“You’ve really got to be more careful,” the man solemnly warned me. “This could have ended up being far worse for you.”
“Oh, don’t you panic her,” his wife chuckled, reaching out to pat my shoulder. “Don’t worry, love. I’m sure once you’ve travelled for a little longer, you’ll get the hang of it. We all do silly things like this when we first start out.”
I nodded, wondering if I should tell her I’d been travelling for over three years. I opened my mouth and closed it again. I’d embarrassed myself enough for one day.
I threw my laptop into my daypack and zipped it shut.
“Done,” I called out to Dave, as he did the same from the other side of the room.
“Cabin crew for crosscheck?” he asked, referring to the dorky name we give to me running around a room for one final check that we haven’t left anything behind.
“Nah,” I said. “It’ll be fine. Passport, laptop, camera, money: I have everything I need to survive.” I tapped my daypack as I spoke, checking they were inside.
With that, we hauled our bags onto our backs and wandered outside to meet the minivan that would be taking us to the bus station. After four wonderful days spent biking around Bagan, we were heading into the hills to explore Kalaw.
Our minivan turned out to be a pickup truck and after handing our backpacks to the driver to be secured to the roof, we clambered up onto the rusty bed. I slid up beside four French girls who were already sat inside and rested my daypack on my knees. The engine juddered beneath us and we began our journey to the next guesthouse.
I watched with a blend of anxiety and amusement as more and more backpackers crammed themselves onto the bed beside us, until we had thirty people all squished up together, and I had elbows and limbs jabbing into me from every angle. Four guys stood at the back, laughing as we bounced our way over the pot-holed roads.
Satisfied that the truck was now full, I turned my thoughts to the past four days. I’d loved my time in Bagan. It’s not often a destination exceeds my expectations — especially when my expectations had been sky high — but Bagan had been incredible.
The previous day had been one of my favourites: exploring obscure temples with nobody else in sight; lazing beside our guesthouse pool; catching up on TV shows in bed; getting an early night’s sleep for once. Saying goodnight to Dave. Switching off the lights. Pulling my passport out from beneath my pillow. Wondering what it had been doing there. Tossing it onto the floor. Hearing it skid beneath Dave’s bed. Reminding myself to pull it back out in the morning. Not bothering to do the final check of the room.
I dug my nails into my sweaty fists as my heart began to race.
Oh my god, my passport.
Being British, I immediately decided I wasn’t going to say anything; I didn’t want to cause a scene.
I wiggled an arm free and unzipped my pack. As my fingers brushed over my travel essentials — laptop, camera, money — my heart thumped ever harder. There was no doubt about it: my passport was under Dave’s bed.
I felt like crying. I couldn’t be the person who’d left their passport behind. I always judged that person. Maybe I could just not tell anyone, and then when Dave and I arrive in Kalaw, I could “discover it was missing” and then travel the seven hours back to Bagan to pick it up. I shook my head. Maybe the guesthouse could post it to Kalaw?
“Dave,” I whispered, staring at him with terrified eyes.
“I’ve left my passport behind.”
He stared back at me in silent disbelief.
“I left it in the room,” I continued. “I dropped it under your bed last night and forgot to pick up.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” he said in a voice that was horrifyingly loud. “Tell the driver to go back.”
“Stop it,” I hissed. “I don’t want to say anything.”
“What, so you’re just going to leave your passport behind?”
After five minutes of wrestling with my self-consciousness, it was decided: I would travel to Kalaw to save face, and then return to Bagan the following day to collect my passport. Dave, however, had other ideas.
“Stop!” he suddenly bellowed, and everyone craned their neck to see what was happening. I hid my burning face behind my hands.
The truck bounced to a halt and the driver rushed outside.
“We need to go back to our guesthouse,” Dave announced. “My girlfriend forgot her passport.”
The mumbling started up. Then the whispers. The giggles. A snort sounded from the back of the truck.
“No,” the driver said, shaking his head. I felt like I was going to vomit.
Everyone me in the back of the truck, erupted on my behalf, insisting we turn around to pick up my passport. I was grateful for their support, because I wasn’t sure I’d have been able to say anything.
“You can’t do that,” shouted the indignant German guy who was sat opposite me. “Take her back.”
“Come on, man,” groaned his girlfriend. “We’re less than five minutes away.”
Still the driver shook his head.
Dave turned to me and I had a feeling I wasn’t going to like what he was going to say.
“You’re going to have to walk,” he said.
I gasped, frantically trying to calculate how long it would take to walk to Kalaw.
“Get off and run to the guesthouse, and then take a cab to the bus station. I’ll see if I can hold it until you get there.”
“We don’t have time, Lauren. Just do it.”
He was right. I swallowed hard, threw on my daypack, and crawled over a dozen limbs to get out. As I staggered down onto the dirt track, I heard a roar of the engine behind me, and the truck disappeared behind a cloud of dust. I began to run.
“Lady is running!” I heard a male voice call out.
I turned my head in his direction and saw a teenaged local sat astride a motorbike, watching me with interest.
“Lady is running!” he shouted again. “Lady is running!”
And then my pants fell down.
Curse my stupid yoga pants. I let out a yelp and hurriedly pulled them up again. Bunching the material in my fist, I continued to run, daypack slamming against my spine, pants threatening to drop at any moment.
I spotted the guesthouse up ahead and started to run as if nobody was watching. I really hoped they weren’t.
“My passport!” I gasped as I threw myself into the lobby.
“Your passport!” the receptionist cheered, waving it over her head like a trophy.
I was now panting beside the road with my passport in hand, panicking over why it was so quiet. I’d been here for ten minutes and had yet to see anything other than tourists on electric bikes.
“What do I do? What do I do?” I murmured to myself.
The owner of the guesthouse suddenly rushed outside and jumped on a bike. “I will find taxi,” he told me.
“Oh my god, thank you so much,” I shouted at his back, as he swerved around a corner and out of sight.
Minutes later he was back with a taxi in tow.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” I yelled to him, flinging myself inside.
We arrived at the bus station and I pressed my money into the driver’s hand, leaving him an enormous tip in the process. I climbed outside and scanned my surroundings.
“Where are you?” I wondered aloud, staring at thirty identical buses lined up before me. I began to run from bus to bus, rushing inside them to look for Dave and jumping back out when he was nowhere to be seen.
“Bus to Kalaw?” I asked a man stood by the side of the road.
He shook his head. “Next one at 11 p.m.”
11 p.m.? Bile rose in my throat and I let out a defeated groan. It was over. I had missed it. I sat down on the ground and stared out at the happy travellers around me.
I didn’t know what to do. Dave had booked the accommodation for Kalaw and I had no idea of the name of the place. I didn’t have any data on my phone. How could I find him again? When would I find him again?
I felt a tapping on my shoulder and looked up to see an old man smiling down at me.
“Kalaw?” he asked.
He motioned for me to stand and I followed him across the car park towards a group of men.
“Kalaw,” he repeated. “Minivan. Fifteen minutes.” He slid open the door to the nearest van and gestured for me to get in.
“Thank you,” I gushed once more, trying to convey how much I appreciate his kindness.
I stared out of the minivan window and watched the chaos taking place across the bus station. There was a large group of backpackers grabbing their packs from the roof of a truck and throwing them into a bus. I bet none of those guys had forgotten their passport. They even had a pack that looked like mine. I watched a guy with a shaved head carrying it towards the bus.
He looked like Dave.
In fact, he looked an awful lot like Dave.
I let out a squeal and threw myself back outside, sprinting across the parking lot and into his arms.
Two months later, I was sat in my parents’ house in London, packing my backpack for Granada. I was due to be flying out in 12 hours and was checking I had everything I needed. When I was satisfied all was where it should be, I opened my laptop and began to check my emails.
I frowned when I noticed I had one from the owner of the London Airbnb apartment we’d spent the past month at.
Hi Lauren. Did you get my voicemails? I have your passport here. You left it in a bag underneath the bed.