“Porto to Paris. Sandipan Mondal. February 20. 2020.”

Remember when we used to play cricket in childhood: When you broke an uncle’s window, you always sent the most innocent looking guy to get the ball? This was it. This was the bait. A single return flight ticket from Porto to Paris.

February 15-23 were the winter holidays. Six of us planning for a short West European trip.

Prateeka, 29, Indian, MBA student at IESEG, Paris. Zeeshan, 26, Pakistani, MBA student at IESEG, Paris. Sandipan, 27, Indian, MBA student at IESEG, Paris. Maira, 26, Pakistani, MIB student at IESEG, Paris. Omer, 26, Pakistani, MBA student at EDHEC, Nice. Ratan, 26, Indian, Senior Developer at Areteans Technology, Australia (who was supposed to fly down from there to join us for the trip). This was our balanced team.

We kept the rival ratios same, just in case an argument translated into a war. And an equal gender ratio too, just to be fair.

Anyway, it was already the first of Feb and prices of travel and accommodation were going up by the day, but people were still sleeping. It infuriated me. It was as if as assignment, if you submit few secs before the deadline, it will work (not that I always do it, but still, makes a strong argument here). Someone ought to tell them that all things in real life didn’t work that way, there were other constraints for poor (literally) soul like myself, like money.

So, I did. I had to; you see. It was one after one fine Finance class that I decided to put a seal on the then tentative plan and go ahead with it. And I bought a single return ticket or me from Porto to Paris. It costed me some 100 euros, which was at least double than usual fare, but I still decided to spend my dad’s money anyway.

Imagine the sunk cost if the trip got cancelled after that. I was the bait, remember? Or on second thoughts, I would have travelled to Porto from Paris just to catch that flight back. In my head I was preparing for a solo trip and imagined to be kidnapped by the mafia lord of this part of the world. Then he/she would ask for a million euros and my parents would of course not pay it and they would then either kill me or make me a part of their gang. It was exciting!

Paris to Barcelona, Barcelona to Madrid, Madrid to Lisbon, Lisbon to Porto and Porto to Paris. This was tentatively the plan.

Zeeshan, Maira and Omer were the over enthusiasts. Also, rich. So, they decided to start from Barcelona on the 15th. Prateeka, Ratan and I decided to join them the next day at Madrid.

Madrid, to us, proved to be a very vibrant city, justifying its heritage and being the capital. The buildings were grand, the architecture was gorgeous, and the squares were packed. There were so many things to see that we spend half a day buying tickets for the hop-in hop-off bus and the other half finding the bus. Nonetheless, Madrid left us with rushed but happening memories as we flew to Lisbon the next afternoon.

Lisbon, to us, was like a bottle of rum. Old, friendly and warm. With numerous beaches by the sea, a castle to look over the city and cute yellow trams roaming around the meandering lanes, the city made us fall in love with it. We were unanimous in choices of food, places to go see and undecisive about where to go the next day, but we enjoyed. We thought we will do better in Porto.
We didn’t. Porto, to us, was one of those old cities with a lot of stories to tell. The train lines crisscrossing the city, the tulips, the rocky beaches, the Douro merging with the sea, the undulating lanes through adjacent houses – Porto was beautiful in its serenity and warmth. But we had no clue where the other was since morning. It was as if an inner Columbus had taken birth that day. Wouldn’t he be proud. But it was a beautiful mess. We finally gathered for lunch, post which it was finally time to get back home, to Paris.

Zeeshan, Maira and Omer decided to go back and spend a couple more days in Lisbon. Ratan had to go back to Australia, so we couldn’t follow suit.

February 20, Porto airport.
Prateeka being Prateeka, she could not get her online web check-in done. It usually is not a problem and we didn’t care to think otherwise. But just when we were about to check-in done, the attendant told us that the flight was overbooked and since only her ticket was not checked-in in time, she will have to stay back. As absurd as it sounded, it was real and there was no other way around it. So, we left her and Ratan and me came back to Paris.

No, we didn’t. Of course not. We are chivalrous. Also, she was crying. We couldn’t leave a crying girl back alone, even if a part of me wanted to. Ratan had a flight to catch for Australia the next day. And I was the bait, remember? We talked to the flight attendants and they agreed to swap my ticket. It said:

“Porto to Paris. Sai Prateeka Mandadi. February 20. 2020.”

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