She’s standing in the middle of a Dia de los Muertos celebration. And she’s very, very lost.
Mo and I are sitting on the curb outside K Space watching the craziness. We’re a few hundred feet from the main stage, with a mixture of music and traditional dance. The closed street is packed with revelers showing off their Halloween and Day of the Dead costumes. It’s part carnival and part shrine, decorations everywhere. And right in front of us, there she is.
She’s talking with two very kind men. She speaks no English; she’s Asian but I never figure out exactly what nationality. The men are trying to communicate, but it’s hopeless. And then we see it. She’s holding a bus ticket. We look at each other. This is bad.
You see, the bus station until recently was on the corner next to the main stage. But it has moved uptown, about 2 miles away. The men are trying to show her on the phone but not having much luck. The woman watches them intently, confused but smiling. She never, ever stops smiling.
Do you want to help her, Mo asks me. No, I reply. I am a bad person. My feet hurt, it’s crowded, I’m really tired. I just want to sit here. You can’t save every stray kitten, I always tell her. She never listens. She jumps up and walks over.
Mo starts up a conversation with the woman, much to the relief of the two guys, who make a hasty exit. The woman holds up her ticket and smiles. Bus, says Mo. The woman says yes. You’re trying to find the bus station, Mo asks. Yes, she says. After a few minutes, we realize “yes” must be the only word she knows. If you say something to her, she says yes and flashes that big smile, totally oblivious.
Mo tries to point to where the new bus station is. Nothing to it, lady. Just go up Taylor, do that little zig-zag at the hill, hit Leopard, go five or six blocks, turn left on Staples, and there you are! Not going to happen.
Downtown is totally blocked off to traffic because of the festival. Thousands of people are cramming in for the party. Even if she knew where she was going, she could never get a taxi. How did she get here in the first place? It’s crazy. Should we take her there, Mo asks me. Having figured out that “no” isn’t going to work anyhow, I shrug. Mo points in that direction, points at herself and makes a driving gesture. The woman smiles and says yes.
Imagine what it’s like for this woman. She is absolutely, helplessly lost and has stumbled into total chaos, standing in the middle of one of the country’s biggest Dia de los Muertos festivals. She is being led away by two total strangers, one of them a deranged crazy guy. And she’s still smiling.
We walk to the car a couple of blocks away (we’re parked in the newspaper lot so it’s close.) She gets in the passenger seat and Mo sits in back. She’s still smiling, bus ticket clutched tightly.
I’m not sure what they talked about on the way. Mo says “this was me in Venezuela.” She lived there for a while as a missionary teacher with a very limited Spanish vocabulary and people helped her. This is payback.
We make it to the bus station. Luckily, there’s a police officer outside. I explain her situation to him and he promises he’ll take it from here, helping her inside and getting her to where she needs to go. She gets out of the car, turns to us and says yes. She puts her hand together in a prayer position and bows in appreciation. Maybe the most touching gesture ever.
We watch her walk away with the officer and cross our fingers. Please work your magic, Saint Christopher. We weave back through the traffic and return to the insanity.
You can’t save every stray kitten. But maybe you can help one or two along the way. Mo is a good person. I’m lucky to have her around to kick me in the butt when I forget.
Safe travels, friend. Yes.