Here is the story of why I shouldn’t be allowed to use public transportation by myself, OR, how I was accidentally kidnapped by a really nice African man.
I was going to draw this whole thing as a comic, but then I realized it would be crazy long and, frankly, I think it will do better as text. So I’m doing that instead. But you can still look at the two pages I did draw before realizing that would take forever. Cut for length.
Like a cliché anime story, this whole thing could have been avoided had I not overslept. Then I could have left earlier, caught a completely different bus, and had an entirely different and probably much more mundane and uneventful adventure. But who wants a boring adventure anyway, amirite? Karma knew better. After all, the day before I had been complaining about how bored I was (At the time I couldn’t work on comics since I was having problems with my comic files. I did finally fix it in the wee hours of the morning, which led me to oversleeping in the first place), so karma knew exactly what to do.
I got up, took a shower, and when I got out I saw a message on my phone from my fiancé that he’d called Comcast and told them I would go pick up the modem. His thinking (not knowing I’d fixed my comic file problem since he’d been asleep) was that this would fix my boredom problem while he was at work. Plus we’d get internet sooner.
But unlike yesterday, I wasn’t really in the mood for anything exciting.
So naturally this trip would be exactly that.
I checked my phone and the bus was leaving in 15 minutes. It takes 10 minutes to walk to the nearest stop and I figured, hey, why not, I’ll just leave now and get it over with. I put some music on and started the journey. As I neared the bus station, I happened to catch up with a man heading the same direction. I was going to just walk right past him, but then…
“Hello!” he said. He was looking at me with an extremely friendly smile.
My first thought was: “Oh. This must be the ‘southern hospitality’ thing everyone is always talking about.”
I said, “Oh hello!”
I smiled, trying to return what I assumed was just general niceness and polite small talk. He talked more as we walked and kept pace with me, which then started to make the situation feel a little strange. I still had my headphones on, but I felt obligated to take them off since he continued to talk. Weren’t headphones the universal do-not-talk-to-me signal? Apparently he missed the memo.
I asked, “Are you taking the bus too?” which he happily replied with, “Yes!” We got to the corner and the bus stop was just across the street. As luck would have it, the bus was coming that very second! I didn’t want to miss it, but running into traffic seemed dangerous. I was antsy with indecision.
The man looked me straight in the eye, smiling, and said, “We can make it. Follow me!”
I hesitated for a second, but followed. Our timing with traffic couldn’t have been better, and it turned out there was a man taking his time to pay the fare, so we had no problems getting on. We laughed about our good fortune and this is where the story with this acquaintance should have ended. Where it would have just been a fun happenstance and a quaint little memory that I could look back on and smile. Yes, I would have been quite happy had it ended with that.
He sat next to me on the bus. Which was fine, I suppose. Perhaps he wanted to get to know someone from the neighborhood. That’s cool, right? I could totally be down for that. I was getting a bit of a bad feeling, but I suppressed it. It was only a short bus ride to the train station anyway and then, I assumed, he would be going away into the city or something.
We talked. Well, really, he talked and I listened. He then proceeded to tell me his life story in a very jumbled non-sequitur way. Now, I don’t want to seem a jerk here – his life really was very interesting! But at the same time, I kind of just really wanted to be left alone, go to Comcast, get the stupid modem, and go home. Just running an errand, ya know?
And because this ISN’T the first time something like this has happened to me, let me throw something else in here too. If you ever find yourself on a bus, sitting next to someone, talking, and they are just smiling, nodding, and looking completely bewildered…I want you to ask yourself something. Firstly, do you know them? And secondly, did they ask? If the answer to both is “no”, please stand up quietly, go find somewhere else to sit, and do not speak to them any further. Please. At the very least do the last one.
Anyway, back to the story.
He was from Africa (Ghana, more specifically). He lived in DC for a while before moving to Atlanta, where he’s now been for two years and very happy. Yes, very happy. He is a very happy man. He used to love playing soccer and was disappointed when he got here to find that Americans aren’t really into that (I sympathize; soccer is a cool sport and I prefer it much to football). He kept saying, “You understand, yes?” after nearly every point.
But as fascinating as he was, my bad feeling was only growing and he was a bit awkward to converse with, so I really just wanted to get out of there.
I couldn’t though! He was from Africa! And I remembered seeing a video in a class I took about cultural differences where some men came from Africa to America and they got depressed and lonely because people wouldn’t talk to them. Back home, they could go up to anyone at all and just talk and hang out and everything would be awesome. Even if you’d never met them before, you could hang out like best friends. You can’t do that in America. You just…can’t. It makes people uncomfortable. You know, just like I was feeling right now.
As he talked about these EXACT CULTURAL DIFFERENCES, I now felt even more obligated to be cordial and friendly. FOR AMERICA. To show that not all Americans are jerks and we can be friendly too. Really!
But even I have limits.
We got off the bus and I immediately said, “SEEYA; I got to go,” and bailed. He seemed to run into someone he knew, which seemed the perfect opportunity to get away. Because at this point the nagging feeling in my gut was screaming exactly that: “Get away, Laura! Go as far, far, far away as you can!”
He jogged to catch up to me and asks, “Hey, where you going?” This, to me, was starting to cross into the creeper zone. He asked about how to get to Walmart from there, I pointed the way, and started to walk.
I didn’t want to take him with me to Comcast (that would be weird), so I hoped that if I walked him to where the Walmart was, I could finally be free of him. As we walked, he started to talk about happy he was that we met and how I had just completely made his day by talking to him.
Part of me thought, “Oh, I guess that’s kind of nice. I’ve made his day.”
Another part cried, “GREAT. Now I REALLY can’t leave him because that would just make me the biggest jerk EVER.”
Then he started talking about how we should go get something to eat together and I tried very, VERY hard to decline the offer. Well, not hard enough I suppose, but I’m really awful at lying and often have some social anxiety, so I tend to turn into a horribly mushy doormat. Not very good at that “saying NO” thing.
He proposed we get a taxi to go somewhere else, which made me scream internally for half a minute.
THERE COULD ONLY BE TWO OUTCOMES FROM RIDING A TAXI WITH THIS STRANGER.
1) I never come home again because something absolutely terrible has happened to me (rape and/or murder).
2) This harmless and uncomfortable adventure would continue on for many more hours.
Both possible sounded absolutely TERRIBLE. The bad feeling I had felt even worse. How do you get out of this one? Telling him, “Sorry, I’ve been raised in a society that has taught me to be wary of strangers because you might rape and/or murder me” sounded extreme, unlikely, and kind of mean. The latter (“You’re making me really uncomfortable and I really don’t want to spend more time than I have to with you”) sounded almost worse as it fell back into the “biggest jerk EVER” category.
Remember, gotta be friendly. FOR AMERICA.
I insisted we just eat locally – thank god there was a Deli by the Walmart – and used the excuse that we were saving money this way (which we totally were, so, not a lie). I was now hoping that if I just quickly got through the meal I could then leave him at Walmart and run like the Dickens away.
He insisted he paid for our meal, and curiously didn’t even look at the menu. He told me,”I don’t eat pork.” This confused me.
So don’t order pork? I thought. I guess lucky for him I don’t either – it turned out he told me this because he was planning to order the same thing as me, regardless of what it was.
Naturally the deli was slow with our food and I agonized for eons while the conversation was forced to progress.
He continued praising me for my kindness and was extremely appreciative. I learned more about life story and we talked a lot about cultural differences between America and Africa. He had to work very hard to come here, but was lucky because his parents sent him to school. He calls home very often and has a very large family, and he loves every one of them dearly. His mother had died a few years ago and he was sad she was not alive to know he finally made it. But he sends them money periodically and they are always extremely amazed to receive it. Money that we think is not very much means a lot to them.
“They tell me when I call home,” he said, motioning to his drink. “’Anass, you drink cola. You are a rich man!’” We both laugh.
He explains that back home, only the wealthy drink soda and if someone owned a ceiling fan that, too, would mean they were rich. They never wore shoes either. And although he is happy to send them money, he also stresses for them to use it wisely. He would rather they use it to go to school than simply to depend on him for food. He worried about them becoming too reliant, and I thought his mentality on the matter was a good one.
He met one other man from Africa who had told him, “Just forget about those back home! They don’t matter.” He was appalled by that.
He was also appalled when he sees people here who disrespect their parents. He doesn’t understand it (here I also could relate; I don’t get it either). It makes him sad that people in America are so focused on work and that it seems to be all the ever do. He doesn’t like how much people keep to themselves and wished they were more like me.
Grinning again, he says, “I believe in fate. It was destiny that we have met. God had decided that we should meet, and thus we have. You see? Already we talk like good friends!”
I smiled and nodded, despite me desperately wanting an escape.
After we ate, I finally looked at my watch and insisted I must leave. He again praised me and was glad we had met and I returned the sentiment before scurrying away.
As I walked to Comcast, I texted James: “You see, this is why I shouldn’t be allowed to take public transportation by myself. I WAS JUST ACCIDENTALLY KIDNAPPED BY A REALLY NICE AFRICAN MAN.”
He immediately called me.
“Are you okay?!” he asked with worry.
“Oh, don’t worry about it. It’s fine. I got away from him now.”
“WHO?! WHAT HAPPENED?!”
“I’ll tell you later.” Click.
In hindsight I can see why that maybe was an unhelpful conversation and why he would be very upset when he came home to see me perfectly fine when he had just spent hours wondering and worrying about how and why I’d been kidnapped and probably contemplating whether he would ever let me out of the apartment again. When I finally did explain it to him, every part only made him more upset and possibly more disturbed that I have managed to survive on this Earth so long.
“You TALKED to him?”
“You let him sit next to you?!”
“YOU LET HIM FOLLOW YOU?!”
Side note to James: I WAS JUST BEING NICE. You should try it sometime. THAT’S HOW YOU MAKE FRIENDS.
Well, my trip to Comcast had been very dull in comparison and I couldn’t help but notice since I left just how much others may seem unkind because of how they keep to themselves. No smiles, nods, or kind eyes to be seen anywhere.
But then, most of the other people were there to complain.
After I picked up the modem, I returned to the train station to wait for the bus. I felt very glad that it all was over, the bus came soon after, and I happily picked a seat and waited for it to leave. I felt that was adequate adventure for one day and I was quite ready to just go home and work on drawing.
Suddenly the bad feeling returned.
Immediately I thought, That man believed in fate and destiny. HE’S GOING TO GET ON THIS BUS, I KNOW IT.
But I had already gotten on myself, so I wasn’t leaving now. I just prayed silently and kept praying.
BUT THEN THERE HE WAS.
At the last possible second yet again, he hopped on and scavenged his pockets for money. When he turned to get a seat and saw me, he had the absolute biggest smile on his face.
And so I was forced to politely tolerate another hour of friendly conversation as we rode the bus, got off, and headed home. His place was in the opposite direction, fortunately, so he won’t know where I live to find me anytime soon. Maybe it’ll be less nerve wracking next time since I’ll be prepared and at least know the man’s name.
I don’t have any power over what Karma, Fate, or Destiny may do.
Don’t get me wrong either. I’m sure this sounds like a totally awesome adventure to some of you that I really should have better appreciated (or maybe you’re on James’ side and think that I am lucky to be alive, depending on where you fall on the paranoia spectrum). He truly was a really nice guy with a genuinely interesting story…BUT I still did not know him, had no way of knowing if his intentions were genuine, was conflicted between reason and my gut instinct that was screaming, and it was frightening, uncomfortable, pleasant, nice, awkward, and strange all at the same time.
So I’d rather not repeat the experience anytime soon.
But, there you have it.
I will try to avoid taking public transportation, and I will also try not to get myself kidnapped by awfully nice people. But at least do rest assured that if something bad does happen to me, they were at least probably awfully nice about it.