Wednesday, March 23, 2011


(Part 1 of 2)

There are certain cardinal rules to be kept by missionaries: Never leave your companion. Don’t get into cars with strangers. Be home by 9:30 p.m. Don’t have physical contact with men. Don’t enter bars and night clubs, especially alone. Never let the Elders into your bedrooms, let alone your apartments. By the time I fell asleep that night. I had broken all of them, multiple times.

I rarely woke with the intention of breaking any rule, let alone five or six major ones. It wasn’t looking to be a rule-breaking sort of day. We had zone conference scheduled for all morning and afternoon. And, we had two appointments scheduled for that evening. Two appointments! A day with just one actually scheduled appointment was a treat. But two appointments in one evening? Well, that was South America.

And, oh! what a spiritual feast of a zone conference it was! Caught up in a wave of religious fervor, my companion, Sister Basker, and I both stuffed our backpacks plumb full of pamphlets and Books of Mormon after it was over. Even though we had two appointments (two appointments!), we weren’t going to let a minute of our missions go to waste. We had half a dozen bus rides between now and the end of the day. We thought of all those wonderful sitting ducks just waiting to bloom spiritually. We made sure we had plenty of tools at our disposal to make it happen.

As if taking our positive cue, both our appointments were not only home, but also excited and ready to meet with us. We stayed too long at our final appointment, and it was almost 9:30 by the time we were walking to the bus stop. Our appointment had been on the outskirts of town, and we needed to take three different buses to get home. But, it had all been worth it! We had return visits scheduled for both our appointments.

As we waited at the bus stop, my companion turned to me and said, “It has been such a good day! Interviews with the President, Zone Conference, I didn’t have to give a talk, I memorized Doctrine & Covenants 4, we had two awesome appointments. NOTHING HAS GONE WRONG ALL DAY!!!”

“Be careful, Sister Basker,” I replied, “it’s not over yet!” But, I didn’t really mean it. It had been a most perfect of days.

At that exact moment, I looked up and saw our first bus approaching. It was yet another good sign. We situated ourselves comfortably on the near-empty bus and reminisced on our wonderful appointments. After riding it a few stops, I looked behind us just in time to see our second connecting bus. At this time of night, it was the last bus of its kind. If we didn’t make it on that bus, we’d have a long, long walk ahead of us.

I grabbed my overstuffed back pack and jetted to the back of the bus, shouting to my companion to hurry or we were going to miss it. I waved frantically at the bus behind me to get the driver’s attention. He saw me and, instead of pulling out of the bus stop, he opened his doors again and waited for me to get on the bus. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Sister Basker rumple off the bus as she tried to zip up her back pack.

I was in the middle of thanking the second bus driver for waiting for us when I realized there was no us, just me. Our previous bus was pulling away from the stop and there was no sign of my companion. Had she not made it off the bus? Impossible! I had seen her start in her seat and follow me to the back. I was sure she made it off. Where was she?

The bus driver stared at me, as I had stopped speaking mid-sentence when I realized I had no companion.

“Samo malo,” I murmured, just a second. I turned around, and started to descend the steps I had just sprinted up. And then, I saw her. She was sprawled on the sidewalk of the bus stop. Her back pack had fallen open and Books of Mormon and pamphlets were everywhere. Before I could even laugh or get frustrated with the thought of picking up all the fallen paraphernalia, I heard her cry out and I knew something more serious than scattered papers was wrong. I quickly exchanged glances with the bus driver and he nodded his understanding. I jumped off the bus and helped her gather up our supplies and get to her feet. Leaning slightly on me for support, she made her way up the stairs and onto the bus while the driver graciously waited.

It was adrenaline that had helped her up the stairs. As soon as we were safely on the moving vehicle, she sunk down into the nearest chair and clasped her ankle. I looked down and gasped. It looked as if her leg had attempted to swallow a tennis ball, but it had got stuck in the crook of her ankle.

This was no ordinary sprain. Half panicked, and half laughing at the absurdity of the situation, she just looked up at me in pain and confusion, pleading to know what to do. All I could think was ‘elevate’. Elevate. How do you elevate someone’s ankle when they are in a dress and you are on a dirty, moving city bus, full of only men, late at night? She leaned up against the window and put her ankle on my lap. I could see the pain registering deeper and deeper with each breath she took. I didn’t want to look at her ankle, but I couldn’t take my eyes of it. It already resembled a mottled palette of reds and purples.

Think. Breathe. Think.

“Is anything else hurt?”

Slight shake of her head.

“Your bleeding. Your chin and your ankle.” I had removed her shoe, as the swelling was horrendous by now and was causing further pain.

She wiped at the blood on her face and winced with the slight movement that rippled through her body.

“I’m so sorry!” I cried. The guilt for making her race off the bus swelling as much as her ankle.

No response. I wanted to pull out a vacuum and suck away her pain, and the swollen ankle. I donned the role of senior companion and resorted to figuring out our immediate plans. Even if she could get off this bus and up onto the next one, we still had a three-block walk uphill to our apartment. We were not going to make it. We needed help.

Approaching our second connecting stop, a man, as if he heard my silent plea, came up and offered his help. I knew we needed it. Disregarding the rule of not letting strange men have physical contact with us, I gladly accepted. Balancing both overstuffed backpacks on my opposite shoulder, I got one side of Sister Basker, and let the stranger take the bulk of her other side. I glanced up at the bus driver and he waved, to let us know we could take our time going down the aisle and off the bus. Those three steps down seemed like cavernous abysses. Finally, we were off the bus and on solid ground. Our assistant helped us over to a sign post indicating the bus schedule and bid goodnight. I thanked him for both of us, as it was all Sister Basker could do to grabbed onto the post with both hands to hold herself steady and try keep her weight off her ankle. Now what?

Our not-so-little adventure off the bus quickly confirmed that we would need help getting off the bus at our final stop and getting up to our apartment. Sister Basker was bigger than I was. We needed help. The Elders! Of course. There was a set of Elders that only lived one bus stop away from ours. But, how to get ahold of them? The public phones were in the post office and that closed hours ago. Nothing was open. It was almost 10:00 p.m. There would be one, maybe two buses left that could get us to our apartment that night. But we needed help once we got there. Before I could even think long enough to change my mind, I turned to Sister Basker.

“Stay here. Hold onto that pole. I am going to go find a phone to call the Elders to meet us at our bus stop.”

“Ask them if they will give me a blessing.” She said as she slumped down on the cold cement. No resistance to my abandoning her in the middle of downtown, late at night. She understood the gravity of our situation as well as I did. I waved acknowledgment and crossed the street. I looked right and left. No lights. No open doors. No sign of life anywhere. The few people out on the streets were back at the bus stop. I knew I’d have to start going down some of the dark streets to find anyone who could help me with a phone. I turned around and took one last look at my companion, gripping the pole like a child clasps his mothers leg in a crowded store. I sent a prayer out into the night, hoping she’d still be there when I came back, turned and ran away.

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