We peeled apart, to our separate destinations, and I found myself alone on Boston's T. (For non-Bostonians: formally known as the MBTA, or Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority, the public transportation system is informally known as "the bus" for the bus and "the T" for the subway/elevated rail system.)
A few stops down the line, a group of girls in little black dresses and strappy sandals clambered on. They'd been at a bachelorette party, and were now headed back to their hotel. Some hijinx ensued, and after they got off, those of us still on the T had a rare spirit of conviviality. I got off with several of them, and said a cheery goodnight as they headed to the buses and I started walking back to my apartment.
I'd checked the route repeatedly on the map, but there was one critical decision I needed to make. I needed to walk west, NOT east, ie in the direction of Massachusetts Avenue. So when I got out onto the street, I took a minute to figure out the compass points, and then head west. But I wasn't 100% sure of my process, so asked the first car I passed (driving in the other direction on a divided road, so as to ensure that he couldn't possibly follow me afterwards - City Living 101) "Is this the way to Mass Ave?" He confirmed that it was, so I continued briskly down the road.
A few intersections later, I saw a car pulled over to the side of the road. A beefy fellow - a textbook example of a Joe Sixpack - said, "Mumblemumble Mass Ave?"
I pointed the direction I was walking. "Mass Ave is this way," I announced with confidence.
"Ih day toe ya kah?" he continued.
I stared at him. Why was Joe Sixpack suddenly speaking Japanese? As though he expected me to understand it??
But I still wanted to be helpful, and the last thing I'd understood was "Mass Ave?", so I reiterated, "Mass Ave is up that way."
He tried again, with all the tolerant patience of the village women who had needed to repeat themselves for their poor pale friend. "I easkt," and suddenly I heard the thick Boston accent, and began calibrating my ear for it, "Did day toe ya kah?" And this time I understood him. Did they tow your car?
Turns out the same skills that helped me decipher the mumbled language of my illiterate neighbors are helping me here in Beantown.
I smiled and shook my head. "I'm walking from the subway," I said, gesturing back towards the T stop, now several blocks away.
"OK, well, bee kayuhful, sweedaat," he said. Be careful, sweetheart.
I smiled and thanked him and continued on my way, with a prayer of thanksgiving in my heart for all kind-hearted souls. I made it the next few blocks peacefully, exchanging greetings with the other folks still out on the sidewalks ("Weyah's the paaty?" "There's no party,"), and then let myself in through my wrought iron gate, suddenly so reminiscent of the steel door I'd lived behind during my years in Morocco.
I pulled it locked behind me with the same sweet comfort of knowing that I was home - for however long or short this apartment remains my home.
At no point in the half-mile walk had I ever felt unsafe, despite the hour, the setting, or the presence or absence of others on the street. Instead, I'd received help when I needed it, kind words from a stranger, and friendly conversation with some folks who'd blown their tire across the street.
Welcome to your first Saturday night in Boston, little Volunteer!