I’ve noticed that in Toronto, like in many big cities, a lot of things are open late. The night before last, my brother, sister-in-law, and I just swung over to a grocery store quite late at night to buy limes.

It reminded me of the day a late-night fruit shop saved my life.

SIDENOTE: Okay, “saved my life” is a bit over the top, but once you read this, you’ll see what I mean. It could be more accurate than you think.

In 2009, I was living in Glasgow, and since I had just gotten there in September, I wasn’t financially prepared to fly all the way back to western Canada when Christmas and New Year’s came around. My family made a compromise, and it was decided that my mom would come visit me over the Christmas break. We spent a lovely, quiet Christmas in Glasgow, and then for New Year’s, I took my mom to a place she’d been wanting to see her whole life: Belgium.

Belgium was incredible. We had a fantastic time, and we were lucky enough to get to experience ringing in the New Year in the streets of Brussels, watching the fireworks from less than 100 feet away.

It felt like the entire city was there with us: thousands of people all gathered and celebrating.

And then we all had to get home. It was a bit of pandemonium trying to get onto the metro to our bed and breakfast, but we managed it, squishing into the metro car with way too many people.

But when we got off, we must have taken the wrong exit from the metro station.

The streets of Brussels aren’t the easiest to navigate, mostly because none of then run in a straight line. They all bend around corners, twisting and turning into other streets. Sometimes, even just finding an intersection can be tricky.

We thought we knew where we were going, so we marched our way through the streets with great confidence. But then when we turned the corner expecting to find out bed and breakfast, it wasn’t there.

“I thought it was on this street.”

“Me too.”

“Okay, maybe let’s go one more block?”

We went one more block, then two, and in the process, we looped around and found ourselves back where we started. (Damn you, bendy streets.)

“What the hell?”

“How did that happen?”

“Okay, it’s definitely this way. Let’s go.”

15 minutes later, at the exact same spot.

“What is going on?”

“I want to get home. I’m exhausted.”

“We’ll get there,” my mom assured me, “It’s this way.”

Our pacing slowed. Maybe 20 minutes later, we were at the same spot. This time both of us were starting to freak out. We were tired and dehydrated, both of us had to pee, and our feet were starting to protest from all of the walking we had done that day.

Also, I was scared we would never find our bed and breakfast, so I started to get mad to compensate.

“I’m not doing this anymore. Where the fuck are we?! We need to get back NOW.”

SIDENOTE: Keep in mind that at this point, we had already rung in the New Year. It was well past 1am, closing in on 2am…

SPOILER ALERT: We were on the right street, but we were on the wrong side of the main road our street ran across. Mega Blerg.

We decided that we had to change routes. It was getting later and scarier, and we had walked by the same random dudes on the streets enough times for them to get that we were completely lost. I’m pretty sure I had cried at least once out of sheer frustration. Probably more like three or four times.

Instead of taking the same street, we chose not to turn right and walked straight.

And there it was.

A light.

Something just ahead of us was open.

Was it a mirage?

Fuck it, just get there!

A fruit shop.

At 1-something in the morning?

Who cares?!

We stumbled in like two stupid tourists who got off a tour bus too early and wandered around a desert for three days with no water or something. My mom turned on her French skills and asked for directions.

Hilariously, the couple who owned the fruit shop didn’t have much idea where the address we were trying to get to was, but they did suggest we cross over to the other side of the main road.

Less than 10 minutes later, we were home.

That was the day I learned a late-night shop can save your life.

And we didn’t even buy anything from them. What jerks.