Hollowed Memories, chapter 9, part 1

April 26, 2015

Chapter 9:  The Past

It was not too long before a Yarec found a sign, which told him the name of the next hamlet and the number of kilometers to get there.  With the way Yarec felt, the distance seemed daunting, but he kept walking.  However, it was not much farther on that he found another sign, which marked the location of a bus stop.  The dinged metal plate listed the name of the bus company and an approximate schedule for the two vehicles that were supposed to pass by daily.  Yarec decided that the presence of the bus stop was a reward for his perseverance and sat down to wait.

When the bus arrived, it was an old-fashioned propane-electric hybrid.  It had a rounded, aerodynamic shape and huge wheels.  The spots of chipped paint along its side were covered with thick layers of transparent sealant to ward off rust.  The driver accepted some of Yarec’s foreign chits as payment, and the bus left at the posted departure time.  The vehicle was only half full, and Yarec got one of the soft, faded bench seats to himself.  On an ordinary day, Yarec suspected, the driver might have waited until he had a full load of passengers.  However, with what Yarec had paid, the man had already made a week’s worth of profits—if he could find someone else who would take the chits at face value.

Yarec rode along south, to the port where he had planned to disembark from the Threepenny Queen.  The vehicle made good time, without extraneous stops; if there was nobody at the next terminal waiting to hop on board, the driver could afford to drive right on by.  The bus stopped every day at dusk, and Yarec spent each night in a hostel, holed up in a triple-tiered wooden bunk.  At night, in the men’s dormitories, fellows would always be gambling, keeping their running tallies of losses or winnings on gray scraps of paper.  The hostels were generally dismal places, but the food at the first one was surprisingly good.  They served a few sauteed greens and a hash made from wild tubers and some kind of protein.  To drink they had some kind of alcoholic sap.  It must have been tapped from local trees and fermented in small batches; it tasted sweet and fresh right out of of the cloudy glass bottles.  It was not very strong—certainly not enough to make Yarec ungainly—but he did not indulge in more than one cup.  The gamblers, however, were still drinking it—weakened with well water—late into the night.  They were hunched at their little round table, cards in front of them, cups beside their left elbows, as Yarec fell asleep.

Having paid for a lukewarm shower that first night—to wash away the slime of salt and sand—Yarec was dressed and ready to go early.  After that, it was another bumpy leg on the bus, then another hostel, located just outside the town Yarec wanted.  He let himself sleep in longer on the second morning, until a worker with a short red broom prodded him to get up and clear out.  The man’s accent was difficult to follow, but the message was clear.  Yarec swung down from his bunk, with a clunk that made the floorboards vibrate, collected his meager belongings, and walked out the door.

He headed to the old market.  It was a grassy lot, surrounded by a three-meter concrete palisade, from which awnings could be strung to protect the vendors from tropical rain.  Today, the heavens were clear, but it was not a regular market day, and there were only a few merchants with carts, set up on the east side of the plaza, under the shade of the wall.  Yarec bought some cheaply sewn trousers to be polite, along with a mug of some kind of synthetic gravy.  Then there was no point in dithering or hiding his purpose.  He asked the vendors if they had seen any other gringos, either working in the area or recently passing through.  Of course, everyone agreed, the place to start was at the mine northeast of town—lots of North Americans there.

Yarec thanked everyone who had chimed in to help him, and bought a few more small items he did not need.  Their directions set him on a gravel road running higher up into the coastal hills.  The roadbed was broad enough for heavy trucks and had clearly seen quite a bit of recent activity, although there were no vehicles in sight that day.  Yarec watched the sun move up toward its zenith, and as it began to sag back down toward the western horizon, he pulled out some dry protein balls he had purchased in town and chewed them slowly, his jaws grinding in time with his footsteps.

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