(in case you don’t know this is the second installment of my english saga. the first is found here)
i made my way in the swaying bus to the driver and explained my predicament. being british he maintained his upper lip and proceeded to call hq on his cellphone. after a few tense minutes he informed me, all the while keeping his eyes on the road, that i must get off the bus and make my way to the other side of the highway to a rest station where another bus will take me back into central london.
i thanked him profusely and after another 15 minutes the bus expelled me onto the open, deserted carpark of a service station. the cold wind nearly swept my spirits away. i had to make my way across an overhead bridge to the other side where another station was located. bogged down by my luggage i nevertheless made it over, all the time aware of the speeding highway traffic beneath me.
Leigh Delamere service station. i will never forget the name of this modern oasis surrounded by wide expanses of desolate english countryside. by the time i opened the glass doors of the station, my hands were beginning to numb. with my teeth chattering i waited in the confines of the place all the time keeping an eye out for any sign of the bus which was supposed to pick me up and carry me back to civilization. the driver had promised that i only had to wait for something like 15 minutes but the hour dragged on and still nothing.
battling the cold and hunger i cramped myself into a nearby phone booth on the outside of the building and called the hotline number printed on my e-ticket. a man picked up the phone and after much explanation and checking, he confirmed that a bus was on the way to pick me up. it was now 10 pm and the carpark was empty except for a few late night drivers who had stopped for coffee in the station. i must have been a curious sight to them; a chinese shivering in the cold dragging a huge luggage and obviously very lost. nobody stopped to ask though.
another 30 minutes passed and things were looking grim. i called the hotline again and this time a lady answered. after another round of explanation she again told me to stay put and wait. the gravity of the situation finally got to me and i am ashamed to say that i lost my temper and raised my voice. in a calm and collected tone she pointed out to me that i was the one who got on the wrong bus and she was just trying to help me. recognizing the futility of my anger, i backed off and told her i would continue to wait. another 30 minutes passed and i knew that i was going to have to spend a night in the station.
i made my way into the station where most shops and food stands were already closed for the night. right in the middle though was a 24 hour deli. a few workers were getting ready to go home while some had just reported for the graveyard shift. i was the only customer. i ordered a sandwich and some juice. in a last ditch effort to get back into london i asked them if there were any taxi services operating around this part of the woods. they referred me to their night manager who went to the back of the shop to make some phone calls on my behalf.
after 10 minutes he came back out and told me that it was going to cost me a small fortune to get a cab to drive me to london from these regions. till this day i have a nagging feeling that i did not thank this young man enough although i was very profuse by my own standards that night. contrary to the popular stereotype of the bulky british male, he was rake-thin and walked with a limp. there was something wrong with his face but i could not put my finger on it. the one thing that stood out though was his kind eyes. i knew i had found my guardian angel.
to be continued…