Metro Moments: Foreign Lands Edition

Wednesday, July 9, 2008
He looks wide-eyed and lost, sitting on the bench in Virginia waiting for something or someone who doesn't show. A man in a suit approaches us--the lost man and me--and asks him if he knows the way to Crystal Drive. He doesn't, he says, he just arrives in Washington today, and I point in the wrong direction.
I go back to my newspaper and look up surprised and abashed. I turn to the lost man now fingering his shopping bags.
"I told him the wrong way," I say, and we start to laugh.
He is visiting from Nigeria, about to be a student in Texas but first he needs a visa, so he can be a tourist in London. It took him three hours to get to the embassy, lost as he was on the Metro.
I asked him if--in the 24 hours he has left -- he is planning on doing touring.
"Where would I go?"
I stumble. "Go see all the great buildings... and monuments. Go to the White House."
It suddenly strikes me as an incredibly on point question. Why would he want to see the White House from behind the tall fence? I try again. "It's the seat of our democracy..." I stop again. "The Smithsonian museums are great. Go see them."
I turn back to my newspaper, suddenly and stingingly inarticulate in my native language.
"Are you waiting for someone?"
I look up again.
"No, just waiting. I need to finish my M&M's before I go, because you can't eat on the metro."
He laughs. He's right. It is absurd.
"Are you married?"
"Um no. ... Not yet."
Silence again. I wonder if I should make up a fake boyfriend.
"Would you marry an African man."
I try silence for a moment, and then say "I'm not ready to get married."
"Would you walk with me?"
"I can't," I say popping the last M&M into my mouth and moving to the garbage can. "I have to go," feeling guilty at abandoning my newspaper mid-article, at manufacturing an excuse, at leaving him, a foreigner, in the Virginia town that feels foreign to me only a few metro stops outside of D.C.

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