que vous avez fini, Madame?’
‘Oui, merci.’ at Sophie’s nod, a waiter took her tray, as she was getting up.
‘We don’t get that kind of service at McDonald’s back home… how come you gals always get this special treatment? Aren't we guys good enough for that?’ Jeff was less geekie than she had thought him to be.
‘You speak French…?’ Sean picked up clues a lot faster than Jeff, which explained his recent promotion.
‘Huh! I speak that much French myself,’ came from a self-confident Jeff.
‘You wanna try? Again?’ Sean thrust the boarding pass back at him.
‘Uh, no… ladies first…’ Jeff backed off.
‘Great! Could you check where we’re supposed to take off from?’ Sean handed her his ticket.
By now Sophie had become used to deciphering French boarding passes, as she had checked her own a few times already when trying to get out of Terminal D and on to Terminal C, which should have been next door, but for some strange reason wasn’t. Perhaps it was just French logique, upside down like most French translations of English.
Or perhaps the architect wanted the passengers to have some fun, using the airport as a walk-through puzzle, before going on with their journey. Or simply, only very intelligent people were supposed to use the airport, who would be able to find their way around very quickly.
By this time they had come out into the main passage way.
‘You have to go to Terminal A, Gate 49.’ Sophie handed back Sean's boarding pass back.
‘Now which way would that be?’ Sean and Jeff looked either way before looking back at each other.
‘Look!’ Jeff pointed to a board enthusiastically.
Both Sophie and Sean turned their heads towards the board.
‘Here Hall D. I guess that means we’re in Hall D, right.’ Jeff looked pleased at his discovery.
‘As if that helps!’ Obviously Sean could play the sarcastic boss when it suited him.
‘I think you just go down those escalators, and follow that sign for Terminal A.’ Sophie had spotted a sign, half-hidden down a corridor.
‘Gee that was fast… sure you’re not a programmer?’
‘Yes and I'll die happy in my ignorance… Actually, if you apply the same concept as the Paris périphérique to the Paris airport, then…’
‘Peri, what?’ Jeff literally scratched his head.
‘The ring road that surrounds Paris…’
‘Ring road? Well I’ve never actually driven in Paris,’ admitted Sean.
‘Me neither, just covered a few miles around this damned airport on foot,’ confirmed Jeff
‘We’d better get going… thanks for all your help.’ Sean said warmly.
‘Yeah, just start writing in C. You’ll love it!’ Was Jeff’s parting shot.
‘Bye! Have a safe trip!’ Sophie had gone only a few steps when she gave a gasp. It said ‘Terminal A, C and D’. The two whiz kids had disappeared and she hoped she hadn’t sent them on yet another wild-goose chase. She checked again. It clearly said ‘Terminal A, C and D’.
Vaguely she wondered what had happened to Terminal B. Perhaps it had been naughty and had been deleted from the list. And why would she have to go in the opposite direction to arrive at Terminal D, when she was standing in it. Or perhaps she wasn’t. Not since she had taken those few steps and had crossed the bounds of Terminal D forever. And only a long circuitous path could take her back there. Always providing that Hall and Terminal meant the same thing, that is.
In any case, she was glad that she had spotted Terminal C, since that was where she needed to go. Distrusting the signs that cropped everywhere, she decided to ask a local, just to be sure. She spotted a bright-eyed young man, who looked like he would fall safely into the category of those bright people who would actually know their way around this airport.
‘Excusez-moi, où est le Terminal C, svp?’1
‘Je n’en sais rein, moi.’2
‘Peut-être par là?’3 Sophie pointed at the sign, feeling a little foolish.
The young man sized her up.
‘Et si on prenait un verre ensemble?’4 Brightey let the question hang in the air.
The sudden change of subject threw Sophie off. Surely her French wasn't as bad as that. Not after three years of intensive classes. Then it hit her. This little school- boy thought she was just trying to pick him up!
‘Non, merci… je dois m'en aller,’5 Sophie edged away.
‘Ecoute, c’est toi que m’as approaché en premier, quand même!’6 Brightey fell into step with her.
‘Je voulais juste confirmer le chemin, parce que je trouve cette aéroport très confusant.’7
‘Dans ce cas-là, je suis la dernière personne qui pourrait t’aider.’8
‘Parce que j’ai juste raté mon avion dans cette bordel d’aéroport!’10