Meet the girl who gets lost in every city.
The cars are flying by so fast without any sympathy for the unmoving road. Cherry Blossoms are shaking along the rhythm of the soft wind. By now, the sky awaits the blanket of darkness to whisper it goodnight. The block of residential houses are so quiet they could be mistaken for a haunted town.
Where is everyone?
My stomach is rumbling like thunder. We were supposed to head out to get dinner, but I have zero clue where all my friends went. I guess they weren’t even my friends in the first place; otherwise, I would not be here alone.
All around me, the streets and the houses are so similar I cannot tell them apart. My google map says I am 13 minutes away from my destination. If I reach the place in time, I probably find a few friends who can take me back to the hotel.
I am taking the right turn as the first drop of rain arrives. I keep telling myself that I am almost there, but the map still indicates that I am 12 minutes away. Annoyed, I zip my jacket up and refuse to let the rain chase me back. I am struck by how unprepared I have been. I have 30% of battery life left on my iPhone, my umbrella laid flat on my bedroom floor. I make an effort to bury the thoughts so I can mesmerize all these unfamiliar streets better.
The rain starts to get heavy, messing my glasses and turning my vision blurry. The hood attached to my jacket flies back once every 30 seconds. The touchscreen on my phone occasionally freezes. I don’t blame it. My phone had fallen into the bathtub a few days ago; I am only grateful it is still running. Plus, the temperature is getting incredibly cold; Water soaks through my device no matter how hard I try to use my head to block it from the crying sky.
iPhone + freezing temperature + rain = iPhone’s death
iPhone’s death = Google Map’s death = My death
My stomach flops when I look around and realize I am the only pedestrian on one of the streets of Philadelphia. My inner demon is so stubborn that it moves the muscles of my legs towards anywhere but the way back. It is not afraid. Even if the storm is on its way.
I come across a locked apartment and stay under its roof. The energy of each drop from the sky hurts my skin, leaving red spots behind for my peers to see if I ever make it back. My feet are as good as a frozen lake and my hands are dead mummies.
A car is pulled nearby as two figures walk out, holding umbrellas. Running as fast as I can, I scream out loud until I have their attention. I blurt out like crazy that I need to go to Ruby Buffet. One of the men pulls out his phone and warns me that it is quite far away. I do not listen. I thank him for the directions and continue my little adventure in the pouring rainstorm.
30 minutes and I can see Delaware River, the border between Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The road is way too big and I am too tiny for the few flashing cars to see. All the houses along the road seem to laugh at me because I am as good as a dead body. I ignore the inner demon, the laughter in my head, the pity for my poor self to understand that the “12 minutes away” I have seen on the screen of my phone is for driving not walking.
I cross the footbridge labeled at the end as “South Street” to Columbus Blvd. Do not ask me about the label on the other side. I am already losing my mind. The Residences at Dockside is so big I cannot stop staring at it. I speed forward, muttering “Washington Ave.” to myself over and over again.
Washington Ave. street name sign flashes before me. I smile and turn right. I have never been good at directions, nor have I ever been so proud of myself for stepping out of my comfort zone. I am from Cambodia. This is my second hour in Philadelphia. Look where I am!!!
No. Ruby. Buffet. In. Sight.
I am starving. My whole body freezes like The Night King. My knees are weak. The damn restaurant should be right here, and all I see is Jefferson Square. For the past hour, restaurants I spot are all closed. I am so frustrated. I am so done. I take another right turn and find myself face-to-face with “For Pete’s Sake”. I enter.
For Pete’s Sake is a pub. All heads turn to me. I am 18 and I invite myself out from the place for people “21 years and above”. I decided right then that I have to go back. I do not have much time. If I do not go back now, I might die. I feel like I am dying already.
I’m going back.
My heart dwells on all the frozen blood pumped from each corner of my body. My eyes make sure that I keep my feet on the sidewalk. My ears, however numb, can hear the splash of water from the speeding cars. My hands are hidden in my jacket pockets because they have finally turned into two complete ice cubes. To my surprise, my lips thin and there’s a smile on my face.
There is no regret. I didn’t give up; I gave it all I’ve got. I know my little journey to the Ruby Buffet was not for food; it was to test myself whether I am as brave as I thought I would be. It turns out I am. I wasn’t afraid. I am not afraid. I don’t know the city. I don’t see a single person. Anyone could catch me, rape me, kill me, cut me into pieces and eat. Philadelphia will be one of my favorite cities, anyway.
I am smiling because I had reached Washington Ave. I am smiling because I am always protected by someone who is good at directions. I am smiling because I have been to New York City and it wasn’t half as good as this. I am smiling because I can never be a dying Elsa like this in Cambodia as the average temperature is 29-degree Celsius. I am smiling despite the storm of my life because I know I am going to look back and remember a life well lived.
This rainstorm is a metaphor for life. It’s that brick wall that bars you from your dreams. It’s all the ugly words that keep you from flying. It’s the invisible prison that imprisons you. Sometimes you don’t really need to know how to live it well. Sometimes all you need is to believe that you’re going to live it well. Perhaps when you believe you can, you’re halfway there.
After what seems to be a little less than infinity, I finally reach the place where I met the man who was kind enough to give me directions to Washington Avenue earlier. The problem is I was so focused on the road to and fro Ruby Buffet from here that I forget my way back to the hotel. Another 30 minutes was spent roaming around with my arm doing the hitchhiking sign. I cannot even walk by this point.
One taxi stops in front of me. The driver rolls down his window and asks me where I wish to go. My brain is now liquid nitrogen ice cream and all I can tell him is that my hotel name starts with a K on Chestnut Street. To my amazement, all it takes is 3 relaxing minutes and we are parked in front of the Kimpton Hotel.
I offer the driver my Visa Card and he shakes his head. I am so stupid. What on earth would he do with my card when there is no Visa Machine in the taxi? I fish a few dollars even when I know I do not have enough cash for his tip. He let me go, anyway. He saved my life and all I could give him was the price of a cup of noodle.
I am too fatigued to argue. I ignore all of my friends in the lobby, locking myself up peacefully in my hotel room and laughing my mummified body to death. I spent more than 2 hours being a victim of the weather. I spend 2 more hours shaking chills inside my blanket as though I had malaria. One of my friends knock on my door with a bunch of boxes for my dinner and nag me into a hot shower.
The trip to Ruby teaches me that life most likely doesn’t turn out as planned. My wander into the unknown land teaches me that without the struggle, the end wouldn’t mean as much. My taxi driver teaches me to keep believing in humanity even when you do not have a penny. My only friend who showed up teaches me that true friendship exists despite the numerous number of fake ones. I teach me that bravery and belief are the elements which got me this far.
There are a lot of tragedies in one life, one journey, one heart. You can either suffer in an ocean of it or use it as the fuel to ignite your engine to fly.
No matter where you are, the smiles of your loved ones will be the light to guide you home. No matter how hard, the faith will conquer the fear. No matter how cold, you won’t drown by swimming in the vein of love.
Through a million drops of rain, I saw myself coming back to the slideshow of faces at home.
Through a thousand tragedies, find the home in your heart and believe.
© VITAK CHEAV