“I found these people wandering around outside the zoo,” said the young man. “I think they want a train I hope you can help them. They only speak Russian.”
And so saying, he left.
The old man with the walking stick and the old woman in the beanie agreed that they were Russki but that was the end of our communication. I bought them over to the ticket machine, but not only could I not explain how they got a ticket, I couldn’t even work out where they wanted to go. The woman was getting more and more upset repeating the same phrase and urgently tapping her map of the zoo. I didn’t want to put them on the wrong train.
Thank God for the young man seating nearby! It turned out he had studied Russian in school. A long and complicated conversation followed obviously slowed down by his having an unexpected accent. At last he told me that these elderly people were expecting to be picked up by a car at the Zoo Gate. But when they got out of the gate they were confused because they didn’t recognize the place.
The first young man had actually brought them further from their goal! No that he could know that. He’d clearly meant well and the elderly woman kept tapping the picture of the railway gate on her zoo map.
As the train came and and took my Russian speaking helper away, I lead the increasingly anxious and questioning Russians back to the zoo. The zoo gate only seemed to make them more upset. It finally occurred to me why that might be happening.
The zoo has two entrance gates, a main gate and a railway gate. Visitors often assume there is only one gate and come out the wrong one. Could that be what happened to these two? I applied to the railway gate staff who liked my theory. We handed the Russians over to an zoo volunteer who would take them over to the other gate. I don’t know what happened after that. I didn’t see them again, which I hope was a good sign. I hope an anxious waiting child was reunited with anxious elderly parents.
But what amazing luck to find someone with schoolboy Russian sitting in the Zoo station waiting room at just the right time. Someone was watching over someone that day.