Tuesday, January 12, 2010
Lost in America II
I had ordered some stuff on-line and just as I was about to check out, I was given two options of either having my stuff shipped to me or going to pick them
up at the nearest store.
Selecting the shipping option meant that I had to wait for at least 2 days to get them. "Why wait?" I thought to myself, "When I can get them today from the store?"
That was how the decision was made. Emboldened by the fact that I had found my way to work that morning all by myself with almost no hassles at all, I set out early from the office.
Little did I know that the problems I had encountered whilst trying to find the store was small compared to what I was about to face afterwards.
At the store,the attendant was a nice, young, bespectacled lady but she wasn't the person I had hoped would attend to me.
You see, I had called earlier before leaving the office, to confirm that I was headed to the right store and that they indeed had my package ready.
It was an interesting conversation.
A chirpy voice was at the other end of the line.
"Good morning, My Stuff Stores, how may I help you?"
I told her what my call was about and gave her details of my online transaction so she could confirm it.
She politely asked me to hold and after a few seconds she told me everything was in order and that I could come in anytime to pick up my stuff.
I thanked her and was about to end the call when she said
"Er, madam, may I ask a personal question?"
Out of sheer curiousity and with only a second's pause, I said "Go ahead"
She continued a bit tentatively "What part of Nigeria are you from?"
Her question caught me off guard. It was not so much the personal nature but the specificity of it. I mean, Americans would usually ask you, "What country do you come from?". And in an attempt to buttress their meaning they'll go on "....is it Jamaica, Africa, the Bahamas....?". As far as they are concerned, Africa is just one large piece of land and regardless of its size, it is classified in their minds as a single country rather than the awesome continent that it is.
With a quizzical look on my face, my reply was more question than statement "Imo State?"
To my astonishment, the breezy American accent quickly changed into a flawless Nigerian one.
"Ah! What part of Imo state?"
I told her and she exclaimed in Igbo "Nwannem Nwanyi!" - My sister!.
She said she could tell by my name, that I was Igbo. It turned out that our respective villages shared boundaries. There was an excited ring to her voice as she continued speaking, her sentences punctuated with Igbo words. We spent all of 3minutes talking as if we were long lost friends.
In that short time, I learned that she'd come to America 2 years before to study but her parents could no longer send her money so she had to get a job.
She said I shouldn't mind her American accent, that she had to take special lessons to perfect it otherwise she would never have got that job. The store didn't want to have their customers chased away by a Nigerian-sounding customer care agent.
Suddenly, she was all professional again, the accent was back and she apologized that her shift ended in 30minutes otherwise she would have loved to meet me.
And that was it,the call ended. No numbers were exchanged, there were no promises of future contact and there was definitely no talk of a meet up somewhere or anywhere for that matter.
As I gingerly placed the phone back into its cradle, I couldn't help but wonder if I had just dreamed the entire conversation up!
The store attendant handed me my package and I was tempted to ask her about a Nigerian lady that worked at the store but whose shift ended at one O'clock.
I didn't, instead I asked if I could use their phone to call the Metro and get directions for my way home. She obliged.
The call was a short one and the directions sounded reasonably easy to follow. I was to take the 66 from the nearest bustop to Downtown Transit Station, from there I was to take the METROrail that would stop me at the corner of Fannin and Congress at that stop, I'd take the 008 home! I wrote down the directions dutifully, thanked the attendant cheerily and I was on my way!
It wasn't long before the 66 came and I hopped on it. We had driven for a while before it occurred to me that I didn't check to see whether the bus was headed TO Downtown or FROM Downtown. The buses often had a sign saying 'South Bound' or 'North Bound' but I never was one who understood bearings so I often asked if the bus was headed towards a particular area or away from it. I spent a few more minutes arguing with myself if it was best to ask a fellow
passenger or the driver himself. Finally, I worked up courage and went to the driver.
He stopped me at the next stop with a sorry look on his face. I had been on the wrong bus! I was supposed to be heading the other way. He was nice though as he explained that I needed to cross over to the other side of the road and I was not to worry, the next bus would arrive in 10minutes. I thanked him and watched as the bus turned the corner and disappeared.
I wanted to slap myself! I stood at that bus- stop for another 20minutes before the real 66 arrived. This time, I was sure to ask the driver "Down Town?".
I waited to see him nod before I slid my ticket into the machine and boarded. I watched as the nightfall quickly descended but I wasn't worried,I knew that getting to DownTown was half-way home.
The Transit Station was the last stop so everyone disembarked, I made sure I was last in line so I could talk to the driver. I asked him where I could board METROrail and he pointed to an arbitrary location towards his left hand side. I followed the motion of his hand squinting as I did just to make sure I saw what I should see. There was no sign of a train so I looked at him with a question in my eyes and he kept pointing in that direction mumbling to himself as he did.
I thanked him and disembarked.
Perhaps I needed to walk over there to see exactly what he was pointing at. I crossed the street thinking to myself that the road was exceptionally wide but for the life of me I couldn't find any tracks let alone the train! I looked back at where the bus had been but it was no longer there and eerily there were no longer any buses parked at the station.
I looked up the road to my left hand side and down the road to my right hand side but it was all smoothly paved, no train track in sight!
I looked at my wristwatch, it was already a few minutes past 7pm. It was January and the weather was quite chilly. It was dark and the streets were quickly emptying. The working population were finding their way home, boarding park-and-ride buses.
And then I had a great idea. It seemed like a great one at the time anyway. I was simply going to walk! Afterall, the Downtown METROrail only served certain streets within the downtown area. Surely the street I sought could not be that far.
I pulled my head warmer down over my ears, raised the collar of my jacket, stuck my hands in the jacket pocket and I took the first step. My confidence level was at an all time high.
"I can do this!"
Everytime I got to a junction, I stopped to read the street name on the sign post before continuing. I had passed about four streets when I thought it wise to ask someone.
I did and he said, "oh, Fannin's just 5 or 6 blocks from here".
I smiled at him, grateful that I was actually headed in the right direction. Eight streets after, I began to question my understanding of the term 'block'. Didn't the distance between 2 streets represent one block?
I was pondering this thought when a man appeared, from no where it seemed, and lunged at me. I shrieked and jumped; my heart in my mouth. My shriek scared him too and he quickly backed away.
He turned out to be a homeless man who was trying to ask me for a few cents. I'd heard of America's homeless people and I was meeting my first one. He wore dirty clothes and his hair which stuck out in clumps from under the hood of his jacket looked like it had been smeared with mud. I pulled my bag closer to my chest, increased my strides and kept walking.
I walked and walked and walked and walked. I still hadn't found a sign that said Fannin. By then it began to occur to me that I'd made a very big mistake.
My confidence faltered.