Perhaps days like this are inevitable when one is traveling. They seem to be for me. Best Day Yet was quickly followed up by Worst Day Yet.
This morning it was cold and raining. I had breakfast at the hotel then took a taxi to the bus station with plenty of time to make the 11am bus to Siena. Taking the bus was Lindsey’s idea (one of the Umbra staff members). When she heard I planned to go by train, which is a 3-hour trip involving 2 changes, she went online and found a bus that goes directly in only an hour-and-a-half. Lindsey wrote down for me exactly what to tell the cab driver to get to the right place, the name of the bus company (Sena), and the time of departure. She told me I would buy my ticket on the bus.
I arrived at 10:40am. It wasn’t clear where the bus would leave from, so I asked someone who looked official. He pointed to the left side of the waiting area and said (I’m guessing anyway – it was in Italian) – “Probably from here. Maybe from over there, but probably here.” Not feeling extremely confident, I waited nervously in the cold, looking around for some clue that I was in the right spot. 11:00am passed, and though there were many buses that came and went, I hadn’t seen one called Sena. There was a girl with a suitcase who was also waiting, so I asked her if the bus to Siena was coming. She said yes, but it was late. I was momentarily reassured, but it was a full 40 minutes before it finally arrived, and the whole time I was standing in the cold, feeling nervous about whether I would make it and whether someone would try to steal my bag. Enormously relieved to see the right bus, I put my bag in the lower compartment and climbed aboard, grateful to be leaving. Then I realized the driver was taking tickets. Everyone around me had a ticket, and I did not. When he got to me, I showed him my money and asked if I could buy one. No, he shook his head, clearly annoyed, and pointed across the street, saying something in Italian. I could make out “ticket office” because it’s close to the same word in Spanish. I asked if I had time and he said “2 minutes.”
By now my adrenaline was pumping. I ran across the street to the train station, which was my best guess of where I would buy a ticket. I tried the automatic machine but it was only for train tickets. I stood in line at the ticket window while the people ahead of me took their sweet time, chatting and laughing and moving at an excruciating pace. When my turn came, the person at the window told me I couldn’t buy a bus ticket there; I needed to go outside – something about “taxi.” So I ran outside and found a little booth next to where the taxis line up and wait. The woman behind the window was on the phone, signaling me to wait. She at last finished her conversation, I bought my ticket, ran back to the waiting area, and the bus was gone.
I did not cry. I just didn’t know what to do. I thought about calling Lindsey and staying in Perugia for another day, but realized that, regardless of how I got there, it was crucial that I get to Siena in the hopes of getting my bag. I went back to the train station and bought a train ticket to Siena. There is no direct route so it involved two changes. The next train left in 25 minutes.
My next thought was that I needed to call Amanda, the IES Director in Siena, to tell her that I was late and find out if she could help me with the bag. I walked up and down the train station but couldn’t find a phone. I started to panic. The reality that my bag was gone – and everything in it, including prescriptions, clothes, make-up, everything – was sinking in, and I felt helpless and I hated the bus driver for his meanness.
And then I saw a puppy. A little, fluffy, black-and-white fur ball sniffing the ground. I knelt down and he immediately came to me and started wagging his tiny tail and pawing at my knee. He chewed at my hand and licked at my face and by the time his owner came to retrieve him, I felt like I had been healed. I was calmer and knew that it would be ok, I would see my bag again, and I could figure this out.
Right now I’m on the third train – the one that finally goes to Siena – and I still don’t know if I’ll see my bag again. But I’m still struck by how that puppy communicated to me the presence of God. It was as if God knew exactly what I needed for comfort and strength in that moment to keep me from falling apart. I think He does know me, and I think He does care that much about the details of my life that He would send a puppy at the moment I needed it the most.
It’s been a cold, anxious, uncomfortable day. But thank God I’m not alone.
P.S. I wrote this on the train, but now I'm at the hotel in Siena. It stinks like cigarette smoke but I made it, and I have my bag.