Still, I was rather taken aback when he said, "Madam, I need a favour from you." "Yes?" I said warily. "I need to go to the University bookstore," he said, and I replied that though I did not know exactly where the bookstore was, I could certainly guide him to the University (Wash U).
He then got out a huge map and I gave him the directions on it; he was less than ten minutes away from the campus. He thanked me, and then I tentatively asked him, "Are you an Indian?"
"Yes," he said; "But I live in Italy. What about you?" I said I was an Indian living in Bangalore. "Oh, I studied there, at the Indian Institute of Science," he said. "I am here for a conference."
Smiling, we parted.
Just ten steps ahead, a portly (white) lady with in a bright red coat, with a lot of bags and huge ring of keys dangling from her arm, came up beside me, and said softly, "I am pretending to know you, though I have seen you before." This totally zapped me, and I stopped and stared at her. "I am nervous," she said in explanation when she saw my look. "That black man over there seems to be following me and I am worried, so I am pretending to know you."
I smiled reassuringly at her and looked behind us. Yes, there WAS a black man behind us; but I could not see if he was following her or just happened to walk behind her. But it was obvious that she was uncomfortable. So I asked her, pleasantly, "Where would you like to go? I am in no hurry, I can go with you and drop you off wherever you like." Because she was on foot, I knew it wouldn't be far. "The bank," she said. (The Pulaski Bank was just a few steps away.) So I walked her there, waved a friendly good-bye, and walked off home!
Finding your way, and worrying about safety are universal, I guess, whether you live somewhere or visiting!