It was my last day in London, and the only day I had free to do a little bit of sightseeing. Not that I hadn’t managed to soak in the atmosphere of the place – when you travelled as much as I did on business, you learnt the art of waking up early and taking walks around the neighbourhood. But there was still so much I wanted to “see” and experience; I virtually wanted to cram a lifetime of books into a single day.
In my hurry to be out and about, I transfer the notebook where I had written down the address of the place I was staying from my bag to my rucksack. I realised my mistake before I had gone too far, but didn’t want to waste precious time going back to fetch it. After all, how hard could it be to get back? All I had to do was to retrace the route from the Underground station. I looked around for landmarks- there didn’t seem to be too many of them, but wasn’t one grey stone church at the corner where the lane intersected the main Finchley Road enough to find my way back? I made a mental note of the nearest underground station before hopping onto a bus that would take me to Baker Street.
Nine hours later, the one thing I did not want to do was head back. My head was full of dizzying experiences – Speaker’s Corner at Hyde Park, Trafalgar Square, coffee at St. Pauls’, 10 Downing Street, 222-B Baker Street, Abbey Road, Picadelly Circus, Buckingham Palace. PG Wodehouse, Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christie and assorted other favourites were creating kaleidoscopic patterns in my brain. But it was getting dark, and a light drizzle had started so, very reluctantly, I took the train to Finchley Road.
I always prided myself on my sense of direction, and had no reason to doubt that I had taken the right exit to get out of the station. I crossed the road and started walking in the direction where I knew the church should be. But the church wasn’t where I thought it should be. Maybe I had misjudged the distance – not something I would normally do, but things do look different in the dark than in bright sunlight. I kept walking. Double the distance, but still not church. Triple the distance, and still no church.
I knew I was lost. Perhaps I should ask someone for directions? But there didn’t seem to be anyone about. I thought back and realised that I hadn’t seen a single person ever since I realised I was lost. To a person from India, it was inexplicable that you could be in the middle of a capital city and not see a single soul, but that was the way it was.
The drizzle turned into rain. I got soaked to the skin (who in their right minds carries an umbrella with them in November?). I started shivering. I nearly started crying. My adventure was fast turning into a nightmare. I knew nobody in the city (I had moved into the empty house of a colleague for one night only because I didn’t have hotel reservation for the last day), it was a Sunday so I couldn’t try the Indian Embassy, and I had a flight to catch in less than 10 hours. I could hail a cab- if London cabs were as good as they were supposed to be, they should be able to find the place even without an address- but there were none to be seen. I could see myself wandering around the city forever, not being able to get back to the life I had left behind. While London was definitely the city I would most have loved moving to, I didn’t particularly want to spend a lifetime wandering on the streets of the city, looking for an address I couldn’t remember.
I stubbed my toe on the pavement and burst into tears. I stumbled around for what seemed like hours (my watch later told me it was barely 15 minutes). The city that had filled me with so much joy just a couple of hours back had turned black, bleak and cold. Then suddenly, I saw a mirage- a neon lit “Dominos Pizza” sign. I rushed towards it – “Delivery in 30 minutes or your money back” – if they couldn’t tell me how to get to where I wanted to go, nobody could.
“I need to get to Fincley Lane”, I stammered.
“You are a long way from that, love”, I was told. “That’s at the other end of the city.”
“Finchley Way, then, or maybe Finchley Row. I know it is Finchley something”, I was getting desperate.
“Are you sure you can’t remember anything about the place”, he asked politely.
“Well, there was a grey church where the road intersected Finchley Road”, I told him desperately. “But you could see an Underground Station from there, and I have been walking hours after getting off at Finchley Road…” I rambled on, and completely missed seeing his face suddenly light up.
“It is the Swizz Cottage station that you want”, he said. “There is a church diagonally opposite, which may be the one you want.”
He gave me precise instructions, and within ten minutes, I was back in the room warming my toes in front of the radiator.
Where I would have been if not for Dominos Pizza, I don’t even want to think about. Maybe I would have stumbled on and eventually found the place. Or maybe I would have continued walking on the streets till eternity.
After that incident, I’ve never stepped out without my address. Though it is nice being Found, I can think of few things worse than getting lost.