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Once Upon a Time in the Wee Small Hours of Ireland

Agusti Curto Calbet, the Night Manager at The Ritz-Carlton, Powerscourt, in County Wicklow, Ireland, arrived to work for his midnight shift on a cold February evening. Ordinarily, during his scheduled time at the five-star luxury hotel, a guest might phone in for a wake-up reminder, the arrangement of an early morning taxi, or perhaps a bottle of champagne for a romantic interlude. But, as the young Spaniard was about to discover, this fated night was about to become anything but ordinary.

A woman staying in one of the Mountain View Suites with her husband rang the Reception desk after 2:00 a.m. in a most agitated state.

"I hate to bother you at this late hour, but a very valuable item of mine has disappeared from my room!"

"I'm so sorry to hear that Madame," he replied. "What does it look like?"

Whatever it is, he thought, it surely must be priceless.

"It's a small, white Teddy Bear," she explained in between sobs. "One of its button-eyes is slightly broken and...and...it's irreplaceable! I've carried it with me for over 35 years!"

As her voice faded into low sniffles, the 30-year-old Night Manager kept the lady calm and assured her all would be well.

"Where did you see it last?" he asked.

"It was on the bed. Maybe it went astray when the room was cleaned today?"

Agusti told her that the stuffed animal couldn't have gone far and that every effort would be made to retrieve it.
He first phoned Loss Prevention to see if a toy matching its description had been turned in to the Lost & Found. No such luck. Glancing at the clock, then at the stack of paperwork on his desk, he could have easily passed the call onto the morning staff by writing a note describing the events, but instead, intrigued by the guest's desperate longing to find her keepsake, he decided, "No. I'm going to do this myself."

He summoned the Housekeeping night team on duty to meet him in the Laundry Room. Five minutes later, Rafal Mlynarski, Andrzej Koziol, and Cassio Schuler were soon listening to Agusti re-enact the woman's plea.

The trio was eager to help find the misplaced bear, but suddenly the reality of sorting through mountains of soiled linens made their eyes widen at the sight of the ten or eleven trolleys before them. Each cart overflowed with tightly wrapped bed sheets and soggy, wet towels. This quest took on the classic "finding a needle in a haystack" scenario, only the lost pin in question had paws, and these bales weighed much more than straw. The unpleasant stench prompted Cassio's much-needed encouragement, "Don't worry, guys! This is not a 'dirty' job. We have to go for it!"

They all agreed, then split into two groups with each duo dumping out the purple bags in unison. Towel by towel, sheet by sheet, they toiled together in the basement. As the heaping 20 kilos of laundry slowly dwindled, it was Agusti who finally discovered the Teddy Bear entwined in the folds of a king sheet.

"Look!" he shouted. "Here it is!"

An eruption of cheers and hoots filled the Laundry Room as though their favorite team had just won the World Cup. Rafal decided to tidy up their fuzzy friend and lightly sprayed its worn fleece with a bit of air freshener.

"Ah, that's better," he said, handing it back to his leader.

Even though dawn soon approached, Agusti somehow knew the woman would not mind his early morning delivery. But before returning the precious bundle, he crept down to the culinary department and placed five homemade wrapped cookies inside a green hotel gift sack complete with the wandering bear peering out over the top.

As the woman opened the door in her bathrobe, she found the almost seven-foot-tall Agusti on the other side holding the bag, his dark brown eyes twinkling back at her, with a smile as big as his heart.

"Look who we found in the kitchen looking for cookies!" he regaled, selflessly omitting the painstaking search details.

"Oh! I thought he was gone for good!" she cried out. "Oh, thank you! Thank you!"

Agusti stood motionless as she tenderly removed the one-eyed treasure and clutched it to her chest, her expression showing reverent gratitude.

"You see, this bear once belonged to my little boy," she confided softly. She explained how she and her husband, now in their 60s, take it with them wherever they go.

The lady looked up at Agusti and whispered, "He's now an angel in Heaven."

Agusti knew his decision to "own" this guest's problem was meant to be, for his beloved father had passed away before he was even born. His mother had raised him and two older brothers on her own in Barcelona.

As he bid the woman good-night, he asked if he could assist her with anything else.

"I don't think there's anything you could do better," she said sweetly. "It's as if you've given me back my son."

He was all too familiar with the power of a mother's love and right there, in the wee small hours of the morning, let go of his tears.

Jill Paris is a writer living in Los Angeles. Her essays have been featured in The Best Travel Writing 2009, The Saturday Evening Post, Travel Africa, Thought Catalog and other publications. She has an M.A. in Humanities and a Master of Professional Writing degree from USC. She travels for the inexplicable human connection.

[Flickr image via neal]

Filed under: Europe, Ireland

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