We stepped off of our short night flight from Lisbon to Spain, dragging our ridiculously over-packed suitcases, impatient to get to our hostel and hit the bed.
Despite the actual flight being less than an hour long, it is still a daylong affair to lug your luggage down the hilly and cobblestones streets of Lisbon to the nearest train station, navigating steep stairs of the subway station, then getting to the airport, finding the terminal, checking in your baggage’s and security and you know the like.
Bleary-eyed, husband and I were heading to the exit of Madrid’s airport. I was especially tired as I was 3 months pregnant with our first child and Lisbon’s streets had done a number on my ankles— all this contributed to our decision making skills not being the sharpest on this particular night.
A middle aged man with a fringe of graying hair ringing the sides and back of his head, completely bald on top; medium height with medium build, wearing a non-plain black jacket cut across our path and asked us quickly.
“Hi, do you need need a taxi? Without thinking, my husband and I both replied,
“Ok follow me.”
And we followed him up an escalator just beside the main doors and soon we were in the car park area, which was brightly-lit albeit lonely. Boy, this guy walked very fast.
We followed him to his car and that’s when the thought struck my sleep-deprived mind: why was his black taxi here and not outside by the main doors?
My suspicion was further aroused when i saw that his “taxi” had no logo or ads on it, as taxis normally do.
But before I could form a coherent thought and tell my husband to get the hell outta there, the man grabbed our heavy suitcases, gently put it into his trunk and invited us to sit. Now he had our luggages in his possession.
To this day I don’t know why we got into this unmarked car.
I took a seat in the back, right behind my husband, who was on the passenger side. And off we drove into the spring Madrid night.
I was somewhat relieved to see that there was still a lot of traffic on the roads at this hour. I guess, Madrid is also a city that hardly sleeps.
He was asking us mundane questions about where we were from (Canada), where we were
Going within Spain (Just Madrid and Toledo), how long (2 weeks total). He seemed fine enough. Friendly enough. Harmless enough.
I tried to inject a note of warmth or confidence into my voice while answering him, but I don’t know if I managed to convince the driver that I wasn’t afraid of him. I barely managed to convince myself.
My husband, who’s not one to talk to strangers anyway, was silent throughout this exchange. I had my right hand down firm on his shoulder, almost digging my nails in. He was stiff and tense.
Now we entered the massive 4-lane highway, which I was relieved to see still had a lot of cars on it. Ok, so there is safety in numbers.
However, my heart began racing and sweat broke out on top of my lips, when I saw which lane he was taking. The one leading to Valencia, Spain! 300km south! Oh CRAP!
I looked to the door and saw that I hadn’t locked the car at all. So either someone could come and open the door quickly, drag me out, put a bag over my head and kidnap me.
OR the unlocked car door meant that I could throw the door open , scream “JUMP” at my husband and leap out of the car, come what may. My eyes didn’t leave the driver’s face, my body wound up, ready to jump like a deer at the first sign of danger.
The car felt like it was closing in on me, suffocating me. I was dizzy with fear. I was terrified of having to jump out of a speeding car at my pregnant state; of all the broken bones that would surely happen, possibly get run over by another car.
But that was still preferable to having a gun pointing at us, getting kidnapped, taken somewhere, never to be found again. My mind went into overdrive thinking up every terrible scenario.
He exited the highway and I let out a huge sigh that made the driver laugh and comment that I must be tired. I mumbled something. I was just relieved that we were still in Madrid.
We were speeding through the now silent streets of downtown Madrid and he called out the names of the places we were passing, including the Royal Palace.
I now allowed myself to sit back, take in the Madrid sights and sounds and marvel at how wide and well maintained the streets were, how everything was so brightly lit. Madrid exuded style and affluence, unlike Lisbon.
Finally, this nightmare drive was over as we pulled up in front of our hostel. We wasted no time in jumping out of the car. He took our luggages out and pulled it up the stairs, leaving them at front of the entrance.
“Welcome to Madrid and I hope you enjoy my city.” He said
And with that he got into his car after collecting his fare, which the hostel staff told us later was a rip-off, and drove off into the quiet spring night.