March 28, 2017

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Lost in London

“I think it’s this way.”

We turned the corner.

“No, I think it’s this way.”

We crossed a street.

“Actually, it might be that way.”

We turned back around and went back the way we came.

We were officially lost. Neither of us knew where we were going. The buildings, though they all looked distinctly different, all seemed to run together as if they were actually the same. Every other street corner, we found the same restaurant, a cute little organic food cafe. That offered us no help and certainly no direction. The only comfort we had was the knowledge that we all spoke the same language here. Thankfully, we hadn’t gotten lost in Italy or Germany, where we couldn’t understand more than a few words sprinkled throughout (if that).

I stopped, exasperated, exhausted, more than a little bit frustrated, and perhaps even angry. This wasn’t how I had imagined the trip. This wasn’t how I had planned to spend my time. Instead of visiting museums and looking around at all the beautiful, wonderful sights of the big city, we were lost. Of course, I could imagine how this had happened to me of all people. It was only my luck that it would be me. Things don’t often go my way. Or at least not the way that I would prefer them to go.

“Maybe we should just ask for directions,” I asked, though I don’t think I convinced anyone of the necessity or even the genius behind such a suggestion. We walked on, past restaurants and shops bustling with people. People we could have easily talked to, asked directions from, gotten help from. But our pride prohibited us, holding us back. So, as all prideful people do, we continued on despite our obvious need for assistance.

The sun started to set. Normally, I would stop to admire it, the beautiful mixture of reds and oranges and yellows with just a hint of green where they meet the blues and purples of the night sky. Tonight, however, I couldn’t focus. My mind wandered, hitting on the worst possibilities of what might happen as we wandered the streets of London at night. We could get even more lost or we could get mugged or we could freeze or–

My mind refused to stop, filling my head and my imagination.

I turned around, mid-sentence. “–might be that…” Gulp. “Way.”

No one was around. My heart racing, I looked around me, searching for my friends. Just a moment before, I had stood right here in this very spot with two of my closest friends. We may have been lost, but at least we had each other. And now, they seemed to have disappeared. “Guys?” I called, though no one further than three feet away could have heard the whisper of my words. A chill ran through my spine. I was lost.

And I was alone.

My worst nightmare. I picked up my pace, my feet hitting the pavement heavily as I walked, tucking my jacket closer around me and wrapping my arms around my stomach protectively. I could feel the fear setting in. I was going to die out here tonight! I became sure of it. I would never survive the cold night alone in the big city. I could hardly survive a day in the city back home by myself! I refused to let myself cry, pushing back the tears as they came. I had to be strong.

Strength isn’t exactly my best suit, however. I could feel the tears winning the battle as I continued to roam the streets, aimlessly now. I had lost hope. How could I navigate a city I didn’t understand? I had never felt so alone, watching as people sped by me. Everyone seemed somehow connected to the city, except for me. I was an outsider, in every possible way. I didn’t belong here. I stood out. I was lost. And alone. More alone than ever before. And I was terrified.

I turned down some random street–I don’t even remember its name–and before I could get very far, a young man jogged out of a shop door and chased after me. “Miss!” he called out after me. At first, I ignored him. No one with good intentions ever ran after someone in the dark. “Miss, please wait!” I slowed down, though I didn’t entirely trust him still. “Miss, I don’t mean you any harm. It’s cold out and you look lost. Let me help you.”

As he pulled up next to me, I looked over at him. His eyes shone with a warmth you don’t find in psychopaths or crazies. His smile warmed me in a way nothing physical could. Setting a hand on my arm, gentle and sweet, he nodded back towards the shop. “Come back with me. I will help you find your way. You can trust me.”

He led me back the way we had just come, took me inside the shop, and sat me down behind the counter. “Where are you staying?” I couldn’t help but laugh, a hearty laughter made heartier by my relief and my tiredness from the long day. “What’s so funny?”

“You knew I’m not from here just by looking at me. I didn’t even have to say anything. Was it really that obvious?”

Laughingly, he nodded. “You just looked so lost.” His voice lowered, sobered, as he added, “And so lonely.”

I felt my cheeks redden, warmth spreading across them and down my neck. “Well,” I began sheepishly, “I was, so you’re not wrong there. I was with friends and then they just suddenly kinda… disappeared. They were there one moment, and then I guess I must have turned my back on them and when I turned back towards them again, they weren’t there. They must have wandered off without me.” I started to laugh, a derisive laugh that I couldn’t stop from erupting out of my chest. “Bet they didn’t even notice. Bet they didn’t even care.”

The young man frowned, a sympathetic look in his eyes. “Is that what you call a friend? Someone you do things with but who doesn’t necessarily care about you?”

I shrugged. Even though I hated to admit it, that had become my definition of a friend over the years. I didn’t want that to be the case. I didn’t want my friends to be people I spent time with but knew didn’t really care about me or my well-being. Over the years, in my experience, people simply didn’t care about me. They didn’t see me. They looked over me, past me. I had become so used to it, that having someone wish to spend time with me satisfied me more than anything else.

Sympathy oozing from his every pore, he curled me into his arms and against his chest, his chin resting on my shoulder. “You poor thing,” he mumbled in my ear. “Let me take care of you. I won’t let you get lost again. I’ll help you find your hotel, but for now, it’s getting late. Why don’t you come home with me? I’ll take the couch and you can sleep in the bed.” I started to protest, but he cut me off with a little waggle of his finger. “It’s the least that I can do for a lost traveller who stumbled upon my doorstep.”

When we arrived at his apartment, he showed me directly to the bedroom, a bathroom attached to it. “I know it isn’t much, but I’m sure it’s more comfortable than your hotel room,” he said, pulling back the bedsheets and the comforter. “If you need me, I’ll be in the living room. Sleep tight.”

I cried myself to sleep that night, thinking of his kindness. No one had ever shown me such love and generosity. He didn’t know me. I don’t remember if he even asked for my name. But none of that mattered. He saw a lost and scared and lonely woman, and he decided to offer her a helping hand.

That night, I no longer felt so lost.

***

Prompt: See title. Also inspired by the memories of the trip to Europe I took last year.

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