Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Do these things happen to other people too?

Having finished the search for housing—a story I’ll tell later—I’ve been searching for cheap furniture small enough to fit into my future space. My aunt’s best friend’s son was moving out, so she sent me down to his apartment to scavenge his desk and, possibly, bed. (I feel like such a vulture.)

After determining that both the desk and bed were too large for my place, at least if I want to move around, I said goodbye and headed out, only realizing once he had shut the door behind me that I had no idea how to leave his apartment building.

Luckily, there were lighted EXIT signs, so, like any rational person, I followed those, only to find that they spat me out into a locked parking lot. I looked around the gate for an open button of some kind, but found nothing. Shrugging my shoulders, I turned around to the door I came from, only to find that, of course, it was locked.

Crap. I wandered around the back of the parking lot into an open courtyard, only to find that all the doors there were locked too. There was a set of stairs, though, leading to a balcony off the first-floor apartments, so I went to try the doors up there.

Again, no luck: all the doors were locked, and my situation was increasing in awkwardness, as to reach those doors I had to pass by not only a couple loudly having sex in their first-floor bedroom, but also an Indian woman standing at her sliding door and suspiciously watching me pass. Oh, and did I mention that the setup required me to walk by her door three times? Yep. I’m sure she was delighted.

(But not as delighted as the girl having sex, at least by the sound of it.)

I wonder if, at this point, I should just call the guy whose furniture I was seeing. Does the embarrassment of having to ask a stranger to come get me outweigh the embarrassment of being late for FHE because I was locked inside an apartment complex? I decide that yes, it does, and I look around the courtyard for another means of escape. There’s a small storage area in back, and I scramble up onto a pile of cinderblocks, thinking maybe I can escape over the fence. Unfortunately, that path would only drop me down into the locked courtyard next door. I return to the courtyard to find the Indian woman standing outside now, openly staring at me.

“Excuse me,” I say. “I’m trapped inside this apartment complex and need a way out. Can I walk through your apartment to get back inside the building and use the doors from in there?"

She stares at me. “I…no…speak…English,” she says.

Just my luck. I ask a few more questions and find she’s not even a north Indian; she’s a Telugu speaker from Andra Pradesh. I test out her Indian language education anyway: “Kya ap hindi bol sakte hain?” Can you speak Hindi?

Her eyes widen and she nods, eagerly. I’ve forgotten most of my Hindi but can still understand some; her English production is poor but she has some comprehension. In the next few minutes, we manage, with her speaking Hindi and me speaking English pantomime, to communicate a few basic facts: I’m trapped in this apartment building and would like a way out. She’s just visiting her sister in America for a few months. I would like to walk through her apartment. Not into! Through! She would like to guard her sister’s apartment well. Not into! Not through! I would like to know if she has keys to any of these doors. Her sister, who is the building manager, has all the keys and will be home in an hour. An hour? I can’t wait that long! Well, then, she says, call your friend.

I sigh and dial the phone, knowing that this has only been made more embarrassing by the fact that I left the guy’s apartment roughly twenty minutes ago. I don’t know whether I am disappointed or elated when he doesn’t pick up.

So then I’m really stuck. FHE has started ten minutes before, and I’m looking at waiting another hour for the building manager to return. I eye the fence surrounding the courtyard, which is only seven or eight feet high, and I decide that maybe I can scale it and jump down on the other side. I find a plastic chair, set it up in front of the fence, and am standing on it contemplating how best to hop the fence when a large white van pulls up and Building Manager Sister steps out. She wants to be polite, I can tell, but her face clearly asks, What the hell is this white girl doing on my fence?

I explain the situation to her, hopefully clearly enough that she can fill her sister in later, and she tells me where the emergency exit button is in the garage, hidden in a dark corner I never would have spotted on my own. Oh. Problem solved. I press the button and walk free, arriving at FHE just in time, unfortunately, for kickball. At least I had a good story to tell while trying to avoid my turn to kick.


Zillah said...

the entirety of my elementary school career centered around attempting to avoid my turn at kick ball.

i tend to avoid situations like yours by trying never to talk to people.

eleka nahmen said...

Moral of the story: being late for FHE is never a bad thing.

Lizzie said...

Um, so why was begging for help from a person you almost don't know *before* making a fool of yourself somehow a worse choice than begging for help from someone you really don't know *after* making a fool of yourself? And in another language? I'm going to make a shot in the dark (using my incredible psychology skills, of course): you have avoidance issues. Was i close?

Petra said...


Several reasons, actually. If I had called the guy right away, he might have been home, but, then again, he'd also have to climb down three flights of stairs to come get me, which he had already been nice enough to do once, and I didn't want to force him to do so again. Plus, though I just barely know him, his mom is best friends with my aunt, and the story would surely get back to them what an idiot I am. (It got back to them anyway, because I told it, but at least then I was in control.) Plus, at that point I was still convinced there was another way out. That was my reasoning for not just calling him right away. By the time I realized there wasn't another way out, I did call him, but it was too late. And as for asking the Indian lady, I didn't know she didn't speak English until I tried--had I known, I certainly wouldn't have tried--and I'd always rather embarrass myself in front of a total stranger than an almost-stranger with connections to my family. (cf. that part about his mom knowing my aunt. Or the fact that I met his mom the next night.) I'll never ever see that stranger again, so I only lose 10 minutes of dignity, not an entire acquaintanceship's worth. So in a very special, twisted Petra sort of way, my actions make a lot of sense.

Oh, and I've probably got avoidance issues.