Suzie had no idea why the tour leader still hadn’t found her and she still hadn’t seen any Singaporeans yet. The population in this hall was generally of a darker skin. She could see that the city was dilapidated and in the mist of confrontation. Before she arrived here she saw pictures on the websites but she didn’t expect it to be so real.
Suzie was getting upset. She had her return ticket with her, which she couldn’t use until 3 March. And she had no clue where the airline office was even if she wanted to change her departure date to leave from Palestine straight away. Without the comfort of a tour bus and the familiarity of Singaporeans around her, she felt completely lost. She had no choice now but to rely on this kind soul the man beside her now.
At least I have already encountered him on the flight.
Suzie remembered that the tour group was supposed to check in at the Wallace Hotel at Bethlehem Palestine but she had no idea where it was.
The people around here carried with them a kind of sullen look. They seemed oppressed and waiting to go into a fight at any time.
I would not go up to any one of them to make enquiries. In any case I don’t think they speak my language.
Then Suzie caught sight of a man in a loose white T-shirt and black pants staring at her. He was standing next to a pillar and he had deep-set eyes, with a distant look, as though thinking of something else at the same time. Suzie could not be sure if he was actually looking at her.
No, I could not pluck up the courage and walk away from my neighbour, this familiar man, and got up to the unknown locals and ask them where the hotel was.
They didn’t smile and they had no expression on their faces. Or maybe Suzie was a foreigner she couldn’t read their minds. It was all very new.
At this point in time Suzie realized that she must make a quick decision.
Either I follow him for the rest of the day, or I tell him to go away and continue to wait for my absent tour group. If I follow him from here, then I break away from the tour and then the rest of my stay here in Palestine would be entirely his call.
As she was thinking, her neighbour had already hailed a car, with a swift move he checked both their luggage into the back seat and he showed the driver a map. The bearded man muttered something and he brought the engine to a start. The two of them both jerked a little and Suzie and neighbour looked at each other in agreement.
“The guy didn’t seem to like his job,” Suzie said aloud.
The neighbour gave her a look as though to tell her to keep quiet, “be careful he understands English,” he said softly.
Suzie quickly shut her mouth and tried to enjoy the scenery. There wasn’t much to see at all. It was just an impression of an old civilization in a Muslim country. By this time Suzie already felt that she could have followed the news on television and missed this adventure. It was just beginning to look boringly dangerous. The grass was dry and the plants were malnourished. No street lamps and she wondered if it was safe out at night.
In Singapore the pride was that any woman could be safe out after midnight.
The journey was long enough for Suzie to wonder if they had been taken in for a ride, or on the wrong track. But fact was that there seemed to be only one direction from the airport on the muddy road. So the driver must be taking them to the hotel. She started to think if it were five-star or four-star when they stopped in front of a house.
The driver came to a halt when he arrived at a building which was completely walled off.
“So this was it.” Suzie thought to herself.
The hotel was very small; it was just a large house with several rooms. Suzie didn’t know how many rooms there were but it looked very small. She dumped her luggage in front of the concierge and gave the woman her name. The neighbour asked for a “presidential suite” and she heard the concierge said U.S. nine hundred.
“If you don’t’ want, we can do U.S. thirty,” the concierge offered.
“You can check in now and leave before sunset, we have another 700 people coming and we are always full.”
At this point in time Suzie knew that her life depended on God and Him alone. No one was here to help her if her neighbour connived with the locals to cheat her or do harm to her. If she died in Palestine the office would know only after the holiday when she didn’t report back to work. They wouldn’t even be able to find her body. The only sensible thing to do now was to give this neighbour his best interpretation and be of use to him.
Suzie tried to think where he came from. He spoke English like he came from Hong Kong. If she were lucky he might even be a fellow Singaporean.
The hotel concierge asked, “Just the two of you?”
“Yes,” the neighbour said,
“Just the two of us,” and then he gave the lady his passport.
It was bright red, and when the concierge flipped it open the biodata showed his name as Daniel Lee.
“Are you Singaporean?” Suzie just wanted to start conversation.
“What makes you think I am not?” Daniel Lee retorted.
Thank God! Suzie’s heart almost stopped beating.
“Can we go home together?” she made an instant request.
The man didn’t say a word but merely handed her the room key which he got from the concierge.
Suzie had envisaged a large group of about twenty people touring the city on the bus and the tour leader giving them a continuous string of narration. And that she would be hopping on and off the bus for sightseeing. Hazel promised that lunch and dinner would be taken care of.
Now I had better find out if this Daniel Lee was going home on the same flight. I had better cling on to him for dear life.
“When are you going back?” Suzie asked.
“Same as you,” Daniel Lee replied. At the time it didn’t occur to Suzie that he could have known her departure date.
Suzie just wanted to shrink into a corner. She walked to the single seater sofa at the middle of the hotel lobby and dumped her hand luggage and slumped on the soft-cushions. She refused to be checked into the hotel room.
How could I be certain that the hotel concierge did not also have a spare key to my room?
“Are you going in or not?” Daniel Lee looked impatient.
“I am not checking in,” Suzie said.
“What?” he sounded surprised.
“I want to check into your room,” Suzie made herself clearer.
“Why? How can we?” the man began to look puzzled.
“I want to share the room with you, it’s cheaper,” Suzie said.
She knew it didn’t make sense; she had already paid for the entire tour duration, food and lodging.
“No, I don’t want to go into the room myself,” by this time she detected a note of sympathy.