I was alone and lost in Budapest at midnight. I’d gotten off at the wrong subway stop and between Cyrillic and English, I could make no sense of the signs. My backpack hurt my shoulders and shoes were wearing thin. The lights of a posh hotel called my attention, I dug out the address I had in my pocket and trudged over.
The fellow at the front desk looked me up and down. “You don’t want to stay here, do you?” he asked. As I needed directions more than my pride, I said no thank you and showed him the scrap of paper in my hand. “Go wait for the bus,” he said, pointing out the doors. “Across the street. The bus goes there.”
I waited 30 minutes at that bus stop. I could see the hotel’s front desk from my bench, and that skinny, oily young man standing behind it. I realized that the bus wasn’t coming. They didn’t run that late. Of course.
Cursing, I started walking again and wandered into a club district. Big men in shiny suits stood smoking outside discos. Techno music blared. I nodded hello to them as I passed. Walk like you know where you are going, my mother always said. You’ll get in less trouble that way. Right.
Around the next corner was dark. The streetlights didn’t work and the skeleton of an unfinished building loomed next to me. I told myself to keep walking and that I could walk all night if I had to. What I wanted to do was sit on the sidewalk and cry. But crying never solved anything. Crying didn’t read a map. Crying didn’t find hostels. How dangerous was Budapest at one in the morning anyway?
The street got darker. I could not see where it was going or what kinds of buildings lined the road. The sidewalk was uneven. Would it be safer to find a corner for the night or keep walking? I could go back, but the men in the suits and gold watches would see me and they would know I was lost.
Then I heard English. Two males voices chatting behind me. I turned around and hello to the dark.
I couldn’t see their faces until they were quite close. An American and a Canadian. They walked me over to the hostel–less than three blocks away from where I was standing. So close, but I could’ve walked all night.
In fiction, I keep going. People around may wonder what the hell I am doing and if I am lost, but I keep going. Sometimes I find someone along the way to point me in the right direction. Like Shelly. And Shelli. Rowena too. JES. Now when I get to where I’m going the place may be shabby, but at least I’m there. Thanks to them and several others.
Who keeps you going when your story gets lost?