Writer, photographer, "rapper" and general technophobe takes on the internet in what could be a very, very messy fight. But it's alright: she's harder than she looks, and she's wearing every single ring she could get her hands on.


Saturday, 26 September 2009

The kindness of strangers

There are moments, here and there - scattered throughout life like chocolate sprinklings - that are so perfect, and so solid, that you can almost touch them with your fingers. Like the good bits in a MacFlurry, they're not very frequent: you happen upon them by accident, and by the time you've realised they're there they're dribbling down your chin, or they've somehow attached themselves to the front strands of your hair. Which makes it even more important that you remember to stick your tongue out and catch them properly when you find them.

Today I had one of the most peculiarly beautiful, James Stewart-esque experiences of my life, and I didn't see it coming. I didn't even see it in the distance: I was swearing and sweating so hard, in fact, that I almost missed it. 

This morning, I decided that I was going to go on a mini adventure. A Saturday without any money, thighs that have seen far too much ice cream recently and a prefecture (Japanese county) I have only ever seen from over the top of the heads of other commuters on a packed train all indicated that I should take my bike for a ride, so I promptly ignored the fact that my front light doesn't work, took a quick glance at a map on Google and rode off into remarkably ugly Japanese suburbia. I knew where I was headed - the studio I work in, via a pretty park with a zoo in it - and figured I'd be back in an hour and a half, which included fifteen minutes to eat a riceball in the middle of some picturesque flowers somewhere and maybe feed a giraffe. Google said it was three miles, so three miles - I reasoned - it had to be.

It wasn't three miles. Or if it was, I hadn't factored in a) not being able to read road signs b) not being able to ask for directions c) not having a map d) being incredibly unfit and e) being crap at riding bikes. After three and a half hours of cycling up hills and through blankets of mosquitos - and seeing no signs whatsoever of either park or zoo - I finally managed to reach my destination, only to realise that I couldn't remember for the life of me how to get back. And I couldn't find a map that wasn't in Kanji. And I still couldn't read any road signs. And it was getting dark. And my light hadn't miraculously started working at any stage on the journey. And I didn't want to cycle anymore, because I couldn't feel my thighs. And my Saturday had sucked.

Having sat on the kerb and had a little cry - which is what I always do when lost, stressed or simply after exercise - I got back on my bike again and started cycling, tearfully, towards something that looked vaguely recognisable, and actually looked far less recognisable the closer I got to it. Realising I was totally and utterly lost and too exhausted to continue, and deciding that I had nothing better or more constructive to do, I stopped abruptly at a junction so that I could carry on crying without causing a traffic jam. In front of me was a tiny old lady with a white hand bandage standing completely still, staring at the floor, waiting quietly for the green light so that she could cross. 

With what was left of my strength - and with all of my linguistic power - I asked the little old lady where Mitsukyo station was. She spoke rapidly in Japanese and made enough complicated hand gestures to make it clear that it was a long way away, that it was difficult to get to, and that I was screwed. She then pointed at the sky and made it clear that it was getting dark, and that - again - I was definitely screwed. Then she took one look at my face, waved her hand at me and asked me to follow her.

Walking slowly with my bike next to me, the little old lady then took me at least thirty five minutes through winding back streets without saying a single word. I couldn't speak - partly because I was so overwhelmed at her kindness, and partly because I didn't know how to say anything - and she didn't or couldn't say anything either. We simply walked through tiny, quiet streets, with the sky getting redder and redder and darker and darker, and the only sound was the click of my bike wheels. After a mile or so, she stopped on the pavement and silently got out of her bag a piece of paper and a pen. Then she drew - with her bandaged hand - a very simple map, pointed down a long road and smiled at me. Then she bowed, turned round, and started walking back the way we had come.  

It took an hour to cycle back to my house down one very, very long and dark road, but I didn't cry again. There are some moments that come when you don't expect them, and they are supposed to be held on to. And, without a doubt, that one - the kindness, the bandaged hand, the silence, the click of my bike wheels, the sunset - was absolutely one of them.