Wednesday, May 08, 2013

A story about getting lost

I don't drive. I don't own a car, and I've never learned how to drive. My father-in-law has offered to teach me, and one day I will see if he's still willing to help me, but we live in different countries now, so that will have to wait.

So, I walk everywhere. Taking the bus is an option, yes. But, I live in a small city. That is, it isn't that small, but I always feel like I'm healthy and strong enough to walk to places, even if it's a 40-minute walk.

That's nice when I know exactly where I'm going. I just enjoy the walk. I pay attention to my surroundings, and make mental notes about the new restaurants, bars, and all the little shops I might want to visit one day. I feel good when I'm the person who says, "oh, you need to make an extra copy of your key? I know exactly where to go!"

But, it can be a nightmare when I don't know exactly where I'm going. The different routes confuse me. My terrible sense of direction kicks in, and I don't even have a phone with GPS to show me the way.

Yesterday was a nightmare.

The day before yesterday was a nightmare, too, but for different reasons. One of them involved walking back and forth to the mall a few times to check if the atm was finally working, and it left me really tired. I'm out of shape.

Well, I had to go to the mall a few times yesterday, too. After that, I headed to the bank. I had an idea, more or less, where the bank was. Now, mind you, this is our first month living in this neighborhood. I had looked the bank up on Google Maps, and I knew that if I went all the way down the street where I live and turned right at the end of it, and walked some more, I'd eventually find the bank.

That would have been right. If I had not tried to be all clever and decided if I turned right on this one street, it would be a perfect shortcut.


Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

I walked and walked, and ended up on Ipiranga Avenue, where I realized that route couldn't possibly take me to the bank. My feet were already very sore, because I was wearing winter socks. As the day warmed up, my feet started getting very abrasive as they cooked in my boots. It was painful. I was limping and ready to give up.

Taxi cabs went by and I tried waving for them to stop. But, they either couldn't see me, or they already had passengers. It was so frustrating. I angrily stomped my foot. That's when they noticed me, and I noticed them.

There were two city workers, a man and a woman in their late twenties, sitting not too far from me. They watched my ordeal with some interest. Their orange suits told me they are street cleaners. I thought, they go everywhere cleaning the streets, and more or less know where things are. There was hope.

I limped to them and asked if they knew whether there was a bank on Ipiranga. I mean, I was too tired to try to find the one I had in mind. But, if there was another one nearby, I could just go there. Right? Right!

The only problem: they didn't know.

I cried inside as I realized I had to retrace my steps and find a way to go back to the beginning of the street where I live, and take the route I was 99% sure was correct.

Getting back to familiar territory was difficult, though. I was very tired. My feet were destroyed by then. I had been walking for a bit more than an hour.

Two confused police officers showed me the way. I'm thankful they sort of knew where the street where I live is, because "sort of" turned out to be "for sure".

I launched a longing glance at the building where I live when I walked past it. I just wanted to go home. Sit down. Eat. Yes, eat, because I hadn't had any food and it was past three. But, I had to keep going. I still had to get to the bank.

When a cab drove by, I waved frantically, but the driver didn't see me. I think I looked sad, but I didn't bother too much. I was already doomed, and my feet had gone from sore as hell to numb.

Not too far from me, a man in his thirties waved at someone, too. His dog thought he was playing with him, and excitedly jumped around him. He almost tripped on his dog, actually. It would have been a little funny, if I had not been so tired and frustrated at this point.

He looked at me and said something I couldn't understand. I was so lost in thoughts, it was actually a bit startling to realize there was someone -- a stranger! -- talking with me on the street. He said, "I stopped him for you, neighbor!"

Neighbor: "CAB. YOU. SHALL. NOT. PASS!"


The cab was there. Parked. Waiting for... me?!

"Thank you so much!" I said to him. I couldn't thank him enough. I don't even know his name. But, I'll call him Gandalf from now on. Yes. My neighbor was like Gandalf showing up at dawn on the third day.

It was such a big relief. The cab ride to the bank was very quick, but enough to help my legs relax a bit. It helped me regain strength.

On the way back, I got a bit lost, again, but I soon figured out how to get back. I even stopped by a grocery store to get bread. I bought cookies, too, because I was really hungry. And yogurt, even though we don't often buy yogurt. Strawberry yogurt looked looked very appealing all of a sudden.

Here I am, more or less close to home, bags of groceries swinging from my arms, when I spot two street cleaners walking down the street. No, they can't be the same couple I saw an hour ago on Ipiranga. I'm very myopic. It takes me forever to recognize people on the street. But, my instincts told me, even before my eyes did, that those indeed were the same street cleaners.

I'll pretend I don't recognize them, so maybe they won't recognize me, I thought. Getting lost is humiliating. I felt a bit ridiculous on Ipiranga Avenue.

They recognized me.

The lady asked me, "did you find the bank?"

"Yes. Yes, I did!"

My smile probably looked tired. I could feel the sides of my mouth drooping. But, I tried to be friendly. These people work so much, and walk way more than I do. They deserve many smiles from the world.

"I looked at you, and thought, that's the girl who was lost on Ipiranga," the guy said. Yeah. I guess that's my new nickname now. I laughed, and motioned to leave, but he quickly added, "can you give us some change, so we could get coffee?"

"Of course!" I said, and handed them money. And, they thanked me, and left.

I must confess it startled me a little that he was asking me for money. At first, I felt a little cheated-- that is, his friendly smile was the same smile he kept frozen on his face as he asked me, a stranger, for money. His mechanical tone surprised me. I don't know why it felt strange. I think it's because it felt like he was begging while he was working. Do you know what I mean? But, when I think of it, they work long hours, don't get paid enough, aren't treated well, so, what's the problem if they ask a familiar face for money?

The same way I felt there was no problem in going for them to get a free sample of their knowledge of our streets, they felt like they could ask me for money. It's all about what we think each other has to offer, isn't it? I'd say that knowing where the bank was, even though they couldn't help me with it, was way more valuable than what they asked me. Their knowledge is way more valuable than a cup of coffee. Way, way more valuable than anything I could ever offer them. It's actually ridiculous I just gave them 5 Reais, when they actually deserve so much more.

Shame on me. I can't imagine how those people handle walking so much every day, cleaning the streets, hauling a trash bin along everywhere they go. But, they have very good reasons for staying strong. They have families to take care of. They have dreams they want to see come true.

I wish I were strong like them, too.

At least, now I have another story to tell. One about getting lost, helpful wizards, workers who battle every day and have their knowledge neglected, and courage to stay strong.

Happy Wednesday, guys!

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