Maybe it’s because I’ve been lost so frequently myself that I am good at connecting with lost people. Perhaps those of us that have a poor inner compass show a special aura. Instead of a personal magnet steering me in the right direction, it attracts misguided souls to me. I seem to have a talent for discovering lost people in need of assistance.
I can spot them instantly. First, they walk slowly, hesitatingly. Second, they search about with the intensity of mongooses watching for cobras. Third, and this is the dead giveaway, the little ones cry or sniffle and the older ones mutter to themselves. I can’t help it. I inevitably make eye contact.
Often, the hardest part is not getting them where they want to be. It’s understanding what they are saying.
I’m not talking about the individuals lost in the unforgiving northern woods. I discover lost children at crowded events and lost adults on city sidewalks. It’s nothing life-and-death, just enough to throw my schedule into chaos.
The most recent example was when I was running late for a writers’ meeting, again. Usually I am a prompt, dependable person, but recently life has been overwhelming. I have been late for the last two meetings and I was determined that I would be on time this evening.
I arrived a full twenty minutes early. It was a gorgeous evening and I had enjoyed the walk. Rather than waiting in the windowless college, I decided to enjoy a little more air. That’s when I saw the same woman I noticed on the way in.
She was walking slowly, looking questioningly at people, glancing around as though someone had remodelled the campus when her back was turned. I knew that expression. She passed at least a dozen people on the sidewalk plus a field full of soccer players and their audience and headed straight for me. I had made eye contact.
I don’t get it. Do I have an invisible lighthouse beacon where my third eye should be? I could be a Jean the Ripper for all they know. Yet instantly, they’ll put themselves in my hands.
Of course, she was lost. She was looking for Sharkey’s Pub where a volunteer tea was being held. I’ve never been there and most times I can’t find the room I’m looking for, but I usually know where other lost people need to be. I had passed the pub the week before when out bicycling.
By this point, she was too tired and disoriented to be given verbal directions. I had to lead her to the door. Thankfully, the writers’ group was understanding about why I was late for the third month in a row. I was thankful that the woman was empty-handed.
I have found a child with chocolate ice cream dripping down her arms and all over me. I have found a child with filthy hands who insisted on clutching me until his father came in sight. I have found a child with an excited puppy who urinated every time you spoke to it (the puppy, not the child – the child was too busy crying). But, come to think of it, I’ve also found a child who urinated every time he cried as well.
The absolute worst is when the lost person is carrying stuff that they are too tired to carry any longer. Not only must I play pathfinder and counsellor, but pack horse too. The one that almost did me in was two summers ago. In an unprecedented attack of fitness and environmental awareness, I decided to walk from the Thunder Bay Mall back to Northwood where I live. About halfway to the Arthur and Edward Street intersection, I connected with a lady. She met all the qualifications – walking slowly, looking searchingly, and muttering to herself. This was going to be a challenge. She was muttering in another language.
She was in her sixties, wearing a heavy coat, slight moustache covered in sweat, and carrying not one, but two, 4 L jugs of cooking oil. It was about 23°C and rapidly rising. After a bizarre conversation only partly in English – punctuated by large head movements and heavy sighs – I realized she was looking for the Plaza she had previously passed. I took her cooking oil and we began the trek back.
A few blocks later, I too had sweat on my upper lip and everywhere else. I sent up a plea that this lady would soon discover the joy of cooking with Pam. I had started this walk to challenge myself but this was more like a survival hike. Eventually we passed the bus stop where, the lady informed me, she had disembarked. She had turned the wrong way upon exiting. I wondered if she would have walked all the way to Kakabaka Falls if I hadn’t met her.
We made it to the parking lot where she pointed out her son’s restaurant. Oh good, I thought, I can get a cold drink before I keel over. The lady insisted on taking the cooking oil, no easy feat since the muscles in my hands had seized up around the handles. Refreshed, she hustled away, ready to deep fry at any moment.
I like to think she said thank you in her own language, maybe even offered me a drink as I staggered away. My legs felt like rubber. I was muttering to myself when I noticed a younger woman looking at me with concern.
“Fool,” I thought. “Doesn’t she know better than to make eye contact?”
August 22, 1993