Exiting the plane and walking down the steps to the tarmac, Diana felt a thrill at being outside, but then she saw the line stretching out of the terminal. She didn’t understand what was going on at first – was this the line for immigration? With his hat in the checked luggage, her husband Dinos had the sun blasting his baldpate as they waited in line for the next hour. The melasma recently removed from his scalp with acid meant he shouldn’t be in the sun. Once inside the terminal, they waited some more. Surely, Diana thought, they could hire more people to stamp passports. Their turn came at last. The woman at the booth didn’t ask any questions, just smiled and said, “buen día.” Then the fingerprint scanner took ages to read Dinos’s sweaty thumb, and Diana could see he was nearing his limit. Luckily for her, their bags were already doing rounds of the carousel, no hold-up there. Mind you, they’d had more than enough time to unload the plane.
The clerk at the taxi counter claimed one of the hundred-peso notes Dinos gave him was a twenty. This was pointless, as eighty pesos were worth about a dollar. The hundred-peso note was light purple and the twenty dark red. In a flustered state, you might fall for this trick from a time when a hundred pesos were worth something. The middle-aged clerk in a white shirt with stained armpits still pulled this for the satisfaction of putting one over. However, his resolve melted when Dinos started shouting about a swindle. A screaming tourist is never a good look, and so, without dropping his cunning grin, he gave Dinos the correct change.
“I’m from Athens, we are professionals at such scams, been practising them for millennia, before this country even existed,” Dinos told the taxi driver on the way into the city. The man, with creased beige shirt and crumpled face, knew no English and didn’t look like he would give a toss even if he did understand. Diana wasn’t feeling great. She was the one who had wanted to come to Argentina, and if the trip continued in the vein it had started, Dinos would be proven right: such a long-distance journey wasn’t worth it.
The markings on the highway were worn, almost gone in places, but there were no potholes, and apart from the toll gates traffic flowed nicely. They passed parks with European pines and eucalyptus. By the side of the road, on grass several shades lighter than in Greece, men with big guts stood next to their vehicles. They smoked or gestured like Italians – especially if they were on the phone. Diana didn’t know they were waiting until the last minute to do their pick-ups to avoid the exorbitant airport parking fees.
The Greeks got out of the cab onto a clean street with wide footpaths. Their hotel looked Parisian and the street featured several Beaux-Arts palaces. The architecture reflected a long-gone age of aristocratic prosperity. Perhaps it would be an idea to knock these buildings down to dismiss thoughts of such living. People wanted to believe the current government had cast them out of heaven. In reality, the last twenty governments were to blame. A red Peugeot and a motorbike with two people on it pulled up behind the taxi. The old couple was unloading their luggage slowly, easy pickings, but a police officer was standing on the corner, not five metres away.
Both hotel receptionists were busy with an ancient Englishman disputing his bill: “This isn’t the price they gave me on Agoda!” Diana felt impatience rise within, then calmed herself by counting the number of lines on the back of the Englishman’s neck. It worked. She closed her eyes and attempted a standing nap. This respite was short-lived. She heard Dinos yelp in pain. Someone had twisted his wrist – a young man, dressed in a River Plate football hoodie and jeans. Diana got a glimpse of his inflamed eyes that were too close together. A chaotic tug of war began. On seeing a pistol in the assailant’s free hand, Diana screamed. Dinos had spotted it too, but out of fear, out of shock, he kept struggling. The man stuffed the pistol into his belt…and now both hands clawed at Dinos’s watch. Her husband put up a fight; he’d been an under sixty-kilogram wrestler in his day. At some point, the pistol fell to the ground. The man let go of Dinos’s wrist and picked it up in wonder. Had he forgotten this advantage much greater than his youth? He gave Dinos a crack on the head with the butt. Now his fish was stunned – he unclipped the watch, ran outside, and jumped on the back of the motorbike. For some reason, Diana ran after him. She shouted out to the police officer, who only followed the speeding bike with her head. What could she do though? Diana saw the policewoman was without backup or a vehicle.
The British man had scampered upstairs – the reception was all theirs now. Dinos sat on the sofa next to Diana, who held a handkerchief to his head. She saw blood on the sofa, but not yet on her skirt. The receptionist who took charge of the aftermath did so with perfect confidence and without a hint of sympathy. “I’ll call the police so that you can get a report for your insurance company. We are sorry this happened, that criminal was a foreigner, it’s happening all the time. You can thank President Maduro.”
“I can’t believe it, so callous, they didn’t apologise for their slack security,” Diana said in the taxi from the hospital back to the hotel. “I don’t want to go back to that place.”
Dinos, with his head patched and a hefty dose of tramadol inside, said, “They’ll make us pay for the carpet and sofa – there was a lot of blood.” Diana knew he was winding her up, but became frantic anyway and started yelling at the taxi driver to turn around. This was more of a reaction than Dinos had bargained for. He pleaded with her to calm down and apologised to the driver.