by Jessica Cruz
It started like any other holiday weekend away from college - the dorms were closed and I had to leave with everything I would need (i.e. owned). This was part of my college ritual: the periodic traveling on school breaks with all of my belongings via various methods of public transportation. I was 'bag lady.'
No one ever helped me (nor did I expect them to, considering the popular mantra, "If you pack it, you carry it") except for the occasional stranger that held a door (and nothing else). Oh, and there was once an elderly man who looked too frail to help me, which made me feel terrible about actually accepting his help.
I'd haul my entire life on my back (small backpack), left shoulder (medium-sized duffel) and right hand (vertical rolling large suitcase). One Christmas break, I had a great idea. I would just have one bag - big, vertical and with wheels. This would solve all of my problems - you can't be bag lady if you only have one bag, right? And if it has wheels, what does it matter if it weighs twice as much as you do?
Well, what if it's supposed to stand upright, but it doesn't? Now you have a floppy 29 inch tall bag with shopping cart wheels that go in every direction they please - the direction you don't want them to and in directions they themselves can't agree on. The bag flips over, you're trying to navigate the Port Authority bus terminal, potholes and New Yorkers, it's nighttime, and did I mention that it was raining? Damsel in distress, where was prince char... wait, who am I kidding, I needed a busboy. I was on 8th Avenue and needed to get to 5th.
As I made my way out of the bus station, a man with an accent held the door for me and offered to help me. Very unusual until I figured out why... he thought I was only going up to the curb for a taxi. When I explained to him that I needed to get to 5th Avenue, he didn't smirk and say "good luck." He looked worried and said he would walk with me, and told me to give him my bag. To any native New Yorker, this would set off several alarms. Imagine filing a police report later: the officer says to you, "So let me get this straight, you handed him your bag?" But at this point, I pushed that thought aside and thought, Hey, if this guy steals it, that's 150 lbs of weight off my back - thanks buddy.
On our way to 5th Avenue, he carried the bag and I held an umbrella over us. I also briefly got to know him. I don't remember his name, nor his country of origin, but I do remember that he was African and I was planning a trip to South Africa that upcoming summer. So for the 10 minutes it took us to get to my other bus stop, he told me about his travels to South Africa, as well as about the place where he was from. He was from a more traditional area of Africa where a local kingdom still exists. He casually mentioned that he could have been king had he not refused to marry the princess. Politics cause kingdoms to change often and as he put it, it's great to be king when your party is in control, but when control changes via force/turmoil and you suddenly have to seek exile because you are part of the royal family, it has its downfalls. He didn't want to be any part of that so he has made a life that does not include being a prince. Or so he thought, for he was certainly my prince charming that night.
May 1, 2007