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Krishna Gone Missing

A Nepalese woman’s 53 hours lost on the streets of Queens.

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Krishna, on Queens Boulevard.  

The park should have been right there. A long set of stairs, leading through a children’s playground to a track where Krishna Gurung was planning to jog. She was running every day now, trying to lose the twenty pounds she had gained since coming to New York from Nepal. She looked around in frustration. It was seven o’clock on a Friday morning and raining again, as it had been for what seemed like weeks. Who knew the U.S. had a rainy season? No matter—she would jog with an umbrella.

The 53-year-old Krishna had come here, to Woodside, Queens, to visit her daughter Anu, whom she hadn’t seen since Anu moved to the States twelve years ago. Krishna had been here for a couple of months now, and Anu and her husband, Shyam, had taken her on family outings around Manhattan and down to Washington, D.C. Krishna’s native Pokhara is a city of 200,000, but New York was a different story. Krishna spoke no English; her tongue refused to form those mushy R’s and meowing vowels. Even the street and building numbers had to be translated for her. The Nepali language has its own way of writing numbers, insidiously close to ours but not identical. The numeral 1 looks like 9, 4 like 8, 5 like 4. To help keep Krishna safe, Anu and Shyam had defined a kind of comfort zone for her. Roosevelt Avenue, shaded by the elevated track of the 7 train, formed its southern boundary, and Broadway the northern one. The house, on 62nd Street, represented the area’s westernmost point; the intersection of Roosevelt Avenue and Broadway (the two streets merge) its eastern one. The area spans less than twenty blocks, and as long as the 7-train tracks were in sight, Krishna could find her way home by following them. Anu had also outfitted her mother with an emergency kit: a cell phone with the home number preprogrammed, some cash, and a laminated card with Anu’s home address in English on top.

The park with the jogging track sits on a green hill on Woodside Avenue at 54th Street, a fifteen-minute walk from Anu and Shyam’s house. There is basically one turn required to get there—a right on Roosevelt. But something—the early hour, the rain—disoriented Krishna. She followed 62nd Street toward Roosevelt Avenue, as intended, and that’s where she made her mistake. Instead of turning right, toward the park, she turned left. Believing she couldn’t get lost if she kept the train tracks in sight, Krishna marched on. When she arrived at the corner where Roosevelt meets Broadway, she recognized it as the eastern tip of the safety zone. If she turned left there, she could be home in ten minutes. But left was now right, and Krishna turned in the wrong direction, spinning out of the neighborhood.

She was confused now. The avenue looked familiar, but only in the sense that it looked like every other avenue. The city was like a mountain range, cartoon-simple from a distance, indecipherably complex up close. After a bit of wandering, Krishna passed a Hindu temple, Satya Narayan Mandir on Woodside Avenue, where Anu had once taken her. Krishna was Buddhist, despite her name, but spoke Hindi well. There were people inside the temple who could have helped her, yet the sight of it only strengthened Krishna’s feeling that she was close to home and didn’t need help. She looked around, saw a distant bridge that resembled the elevated 7-train tracks, and set off for it.

What Krishna thought was the train trestle was actually the BQE overpass. She crossed under it and walked alongside Queens Boulevard. She marveled at the garish colors of Pop Diner and was briefly startled by a lifelike, if green, deer statue in front of the nearby Queens Borough Elks Lodge. But all these new sights didn’t quite add up, and Krishna didn’t know what to do. She had left the house wearing American jogging clothes—later to be described on a missing flyer as a burgundy top, black velvet track pants, and white sneakers with blue and yellow stripes. She was also wearing a $1,000 gold chain around her neck, $4,000 worth of gold bracelets on her right arm, and a pair of bulky gold earrings (Nepalese women tend to wear their wealth). What she didn’t bother to bring was the preprogrammed cell phone or address card Anu had given her. Or cash, a credit card, or any I.D. It was past 8 a.m. now, and Krishna was gradually coming to terms with an undeniable set of facts. She was thousands of miles from home, unable to communicate with anyone, alone, without money, and hopelessly, utterly lost.


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