I hate being lost. A lot.
I’ve been in a car and the friend who’s driving makes a wrong turn and my chest gets tight. All we have to do is drive around the block or make a U-turn, but suddenly I cannot concentrate on our conversation until our temporary status as “lost” has been rectified. Put me in a situation where we’re really lost and you may not notice, but I’m about two more wrong turns from a panic attack.
While this may-or-may-not have anything to do with my deeply rooted control issues, I don’t bring it up so you can psychoanalyze me (so you can stop. now.) but so that the rest of this story makes sense…
I have bills to pay. Paying bills here in South Asia involves going to the local branch of whatever office you need to give money to and paying it there. This usually isn’t a problem and I go out in one afternoon-long “bill run”.
But today, I’m paying bills in my new (and much larger) city. I arrive at the market I thought held two offices I need and find that it contains only one.
“Where’s the internet store?” I ask an intelligent-looking security guard.
“Oh, it moved to [this other] market,” he says and gets a grin on his face, sucking in a breath the way some guys here do when they’re about to try and flirt with you.
I dash away towards an auto.
“I need to go to [this] market,” I tell the driver. “I’m not sure where, but over there somewhere is [this internet] store. So we’ll have to just start asking people.”
He nods slowly, “80 rupees.”
“Maybe we should go by meter,” I offer. Drivers around here rarely go by the government-approved meter, preferring instead to see how much extra they can milk out of you by quoting a price. But, as I explain to the driver, “We’re going to be driving around, asking people for directions. It could be less than an eighty rupee trip… could be more. How do you know? Let’s go by meter…”
He shakes his head, “No problem, 80 rupees.”
I grimace and climb in.
We make it to the market but, admittedly, it is a big place. He drives down the main road and we don’t see the store I’m looking for. He asks one person, who doesn’t know where it is.
He pulls over and stops. “There isn’t this store here. There’s one further away. For another fifty rupees I can take you there.”
I glare at him, “This is why we should’ve gone by meter.”
While we argue, a man comes up and is standing a few feet away from the auto. I turn to him, “Sir, do you know if there’s [this] store around here?”
“Oh yes,” he says. “Just up the road.”
My auto driver glares at the man, sighs, and re-starts the auto.
We drive forward a bit more, but run into a traffic jam. Traffic’s moving, but slowly. He pulls over, shuts the auto off, and says, “Too bad, there’s a traffic jam. You’ll have to go on foot from here.”
“Traffic’s moving,” I say. “Let’s keep going.”
He shakes his head in the way that tells me we’re done.
“I should give you only sixty rupees,” I say. “You didn’t take me where I wanted to go.”
“That’s ridiculous,” he says. “There’s a traffic jam, what can I do?”
“The traffic’s moving,” I say.
“No it’s not,” he says. “That’s ridiculous.”
I hand him his money. “You’re ridiculous,” I say and step out.
So on foot, I’m off. I stop intermittently and ask people if they know where the internet store is. Some do and waive me further forward, down the road. Other people don’t and shrug helplessly. Some pretend to know and waive me off in another direction.
According to the various pointings I receive, I wind my way through the market. I stop to glance over some kurtas that are on sale and dodge teenagers selling puffy plastic balloons to families with distracted children.
It strikes me at this point that I came to this market on the word of a slightly-skeezy security guard in a completely different market. How much does he really know?
I finally stop at a cart piled high with fresh, green coconuts.
“Is there an internet store around here?” I ask the coconut man.
He nods, “Down by [such-and-such] sweet shop”. His teeth are nubs or completely missing, the red color of betel leaf.
Finally – a landmark!
“How far is it?”
“You should get a cycle rickshaw,” he advises and proceeds to help me flag one down. He explains to the driver where to go, although this consists mostly of him waiving his hand in non-descript directions.
We set off.
It’s slow going through yet another traffic jam and I have time to hope that coconut man really knew what he was talking about.
Then it occurs to me that I am technically lost. I should be bordering on a meltdown, chest tight, tears welling. But I’m almost enjoying myself. The day is sunny and cool, the market bustling with people and bursting with every imaginable piece of merchandise.
And there is my store.
I give the cycle rickshaw man a tip (he should share the joy!), scurry into the internet store and pay my bill. Mission accomplished.
I still hate being lost.
It’s just that somewhere I changed my definition of what “lost” means.