A Little Detour
Ⓒ Masahiko Tone
Bill got off the train. It was a pretty big station for the small city. He was not sure which was the right exit for the history museum.
He saw a sign: EXIT 2. He took a chance and walked toward it.
He saw a girl in a wheelchair wheeling fast past him toward the exit. When she went out of the station, she suddenly stopped. She looked for a moment at the bicycles parked on both sides. Then she began to move one of the bicycles out of her way, but she couldn’t.
Bill wondered what he should do. There seemed to be nobody else around. He knew he should offer to help. He was the only person who could. But the problem was, he was extremely shy and indecisive. He always thought of giving up his seat to elderly people on the train, but he never actually did.
He was watching the girl struggling, hoping that she could make it through. But the situation looked desperate for her.
At long last he made up his mind, approached her and cleared his throat. He felt his heart starting to beat a little faster. The girl turned around and looked him straight in the eyes. She had big dark eyes and wore wire-rimmed glasses. Bill forced an awkward smile and said, “Do you need some help?” She smiled slightly and answered, “Oh, yes, thanks.”
Bill moved one of the bicycles to one side. The girl tried to get through again, but her wheelchair bumped into a pedal sticking out from the left side. He moved another bicycle. Finally she was able to get through. She thanked him again and wheeled away on the sidewalk covered with fallen leaves.
Bill was happy that he had been of some help. But when she was gone, he worried for a moment whether his bicycle might not be in somebody’s way; he had parked it by the entrance to the station near his house.
Bill walked a couple of blocks on the main street. Then he took out a crumpled map drawn by a friend and studied it. But he couldn't be sure. He saw a man standing at the bus stop and asked him. But he just shook his head.
Just as Bill was beginning to feel he would never be able to find his way to the museum, he heard someone call out to him, “Hey, can I help you?” He looked in the direction of the voice.
To his surprise, it was the girl he had helped a few minutes before.
“Are you lost?”
“Well, it seems like I am."
“I thought so. When I got across the street and looked back at you, I noticed you were looking for something. Why didn't you just ask me?” she demanded.
“Um, I don't know. I just...didn't think of asking you.”
“You mean, you didn’t think I could help you? Just because I’m in a wheelchair doesn't mean I can't help people with small things.”
“Oh, no, I don’t mean that.” Bill said, a little embarrassed.
“Where do you want to go? I know this neighborhood really well.”
“OK, how can I get to the history museum?”
“History museum?” she said, laughing. “All right, just follow me.”
“That’s very nice of you, but if you just tell me where it is, I can get there on my own, so please don’t bother.”
“But it's rather complicated. It's easier to take you there,” she said, laughing again, and she began to wheel away. Bill followed her, wondering what was so funny.
She wheeled along for two blocks until she came to a crossing. She wheeled down the slope, through the underpass and up the slope on the other side. Then she turned to the right, went down a few blocks and crossed another street through the underpass.
“That’s the museum,” the girl said finally, pointing to a red-brick building ahead.
“Thank you very much for bringing me all the way. I hope I haven’t made you late.”
“No, not at all. I like helping people. It was good exercise for me, too.”
Then she chuckled. “Actually, I happen to work here as a receptionist. I was on my way to work anyway," she said.
“Oh, were you?” Bill said, surprised. “Why didn’t you say so?”
She didn’t answer the question. “Are you interested in the history of this city? If so, ask me anything,” she said, winking.
The next day, he met the classmate who had drawn the map for him. He asked Bill how he had liked the museum.
Bill answered, “Well, it took about twenty minutes to get there from the station, but I really enjoyed it.”
“What? How did you get there? It only takes five minutes or so,” he said unbelievingly.
“It was such a beautiful day I went the long way,” Bill answered, smiling.