Saturday, April 18, 2009

Oops, I Did It Again!


As I'm sitting here writing, a pot of 'ayam masak pedas - adibah's style' is boiling on the stove in the kitchen, and I'm still debating whether to slide into bed for a well-deserved (?) sleep or simply find bits and pieces of things that I can work on to make up for lost time. I've been practically pulling an all-nighter, but haven't been productive at all through that, so you can put the dilemma into context.

I don't know why is it that transportational or travel mishaps seem to favour me more than the average person that I knew. Perhaps it is my haphazard way of doing things, my frequency of travelling which makes me statistically more prone to accidents, maybe I am simply meant to be unique in this respect, and it could be that almost everyone else had similar share of misfortunes but me in my self-centredness thought that it was only me.

I slept through Kolej MARA Banting bus stop and woke up somewhere in Labohan Dagang while in college, slept through the Guchil stop and went straight to Kota Bharu during home-bound journeys to Kelantan (refer Pagi), chasing almost-missed buses, trains, and even FLIGHTS for God-knows-how-often (missed some of them anyway), and actually I barely managed to catch the flight that will take me to the UK for the first time in September 2006. For more than once, the bus I was in start emanating weird smoke stuff in the middle of the journey, rendering everyone victim to a quick get-out-in-the-midst-of-nowhere-and-find-a-new-transport ritual.
My luggage was left in Malaysia while I landed in Heathrow on August 2007.

I had spent chunks of night in airports and bus stations - usually alone - while clutching my bag for dear life (but falling dead asleep anyway, with no guarantee whatsoever to the integrity of the safety clutch). God knows how often I was saved by some kind souls who woke me up and telling me what time is it and how concerned they are that this lone 'young lady' might miss her transport.

And let's not start talking about me braving my own way in new, unknown (and even well-known) places and getting lost. Foolhardy? Adventurous? Naah, I think I'm just plain disorientated when it comes to mapping roads and ways, which is actually ironic considering how much I travel alone. It happened once more, just the day before yesterday, to be exact - trying to walk my way from Princess Street to Manchester Victoria, which I think any self-respecting Mancunian who had been around for circa 2 years and a half would have been able to do, but I finally had to give up and find the nearest bus stop. A shame, really.

Last night, I did it again. Or rather, it happened again to me. No, I wasn't lost. The last train lost me by departing without me. Hehe. For some reason, late yesterday afternoon, I rushed to a neighbouring city by train - only bothering to check the departure time from Manchester. When I finally got back to the train station in that particular city, at about eleven p.m., to my dismay I discovered that there were only four outgoing trains scheduled to depart on the electronic display board - for the rest of the night. None of them were going to Manchester. Not even passing Manchester. And I am utterly alone, armed only with a handbag containing a cardiovascular textbook, a poetry book, a compass, my wallet, phone and keys.

Now, that city is not like our vibrant Manchester which would be alive no matter at what hour. At eleven p.m., the only people around are several party-goers, drunkards, last-minute travelers, and shabby elderly men shambling around the train station. Understandably I'd feel less safe. Nevertheless, I feel it is too much to ask my friends to leave their houses after sending me off to the station, to pick me up - again. I decided on a second option - the nearby coach station. Unfortunately, no coach home that night, earliest coach at four a.m. with a really really long transit at another city and I'll reach Manchester Central by about eight a.m., probably three-quarters dead from exhaustion. Some checks revealed that there will be a train home at 3.45 a.m. Approximately four hours from then. I seriously considered sleeping in the station, but was quite doubtful if they'd let me - since unlike Manchester Piccadilly, this station actually closes at midnight.

Feeling awkward, apprehensive at what will be awaiting me, yet excited at the prospect of a new 'adventure', and too proud to ask my friends to pick me up, I looked around the almost-deserted station for someone who might be able to answer my query. A Pakistani-looking middle-aged man in a First jacket told me - in a very concerned and fatherly way - that the station will be closed, but the lights will be on and maintenance staffs would be around, and I would be safe inside. I can wait in the waiting room underneath the stairs, and if there is any problem, I can always go to the office beyond Platform 5. I found his gestures very helpful and indicated a genuine concern of my well-being. (Looking like a cute, vulnerable, lost, lonely 'young lady' might help - though I don't know if that was how he perceived me!)

I haven't performed my Isha' prayers - expecting to offer it at home - and I need to make wudhu'. The staffs are cleaning the toilets, and they don't really let people in - two party-going women who looked more than tipsy had a difficult time trying to get in, but fortunately for me, they allowed me to use the disabled toilet - which was a real blessing since one of the cleaners was a man, and the disabled toilet would provide enough privacy for me to make my ablution.

The waiting room was relatively warm compared to the platforms outside. However, I was not alone. An elderly man - perhaps in his seventies - was there, and I'm 75% sure he's not quite right in the head. When I arrived in the city earlier in the evening, I saw him talking to no one I can see, in a cafeteria. He looked perfectly sane and respectable - suit and tie - with trim white hair. He started a conversation with me about how the city was in the olden times, his travels with his son, and how he is waiting for his wife arriving at half past one from London. There was a strong accent to his speech - I'm not sure which, but most probably from some European country. It was not alarming or scary - I did question his sanity, I'm not sure if there'll be a wife arriving for him in two hours, I'm not sure the phone he showed me and later used (while talking in a foreign language) was actually functioning - but I didn't feel threatened by his presence. Smiles which he flashed to me from time to time were quite endearing although I can sense some unusual tinge to it.

I spent almost two hours talking over the phone to my friend, and later, my younger sister Afiqah, who is currently on holiday from his matriculation campus. She told me how my second younger brother - 10-year-old Amiruzzaman - has grown up into a stout and charming miniature of my father, and was actually performing silat during weddings in our village! He's an awful sentimental though. Right into my footsteps. 13-year-old Aiman had lost weight and must have looked more handsome than ever - he's tall, fair, with a finely chiseled, impish large-eyed face, and quite sturdy in built once he lost his childhood pot-belly. I missed them all so much! The kindly staff who had spoken to me earlier actually dropped in the waiting room to check on me - he looked around until he saw me and asked how I was doing. That's very sweet =)

Half past one, a train actually arrived from London. The mystery old-waiting-for-his-wife-man looked at his watch excitedly, gave me one last happy smile and left the waiting room. I never saw him afterwards - I hope he really found his wife. The room was starting to feel colder. I thought all the heat I brought with me in the room is dissipating. Wearing only a light shirt and a knitted cardigan suitable for Manchester early-evening weather did not help at all. Not even a muffler or gloves were with me. I performed my prayers in a corner of the waiting room - kneeling on the newly-mopped floor still smelling of bleach, and prostrating my face on my cardiovascular textbook as a makeshift 'prayer mat'.

In a contorted, splayed way, I fell asleep on one of the chairs - to wake up about an hour later, feeling absolutely frozen. God, I had forgotten that this kind of cold existed! Shivering, shaking, hugging myself, doing whatever I can to keep warm, and I was morbidly hungry. Two pieces of pizza and a handful of chips eaten at eight p.m., however full of calories, cannot sustain me this long! I shuffled out of the waiting room - to be greeted by the full-blown cold outside - and made my way, shivering, all muscles desperately contracting to generate some heat, finding a vending machine. How I fumbled in my wallet for pennies, inserting them one by one, barely able to move from the sheer cold. I felt almost dead by the time I got back to the room - searched desperately for any source of heat, in vain. Eating the Kellogg's SoftBake - the packet teared open with shaky stiff fingers - helped to warm me up a bit. Inspired by several fellow travelers who had recently entered the waiting room, I lifted my feet from the floor, and stretched on my side, the cushioned chairs serving as a makeshift bed.

"The train to Manchester Piccadilly will be departing in ten minutes... so I think..." the slightly nervous young man with a foreign accent, standing over the curled-up me on the chairs, was sent as my saviour, waking me up just on time to catch the train I had desperately waited for. I scrambled up as gracefully as possible, thanked him profusely, looked around and saw that the room was now empty, and wondered with a semi-bleary mind barely functioning within a physique half-frozen by cold, how on earth I am going to find the platform? Luckily my saviour-man was also going to the same destination, and I braved the cold on the platform again to get to the train. The warm blast of air which greeted me upon entering the train was short-lived pleasure - I was still shivering throughout the journey, though not as bad as while waiting in the station.

I had bought a day ticket the day before - and since technically it was 18th April, not 17th April anymore at 3.45 in the morning, I need to buy a new ticket costing about GBP10. However, the conductor simply waived it off when he saw the unused ticket and I told him that I missed the train - thank you Allah for the kindness of fellow human beings!

Walking from Manchester Piccadilly at 4.35 in the cold, cold, cold morning to Piccadilly Garden was another challenge, and waiting for the 5 a.m. bus home after the 15-minute walk was the next challenge. Main challenging factor : COLD!! Though I must say nothing beats the cold in the train station just now ... it's a wonder I made it alive. I couldn't say how relieved I was when I finally entered my warm abode of Thorncliffe House, got into my beautiful, beautiful, beautiful bedroom and switched on the heater.

The thing about dealing with cold is that I can't even control it the way I deal with pain or stress. With pain and stress, relaxing the muscles, focusing the mind and controlling the breathing help a lot. With cold, you are practically shivering and shaking and contracting all over the place to keep warm - how on earth are you supposed to relax? Yeah, it's mind over matter, technically you can still focus and relax the mind despite the partially convulsing body - but I haven't mastered that degree of meditation yet. =D

Anyway, it was one whole new experience for me - learnt a whole lot of morals as well. Mainly,
1) don't ever underestimate cold - people do die from cold temperatures!
2) check timetables of outgoing and return journeys and remember the times
3) always keep faith in the goodness of human soul - there are a lot of kind, concerned people out there
4) always have faith that Allah will take care of you no matter where you are! (but not make it an excuse to be extra-careless)
5) wear the proper attire for the weather of your destination, not your point of origin i.e. home
6) when meeting old respectable men (and women) who looked strangely 'out of it', be kind and behave normally - they are people who deserve love and respect as well
7) any amount sacrifice would usually feel worth it if juxtaposed with love, friendship, trust and that common aim we all strive for ;-)
8) careful what you wish for - just hours before departing yesterday afternoon, I was complaining that there is not enough physical challenge during programs in the UK to push me to my limits, there were only mental, philosophical stuff, talks, discussions, seminars, whose effects kinda wear off sometimes - and hey presto, Allah gave me the physical challenge. ambik ko.

Maybe, just maybe, I'll go get some sleep. The 'ayam masak pedas - adibah's style' is done, tasted, eaten with some cold leftover rice, and declared a success.

I'm still contemplating whether or not to attend Malaysia Night's play tonight - I had never been to one since my first year.



Haris Noor said...

And here I am thinking I'm the only soul with similar traveling mishaps. I guess they have a tendency to occur to people who like to travel alone. Padan muka.

But I've learned a great deal from those experiences and I think I would like to go through all those troubles again even if given the choice to avoid them. Well, at least only for the first time around. One experience of the same thing is quite enough for me, thankyouverymuch.

(I'm sure you feel the same, Adibah.)

Well, a lesson I've read somewhere in Reader's Digest I think: When traveling, always go in pairs, at least. (Of course, it's not very feasible in every situation.)

moi said...

You poor soul! You sound worse off than me during my first few months travelling between Preston and Manchester.

Anyway, hope you didn't go to the play, heard it was crap.

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