Travel Mates

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Needed Detour

When I submitted the essay on Bolivia months ago, I was stuck with an interesting dilemma: I had no return address to write. At that point, I was living on the streets, surviving by begging and the occasional lucrative pickpocketing of an unsuspecting tourist. I saw the flier for the contest at a local library I occasionally haunted for its climate-controlled conditions (warm in winter, cool in summer), and I decided to type up some nonsense to send in there and then. Why the heck not? On the off chance I won, at least I wouldn't have to worry about where to sleep for the duration of the "travel experience of a lifetime". I decided to write about Bolivia, the sole reason being that the name of it reminds me of my best friend from grade school, whose name was Olivia. Still, I didn't have an address to include, so I simply wrote down the library's address, figuring that the chances of winning were so slim that it wouldn't matter anyway.

Hence, imagine how surprised I was to be awoken one Thursday morning (or was it afternoon?) by an impeccably- but plainly-dressed messenger bearing an envelope addressed to me. How the guy found my cardboard shelter on Highview Boulevard would remain a mystery, for as soon as I showed signs of consciousness, he handed the envelope to me and disappeared.

I don't think I've ever touched anything as fancy as that letter. God knows, I don't think I ever even got any sort of letter after Party-Invitation Age passed, which was about a decade ago, give or take a few years. But there it was, with my name written in large fancy letters on the outside--"Kira Alzes", plain as can be--and the paper inside, written in the same hand, was just as rich. I'd have thought someone was putting me on, except that no one I know could afford to spend so much on a trick. My friends were all bums and whores; they wouldn't even know where to buy expensive crap like this. Besides, no one knew I entered the contest at all, not even the librarian. I didn't save it on the library computer--not allowed, they'd run out of space on the hard drive in a week--so I just made two copies, one for me and one to send in.

Even if it was a joke, it was worth checking out. I figured I'd wait around for the car; no use wasting shoe leather or bus fare if someone was gonna come chauffeur me around. "Bring nothing"? That was easy, I didn't have anything worth bringing anyway. Even most of my clothes were filthy rags, but I supposed I'd just have to pick out the ones that were least filthy and raggedy to wear to meet these folks.

That Saturday was fairly nasty, weather-wise. I woke up around dawn from the rain leaking through my cardboard-and-duct tape roof, well before the car arrived. It was fairly unassuming when it showed up, just a plain black Honda with slightly tinted windows. The driver wrinkled his nose as I got into the car (it had been a while since I'd last showered, I guess) but didn't say anything. In fact, the driver did not say a word the entire ride across the city, though I peppered him with questions, which creeped me out a bit.

The car stopped in front of a hotel, which surprised me. Wasn't I supposed to be going to an office? Then I peeked at the street sign--as I'd thought, we were at a different address than the one given in the letter. Before I could say a word, though, the driver spoke, startling me. I'd grown accustomed to his silence.

"Go upstairs to room 407. Shower and change your clothing there. You cannot meet the Company in the state you're in now." He dropped a key in my hand, being careful not to touch me; I suppose he thought he'd catch something from a filthy street rat like me. He then checked the clock in the car and said, "Please be downstairs in forty-five minutes, no later."

I nodded and scrambled out of the car. I wasn't going to mess with this guy, even if he was a snob. I ran into the hotel and made for the elevator bank without stopping at the front desk.

A security guard stopped me before I could get there. "Where d'you think you're goin', kid?" he asked, gruffly.

"I have a key! I have a room! See, I have it right here!" I pulled it out and showed him. "I'm to go to room 407, shower and change."

"Oh, a Company room. Fine, then." He reluctantly let me go, and I ran for the elevator before he could change his mind. Five minutes wasted.

I wish I'd had more time to appreciate the room I stepped into. It was the nicest place I'd seen the inside of in years. But no time, the clock was ticking. I jumped into the shower, scrubbed myself clean for the first time in a couple of months, and toweled myself dry. The clothes laid out on the bed--in my size, even, as if I'd been expected--were plain, but new. A pair of black jeans, a white short-sleeved polo, and a pale blue sweater, along with socks, shoes, and appropriate underthings. Somehow, my old clothes had already disappeared.

I went downstairs clean and neatened up and the driver was still waiting outside. I got back in the car, and we drove away again. Shortly, we pulled up in front of a building that was halfway through a construction job, which was good, because it meant there was a sidewalk bridge to shield pedestrians from the rain. At that point, the driver parked at the curb, jumped out, and opened the door for me. This threw me a bit off-balance, because no one ever opens doors for you when you're homeless. As I got out of the car, I looked around to get my bearings, and he pointed toward the entrace.

"Go up two flights. You'll see an open-plan office. Go in, and have a seat. Someone will be with you shortly." He then got back in the car and drove away, leaving me standing there full of questions that no one would answer.

I turned away from the street and faced the entrance. I felt a thrill of excitement, and just a touch of nervousness. I steeled myself for what awaited within, and began to climb the stairs.


Blogger socialworker/frustrated mom said...

Nice but kills my eyes. Speak to the bosses. I don't know how people read with the bright neon colors of the stars. It looks really cool but too hard to read.

10:27 AM  
Blogger Tomboy said...

Scraps, I likes.
Although now my character is so dull.

8:32 PM  
Blogger Scraps said...

Why is your character dull? She's totally whacked. We'll all have a lot of fun together. :-)

9:07 AM  
Blogger Elster said...

Dudes, it's totally bad form to comment on your own story in its embryotic stages.

You two are uncouth plebeians. I am embarrased to be collaborating with you.

9:37 AM  
Blogger smb said...

cute blog

10:40 PM  

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