by Cate Cook, Ex-journalist, Author, Now Stock Market Trader
A baby. Yes, a living, breathing, tiny baby asleep on our hotel bed.
But the dear little thing almost got me arrested and ruined our holiday.
It was around 5.30pm. We arrived at our hotel for a five day holiday, checked in at reception, and were given our room key card.
I should mention the country we were in had Spanish as it’s first language. I do not speak any Spanish, and the young lady at the reception desk spoke very little English, but there were no problems checking in.
We found our room, opened the door and went in – to see a tiny baby wrapped in a swaddling cloth asleep on the middle of the bed.
At first I thought it was a large doll, because it looked just like a beautiful China doll, with a little mop of blonde hair and rosy pink cheeks. Its eyes were shut and it was totally still. I went over to it, gently stroked its cheek, and realised it was warm and breathing. It was a tiny baby, possibly around 2 months old.
When I got over the shock I picked up the bedside phone and dialled ‘0’ to speak to reception. The conversation went like this:
Me: “This is Mrs Cook, from Room 127. There’s a baby on our bed.”
Reception lady: “Baby on bed? Ah, you want cot? I get cot for you?”
Me: “No, this is not our baby. It belongs to someone else.”
Reception lady: “Ah, you want cot for friend baby?”
Me: “No, this baby doesn’t belong to us. It should not be in our room. You need to find the baby’s mother.”
Reception lady: “You need Mummy for baby?”
Me: “Yes. We’ve just found this baby asleep on our bed. It’s not our baby, so you need to find out who has left it in our room.”
Silence from Reception lady. At this point the baby begins to stir and make little gurgling noises.
Me: “You need to find the baby’s mother and ask her to come and get her baby right away. It’s waking up now.”
Reception lady: “Me phone baby Mummy?”
Me: “Yes. Is there anyone else there who speaks English? This is an emergency!”
Reception lady: “No peoples here. English baby got emergency? Me call doctor?”
Me: “No, the baby is lost. It needs its mother. You find mother and tell her come to Room 127 and get baby.”
Reception lady: “Baby list? I call doctor?”
At this point baby awakes fully and starts to cry.
Me: (speaking very slowly and carefully): “Baby not sick. Baby hungry and needs milk. Mummy has left baby in our room. Mummy has lost her baby. I am not its mother. I don’t know who its mother is. Please can someone come and get the baby?”
Reception lady: “Mummy left baby no milk so baby get list?”
Me (getting frustrated): “Can I speak to the Manager? There is a lost baby in our room and we need help urgently.”
Reception lady: “Emergency help for list baby?”
Me: “Yes. Call the Manager. It’s an emergency. We’ve got an abandoned baby that needs feeding right now.”
Reception lady: “Me call emergency for list baby?”
Me: “Yes, call right now. It’s urgent.”
By this time baby had started screaming loudly and thrashing its little arms and legs around. I hung up the phone and picked up the baby, patting its back and comforting it on my shoulder. It’s blanket was damp and there was a wet patch in the centre of the bed. I handed the screaming baby to my husband and asked him to hold it for a minute.
I went into the bathroom and thoroughly washed my hands, as I had been travelling for hours and felt unclean. I returned to the room, took the distraught baby from my startled husband and gently put my little finger into its mouth. It started sucking my finger vigorously.
We decided to take the baby down to reception, so we got our card keys and walked down the corridor to the lift. In the background we could hear sirens wailing, but paid them no attention.
As we exited the lift and entered the reception area, I saw a well-dressed young man in his mid-twenties standing at the desk. I approached him and asked if he spoke English, and was very relieved when he said he did. I explained to him that we had found this baby in our hotel room. It didn’t belong to us, and we thought it had been abandoned by its mother. I asked him to explain that to the reception lady. He talked to her in Spanish and I saw the relieved look on her face when she realised the baby was not dying.
I carried the distraught infant to a quiet cool spot in the reception area and tried to comfort it. I used the ‘little finger in mouth’ trick again, and it stopped the noise for a few minutes. Meanwhile my husband, the translator and the reception lady were in deep conversation.
At this point the hotel’s front doors swung open and four large men in official-looking green uniforms marched in. I noticed the guns in their holsters and the batons on their belts. I felt quite afraid.
Two of the men noticed me sitting quietly in the corner. They came up to me and abruptly snatched the baby out of my arms. One of the men picked me up, turned me around, grabbed my arms behind my back and handcuffed me.
The two other policemen approached the front counter, where my husband and the translator stood in stunned silence as they watched me being handcuffed. Then both of them started talking loudly at once, explaining there had been a mistake and I should not be arrested as I was just trying to help a lost baby.
Just then another man wearing a suit and carrying a black brief-case rushed into the hotel, followed by a young girl wearing a cleaning maid’s uniform. She had tears streaming down her face. I was still pushed against the wall handcuffed.
Later I was told the whole story by the pleasant young man, our translator. It turns out the baby belonged to the young cleaning maid who had started working at the hotel the week prior. Management were unaware she had a young baby. Her planned babysitter had bailed at the last minute, so fearful of losing her job she had brought her baby to work. She’d fed her bub and then settled her down to sleep in what she thought was an unoccupied hotel room. She’d then started her cleaning rounds.
The thing is, being new and unfamiliar with the large hotel, she was disorientated and mistakenly thought she had left her baby in Room 227, on the floor above our room. When she went to check on her bub 30 minutes later, and found the room empty, she panicked. She was scared of the hotel manager, her boss, and didn’t want to lose her job, so she called her sister, who called the police. The maid met the police when they arrived in the hotel car park.
The suited man turned out to be a doctor who had been called by the reception lady to attend to a sick English baby. He took the baby from the policeman’s arms and handed it to the relieved mother, who was still crying copiously. Then the translator and my husband came over to where I was still handcuffed and demanded that I be released.
Shortly after this the hotel manager arrived and was briefed by the police, the reception lady and the translator. The young maid was sitting in a corner breast-feeding her baby, still crying.
As a result of all this, the manager offered us upgraded accommodation and free meals and drinks for the duration of our stay. He was incredibly apologetic. I think I also received an apology from the burly police officer who cuffed me, although I couldn’t understand what he said.
I was most concerned for the young cleaning maid. She looked to be in her late teens, and cried and hugged her baby in the corner for the next hour as we gave statements to the police and sorted things out.
I spoke to the manager and asked him not to sack the cleaning maid, and to understand that she was just trying to do her best to support her baby. He listened to me stony-faced and made no comment.
The following day we were asked to go to the local police station to sign our witness statements. We were taken there by the hotel chauffeur, who spoke good English and explained to us what the police were asking us to sign. It was a statement detailing what had happened, stating we did not want any further action to be taken.
On the way back I asked the chauffeur to take us to a shop that sold baby items. I bought some booties, a pink jacket and a pretty baby blanket. I had them gift wrapped.
The following evening I asked the new reception man – who spoke quite good English – if the cleaning maid was on duty, and said I wanted to speak to her. The young girl appeared at the desk five minutes later, but would not make eye-contact with me and still appeared very upset. Her eyes were red and I thought she had been crying. She looked so young and vulnerable.
I gave her the parcel and an envelope which contained a wad of cash, equivalent to $100 Australian dollars. I asked the reception man to translate and tell her that I was not angry with her, and I was sure she was a good Mum, and wanted her to accept this gift for her baby. I told her the hotel manager had promised me he would not sack her, and she would keep her job. On the back of the envelope I had written my name, phone number and email address.
I asked the reception man to translate to her: “Here are my contact details. Please call me if you have any trouble or need help.” She opened the present and when she saw the baby gifts she broke out into a huge grin. I motioned for her to open the envelope, and when she saw the wad of cash I thought she was going to faint! Her gratitude enveloped me and I can still see her smile to this day – but I never heard from her again.
Later the reception man told me the money I gave her was far more than she would earn for two months’ cleaning work. I was absolutely shocked, and wished I’d given her far more – because that was just the cost of one days’ meals and drinks for my husband and I – and we had been given five days’ free. I learnt a lot about inequality that day.
So that is how the weirdest thing I ever found in a hotel room almost got me arrested.