I'd been surprised when the door of office number two had opened as I leaned on it. I half stumbled and half leapt into the room on the other side. Two women gawped at me. I gawped back. I stammered out a greeting.
"Hello, I want to send this to Qatar," I said, holding out a small padded envelope, weight about 20g and similar in size to an iPhone.
"Qatar in Cantabria?" she asked.
I pointed to the address printed on the envelope.
"No, Qatar the country in the Middle East - next door to Saudi Arabia."
"Is that close to Lebanon?"
"Closeish," I said.
"Is it part of Saudi Arabia?" she asked.
"No, it's a country."
"Ah, I see; it's an island," she said, staring at the Google entry.
"More a peninsula," I countered
She rang someone. "It'll be 97€," she said - "same as Lebanon." Back there again. I blanched but handed her my credit card. "We've got no machine," she said. I'm sure it was Gilbert O' Sullivan on the radio. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. I asked if this were indeed a business. When I was outside again I couldn't help it. One very long, very crude outpouring at high volume. I went and got the money, I went back to the office, I paid and I left the little envelope with them to lose.
It was a strange office even by Spanish standards. When I'd first arrived I was sure the building was abandoned. Blinds down, litter strewn yard, no vehicles, no opening hours, no sign of life. I don't think they get many personal callers. Hence the gawping.
Maggie has lost a contact lens. The sort of lens she needs is not available in Qatar. Fortunately she bought her last lenses in Cartagena so I was able to go to a local optician and order up a replacement.
Today was my first opportunity to ship the lens. I got up early to go to a carrier before work. It was so early I hadn't been able to buy an envelope to put the lens in. I suspected, rightly, that the carriers would sell packaging. The lens was in liquid in a little bottle. The receptionist woman peered at it over her headset.
"You can't send liquids to Qatar," said the woman.
"Fine, I'll put it in this case without liquid," I said.
"You can't send contact lenses to Qatar," said the woman.
I asked "Why not?"
"Could I put it in something else; disguise it?"
"Not possible, they check everything."
"What can you send to Qatar?" I asked.
"I can't tell you," said the woman.
"Can you send clothes?" I asked.
"Only with a receipt and a customs declaration," said the bearded man sitting next to her.
I felt we had maybe failed to build the human bridge so necessary for a fulfilling business relationship. Later I bought an envelope. I took the lens out of the liquid and put it into a dry case. That's why it was the second on my list, office number two.