I nearly had an upsetting experience the other day. I was poised to get on a bus, but an Indian lady, of late middle age, somewhat older than myself, was having trouble communicating to a not-very-helpful lady bus driver.
“Can you take me please to Oxford Terrace, Newtown,” said the Indian lady, with that the lovely exaggerated vowels so common of Indian people. She was looking for an English School in Oxford Terrace.
“I don’t know, dear. I go through Newtown. Are you getting on?”
“Oxford Terrace I need.”
“I don’t know that, dear. I just drive the bus”
Being new in the city I was carrying a map and half the bus timetables of the city, and since the bus did pass through Newtown I was sure I could help her; so I suggested to her that she get on and we’d find it on the map together.
I looked at the map, it didn’t seem to be in the index (“typical she’ll-be-right Kiwi map, eh”); but Newtown isn’t very big, might as well just find it. Ah! Here it is, just off this main street. ‘xford, You can’t see the ‘O’ very well, there’s a big circle printed on top of it. I went forward to talk to the driver.
“Oh, what is it now?” she said. With a sing-song voice and rising inflection, she almost sounded polite!
OK, the driver’s no use (I’ll help you madam). I pointed out some obvious landmarks on the way, and told her about bus passes.
We’re nearly there, let’s just double check where we are…. oh no!! It doesn’t read ‘Oxford’ it says ‘Luxford’! The circle made me think it was an ‘O’, but underneath is printed ‘Lu’. We’re going to the wrong place!
“Madam we must get off!”
At his point I think I startled her, but she did as I suggested. We got off together. “Where is Oxford Terrace can you tell me?”
“Ummm, I’m not quite sure…” I was a little flustered, “you see, it says Luxford, not Oxford, I made a mistake, I’ll just text a friend, she’ll be next to her computer,” (texting nervously) “she’ll find it, madam… madam….”
The old lady was walking down the street, “I must find someone to ask directions. Can you tell Oxford Terrace?” (no, sorry, don’t know that one) “Oxford Terrace, please, can you tell me?” (No, I’m sorry I can’t help you).
“Please madam, I’m sure my friend can help us,” I called after her.
I followed after her. She quickened her pace away from me, apparently scared of me now. “I must ask for directions…”
OK, I’ve upset her. She thinks I’m strange. That’s fine. I’ll just find out where this street is, and I can sort all this out. (texting: “RU by internet, urgent, need 2 find oxford terrace newtown”). Oh dear… where did the lady go? She’s gone!
I received a text with directions, but I had lost the lost lady.
OK, I’m not in a hurry. I’ll find the place, come back, if I find her still hanging around asking for directions I’ll know where it is. Feeling rather guilty. Images of a dear old Indian woman wandering off lost and distressed in a foreign city.
It was a bit of a walk down the road, and not really in ‘Newtown’ according to my map, but in one of the neighbouring suburbs as far as I could tell, but I eventually found the place – thought, OK, I’ll head back the other way and see how the Indian lady got on, turned around. There she was, 50 metres away, asking people, “Oxford Terrace please, can you tell me?” (Yes, it’s just over there.)
Sigh of relief, she found the place herself without my unhelpful interference.
Waiting at a bus-stop again. The bus was late.
A man pulled up in a ute, got out, walked over to the phone booths. He had cowboy-type boots on. He looked over the phone booths quickly, checking them for something; then loudly said, “F###! ….F###, F###!”.
He turned to me, “D’you know this area at all?”
“I know it a little,” I said, trying to sound helpful. I had actually walked up and down this street at least three times in the last week.
“Is there an escort agency near here?”
“I don’t know… Sorry,” I said timidly.
He strode back to his ute, angrily, “F###! F### this place is f###ing dump!” and drove off, to my relief.
The bus was still late. Right by the bus stop some interior decorators were pulling apart the inside of a Post Shop. A lady of early old age was talking to one of them through the glass.
“Is the Post Shop closing?”
A mumbled reply through the thick glass.
“Is it moving? Are you moving?”
The reply was clearer this time, “nah, it’s stayin’ here”. (down and up New Zealand inflection.)
The lady walked away, then came back, “I didn’t really hear you before. Is this post shop moving?”
Clearly this time, “no, it’s gonna stay here.”
Then she got angry. “I don’t believe you. I know when people are not telling the truth. You’re lying!”
Then she expressed what sounded like curse words or an angry expression in a Slavic language, perhaps Polish, which was unusual since she previously been speaking English with a very pronounced New Zealand accent.
During this time I had been checking the photos on my camera, through the viewfinder (it saves battery power).
“I hope you aren’t taking photos of me!” she said, somewhat threateningly for a woman of early old age, “you better not be taking photos of me.”
“No.” I said, a little too defiantly considering she was only an old lady.
And to my relief, she went away, too.
The bus was still late.