3rd The Unexpected

‘Expect the unexpected,’ Dad said as we entered the luggage shop, ‘especially when travelling. The trick is to be adventurous, not foolhardy.’

Of course, at eighteen, I didn’t need anyone’s advice, but I nodded politely.

I spotted a smart blue wheelie suitcase, and showed Dad. ‘Nice, Chiara, but too big. If you can’t carry it when the wheels break, it’s too big. Go the smaller size. It’s best to travel with just three changes of clothes, leaving room for lots of presents.’ I nodded. ‘And bright red is a better colour. It’ll stand out on the baggage carousel.’ I wondered if all this advice was true, or just his opinion.

A week later Mum dropped me off at the airport with my red case jammed full of plush Aussie animals for our relatives in ‘the old country’ and my three sets of clothes.

The bag drop was a breeze; nothing unexpected there. Armed with my boarding pass I drifted through Immigration into the rarified atmosphere of International Departures. I decided to splurge on a coffee and wandered around, all agog.

When my flight was called, I was disappointed to see the throng. There was no chance of having an empty middle seat next to my aisle seat. When I reached 27C, I was even more disappointed to see a child in the window seat, and a mum and infant in the middle seat. Just as I placed my carry-on in the overhead compartment, the infant vomited copiously all over my seat. That was unexpected!

The flight attendant came to the rescue. With Economy completely full, I was reassigned to Business Class! Dad was right; expect the unexpected.

Another benefit came at the other end of the flight. First Class and Business disembarked first. I cruised to the carousel just as my red case appeared.

Outside Fiumicino Airport, I looked around for the bus stop, but three Aussie boys in the taxi rank asked me to join them and split a fare four ways. Lucky me! We divvied up and parted ways outside Stazione Termini and I bravely used my Italian to get a train ticket to Naples; home of my extended family and the birthplace of pizza.

I boarded the train, planning to find the carrozza ristorante. Thumping down in my seat in the middle of a multi-generational family, however, my neighbours pressed a huge panino and bottle of limonata into my hands. Unexpected!

My arrival was unexpected, too. No one came to pick me up. A monsignor saw my distress. He said the parish car would come for him, and they’d take me to the family home in Vomero.

Rolling into the courtyard, strangers rushed out exclaiming everything in Italian. I finally worked out that they thought I was arriving the next day. They dragged Monsignor Fumia, Enzo, the driver, and me inside for antipasti and wine with much good cheer. An hour later, Monsignor gave us an inebriated blessing and was helped into his car by Enzo.

‘Adesso, certamente vuoi vedere la tua camera,’ Nonna said. First I thought this was something about my camera, then realised they were taking me to my room.

It was a beautiful little room overlooking jumbled terracotta-tiled rooves under a neapolitano sky. Looking forward to a shower and a change of clothes, I tried to open my case. The cheap little lock wouldn’t budge, so I tinkered a bit and finally snapped the damned thing open. Imagine my surprise when I found there were no jeans, toiletries and plush marsupials. Instead I tried to work out what the hell rumpled men’s clothes and several kilos of vacuum-sealed white bricks were. Perhaps I’m naïve, but it took a minute or two to work out that I’d sailed through the Nothing to Declare queue at Fiumicino, importing something that was likely cocaine into Italy. Mum and Dad would have been mortified!

I showed my relatives who promptly got on the phone to Customs. Meanwhile I considered that there must’ve been two red cases on that flight, and I grabbed the one worth a million dollars.

After the call, Zio Dario explained slowly to me that a suspected drug mule was stopped. His case was full of girls’ clothes, and toy koalas and kangaroos. A strip search yielded enough drugs to arrest him, and watch closely in case he’d carried something internally. That really was unexpected.

More importantly, a Customs Officer would arrive from the Port of Naples to take the case and contents. And later that day my case would be delivered to our door.

And here’s the kicker: For my honestly, I’d receive a modest reward. After doing the maths, I decided it would come to about eight hundred dollars. A fortune, in my opinion!

Dad was right after all; expect the unexpected.

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