The Tale of the Struggling (Wo)man

“Excuse me, I’m looking for bus number five hundred and fifty-eight.”

The man stared at me.

Fatigue fuzzed my brain.  How long ago did I leave? It was yesterday, but is it still yesterday at home?

“Bus five fifty-eight. To Dudley. Can you tell me where it is?” I contemplated the consequences of not locating this bus.

His gaze was more thoughtful this time. He brightened.

“Oh, you mean the five-five-eight. It’s the next to last one, luv.”

I dragged my suitcase, backpack, and gig bag to the door of bus 558.

“To Dudley, please,” I said. Except for the coach ride from the Birmingham airport to this bus station, I had never navigated public transportation. I also had to figure out, on almost no sleep, how to handle my newly acquired pound notes.  I paid the fare, received my first British coins in change, and claimed a seat for me and my baggage.

We departed the Wolverhampton station. I strained to see out the window. Sitting on the right side had been the wrong decision. I’d forgotten that vehicles drive on the left. I watched rows of houses, unknown makes of cars, and unfamiliar stores flash by.

As the bus continued, I realized I had no idea where to get off. Obviously, I needed to exit in Dudley, but how would I know when I’d arrived? Plus, where exactly was the stop closest to campus?

This calls for some American brashness, I decided.

I turned to a nearby passenger. “Pardon me, I need to get to the University of Wolverhampton campus in Dudley. Do you know which stop is mine?”

She did. “You’ll want to get off at The Struggling Man.” It was my turn to stare. “I’ll let you know,” she assured me.

The bus stopped a couple of times, allowing passengers on and off, but the woman shook her head at me each time. Then it continued a while before pausing again. After that she said, “Your stop is next.”

I cautiously tugged the cord running above the windows. A quiet “ding” sounded. Soon brakes squealed, and the bus stopped in front of a pub, The Struggling Man.

Aha!

struggling man

Thanking the woman, I lumbered to my feet, twisting and turning to maneuver down the aisle while carrying all of my possessions for the next five months. I got off and waited until the bus pulled away. I crossed the road to enter the campus where I had been told I would be staying.

I found signage complete with arrows and followed one pointing to “Reception.” I hope that means what I think it means. I entered a small office and went up to the counter.

“Can I help you?” the clerk asked.

“Yes. I’ve just arrived for the semester as an exchange student. I need to find my dormitory.”

“Oh, you’ll need to go to the international students’ office at the main campus.”

I looked at my luggage. I thought of the effort it took to get it and myself here. I imagined the challenges of getting back to Wolverhampton and locating that particular office. I pondered how much longer it would be before I could eat a proper meal and finally get some sleep. Keep a stiff upper lip, I reminded myself. Then I did the only logical thing a young, exhausted American woman traveling alone in a foreign country for the first time could.

I burst into tears.

The clerk guided me to a chair and fetched me a cup of tea.

How very British, I thought.

41 thoughts on “The Tale of the Struggling (Wo)man

    1. I know! I hadn’t studied a foreign language in college, so I was too chicken to go anywhere else. Of course, I did have a few times where I questioned whether it really was the same language.

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  1. This was so well written and expressed the emotions felt by all of us who decide to wander unaided out of our comfort zones and see the world. I haven’t done it for some years, but remember all the emotions you described, including the tears. good for you.

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  2. omg i would have totally done the same thing! I’m glad it turned out she was wrong and you were in the right place. Also, I bet i wouldn’t have done so well figuring out the bus thing. lol

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  3. I could say I would have cried too, but I know I wouldn’t have even made it as far as you did. I honestly can’t imagine being brave enough to cross the ocean and stay for five months even now as an adult, never mind as a teen or young adult.

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    1. At the time, I was the perfect combination of brazenness and timidity to pull this off.
      It made me sad to learn that they closed this campus a few years ago, and the pub was tore down and replaced with housing. Some part of me thought I’d like to go back someday.

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  4. Oh, those final lines were so perfect and so unexpected! I probably would have done the same thing. (No, I probably would have done the stiff upper lip thing.) Honestly, crying sometimes is showing more strength than hiding it.

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