The Unexpected Call

It was about eight o’clock in the evening, on a Thursday night. My phone rang. It was another bloody blocked number. A heavily accented voice on a poor quality line spluttered out a string of words of which: “ … is that Mr Willis…” and “…hold the line please…” was about all the sense I made.

“Bloody telemarketers, and at this time too.” Was my first thought and I was about to hang up, but something made me hesitate. Wasn’t there perhaps something else in that stream of words? There was almost a thought. ‘Hospital’ maybe? And then, after about ninety seconds of elevator music, my son’s voice emerged from the phone: “Don’t worry dad, I am OK…”

My daughter and her boyfriend had spent the last twelve months back-packing up the east coast of South America. When you Google ‘murder rates, world’ you are presented with a global map shaded from white to the darkest blue. The higher the murder rate, the darker the shading. My daughter’s path appeared to encompass the darkest blue parts of the entire planet, outside of Africa.

About eleven months in, her boyfriend came home early to take up a rather choice job offer, leaving my daughter alone in Mexico. She stayed, not wanting miss any of the trip, and especially not wanting to pay extra to change her flights. They had spent nearly a year so far, and the most outrageous thing that had happened to her was picking up a dose of passable Spanish.

Her brother, older by some three years, decided that the gallant thing to do would be to fly over and join her for the last three weeks of her adventure. He is not the adventure holiday type, at least not by her standards, so they planned to spend much of the time in and around Cancun. The Surfers Paradise of Mexico, by all reports. As a father, and admitting myself to being old fashioned and sexist in feeling this way, I was quietly happy that my daughter would no longer be alone in a third world country. Nothing had gone wrong in her first eleven months, but she was a young woman, and the country she was in was a very dark blue, according to Google.

With Red traveling with her, they would be staying in hotels now, not backpacker accommodation, and they would be doing touristy things, nothing dangerous. She grumbled a bit on Facebook, looking down her worldly nose at this softer approach to seeing the world, but I was sleeping easier. Only a couple of weeks to go.

“I’m in the Cancun Hospital. I am OK, but I do not have my passport or my credit card. They are back at the hotel but I can’t remember it’s name. Can you call Jessica and ask her to bring them here for me?” Continued my son down the phone. “The hospital people are anxious about being paid.”

Now, I was in Melbourne, fifteen odd thousand kilometres from Cancun, about to have dinner, so I thought my response, “What are you talking about?” was quite reasonable.

He had been out to a night club with his sister and had hooked up with a girl from England, so his sister got bored and walked back to the hotel alone. Red and the English lass decided to wander down to the beach for a midnight dip. Upon getting back to their clothes after their swim they were confronted by seven Mexican men armed with knives, demanding money.

Sensibly, Red handed over the couple of hundred dollars in his wallet and the girl was forced to extract another two hundred from the ATM, across the road from the beach. Not a great start to the night out, but they were left alone as soon as the thugs had taken their money, so yes, frightening, but no real harm done.

Walking back towards the night clubs, they saw a small pier, so having no money left on them, and a flood of adrenaline to metabolise, they sat down on the pier to dangle their feet in the water while they talked about what had just happened.

Moments after putting their feet in the water a six foot long crocodile emerged from the opaquely black water to bite Redmond on his right foot. As they stared at it in disbelief, it let go and lunged forward to grab a stronger hold.

Red was too numb with shock to do anything, but fortunately the English girl jumped into action, with the only weapons available to her. She struck at the crocodile’s head and eyes with the heels of the stiletto shoes she was holding in her hands. Amazingly the crocodile let go and retreated back into the glassy blackness of the water.

Somehow she managed to find an ambulance and took Redmond to the hospital, where he was treated with pain killers and antibiotics and had his foot stitched up. A fortunate thing about crocodile teeth, is that while sharp and long, they are not very broad, so once cleaned out, each wound only required a single stitch to close it over. A paltry total of seven stitches.

Eventually Red was able to call us on his saviour’s phone, a phone with caller ID blocking switched on. After taking down the details of hospital’s name and reassuring both his mother and myself that he was, in fact, alright, I rang off to contact his sister.

Over the next three hours we discovered that, not only did we have no phone number with which to call him back, but of the seven hospitals in Cancun, none are named the Cancun hospital. Searching Google, we called each and every hospital in Cancun, all to no avail. Nobody had admitted an Australian tourist that night.

Eventually his sister called us, from his hospital room and all was sorted. They got home well enough, and he was fine after an extra two weeks off work.

So, what have I learned from all of this?

Always listen to those late evening calls from thickly accented voices carefully, and do not hang up until you completely certain the call is not worth taking.

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