A close friend told me his son got sick during a vacation trip. And I vividly remembered that night in a Croatian port. And how I was scared then.
We were on a short trip to Dubrovnik. My husband, our then five-year-old daughter, and me. On a third day of our trip our daughter got sick. She started having fever towards noon and we thought it would go away by itself. We returned to the hotel and watched her. By dinner time her fever only got higher and she was shivering. Since the trip was a very short one we did not have any medicines with us. We were staying in a hotel in a touristy downtown. At nine I went to a pharmacy that we spotted earlier, but it was already closed. It had a note on the door with the address of a 24-hour pharmacy. The pharmacy was far away, outside of the touristy area. I got back to the hotel with the address. We checked the location and decided not to go there.
By eleven our daughter’s fever only got worse. I told my husband that we need to get some ibuprofen for her. He said he is not going anywhere at that hour. I told him I would go and left the hotel room. I was able to catch a taxi and gave the piece of paper with the address to the driver. He told me it was far away in the port. Not a good place to be at night. I said this was the 24-hour-phramacy. He did not say anything in return. We drove out of the bright tourist city to the dark everyday Dubrovnik. There were no people on the streets and soon instead of the houses we were driving through the industrial hangars till we reached the port. Next to the port there was a small square with some trees and the driver stopped on the side of the square. “Here it is,” he told me and nodded towards a dark house with a metallic door and a small red light over it. I paid and got out of the car. I asked him to wait. But I am not sure he understood me. He stood with the inside lights on for half a minute while I was ringing the bell and then left. The truth is I was so scared of this darkness and the strange city that it took me a few seconds to realize that he had left. And then it was too late to run after the car.
It was dark. No lights except the small red light over the pharmacy door. The park on the square looked dark too. Across the park were the port docks. I rang the bell. It said “24-hour Pharmacy” over the door. And I had a hollow feeling that nobody was going to answer. Still I rang it again and again, because I did not know what to do next and I was scared. Probably ten or fifteen minutes have passed. It was clear that the door was not going to open. I had some money with me and no cell phone. It was past midnight.
Slowly I started crossing the park to reach a wide street that the taxi driver took. In the park I saw a group of Croatian men, may be 4 or 5 of them. They were drinking and talking. They said something at me when they saw me. And I just imagined that I was made out of steel and did not have a heart, and kept walking looking straight ahead. I was scared and my shoulders got tense. The men did not follow me.
On the wide street I felt better. There were almost no cars. I walked in what I thought was the direction towards the tourist center. Shabby houses on my left and shipping docks on my right. No people. I do not remember how long I walked but I reached a bus stop at some point. I stood there looking at the bus schedule which I did not understand. Then a bus stopped. It was empty. The driver asked me something in Croatian and I just told him I was a tourist. He switched to English. He was an old man and his English was not good, but we understood each other. “Tourist center?” he asked me. I nodded. “Go in,” he said. Then he handed me a tourist booklet and said. “Read. It is a long road.”
“The bus is off service. But I do not want you to stand alone there. Not safe.” he said. He continued talking as I sat on the second row. I rested my head against the window and felt asleep as soon as the bus took off. I think he kept talking all the way.
I woke up when the bus stopped and the doors opened. “Tourist center,” he said. I offered him money for the ride, but he just waved his hand and said “No, no. Go.” We were at the entrance of the Dubrovnik fortress, a few minutes away from the hotel.
It was close to three in the morning when I got inside the hotel room. My husband was sleeping. My daughter was laying feverish next to him. I went to the bathroom, soaked a towel in cold water and put it over her body. He woke up and told me he was worried and I should not have taken so long. I told him the pharmacy was closed.
I sat next to my daughter and kept changing soaked towels on her body and forehead. At seven the pharmacy under the hotel building opened and I got some ibuprofen there. I gave it to my kid and when she was feeling better, towards noon, I took her out, to the hotel terrace and ordered a coffee. And we sat there calmly. She coloring her new book and me enjoying the coffee on a bright October day.
Then I did not want to think about what have happened the night before. The darkness and fear seemed so far away in that colorful touristy city.
But when a friend told me his son was sick during a vacation trip I suddenly felt the fear of that night in Dubrovnik. Ringing the doorbell under the small red light. Shipping docks, dark streets, men drinking in the park. And me, blonde, blue-eyed, in jeans, beige sweater, and high heals. And the hollow feeling of nobody answering.