Aléatoire (Saturday, 2011 April 2)

April 2, 2011

The GPS trail would probably tell the story better than I could. I’ve seen it overlaid on a map of Capital City, and it doubles back in lines and knots, tangles like my hair on a sweaty day. Also like my hair, I’m perversely proud of it. It’s a scar on my informational life like the ones on my corporeal one. But GPS tracks don’t tell the whole story, so I’ll have to see what I can do to fill in the rest.

I caught the early Chameleon down to the lower level of Capital City. I had a long trip before I got to Up Station. I wanted to make sure I had my ticket as soon as possible, since I wanted to take the shuttle with two other Missionaries next month (which turned out to be a bad idea, but that’s another story). I caught a taxi going south.

"The Station."

"Traveler’s Station?"

"Uh, maybe.. for the shuttle."

And off we went, the driver weaving through the light-but-manic traffic with the polished ease of long practice. On the GPS map, this is the first set of smooth curves as we swerved over to the sidewalk to canvass other passengers and dodging the big-porters and fat-porters carrying their numinous cargoes. We picked one up for Central Post, and one for the Palace of Justice. Try not to judge that last one. She’s probably not actually going to the Palace of Justice, it just makes a convenient landmark. Meanwhile I was untangling my emotional mess with the same practiced ease that I was untangling my hair. Start at the top; what’s the problem? Run your fingers through until you find it, a knot. Then, what’s causing all this fuss? Tease individual threads out, one at a time, resolving each one into an atomic, indivisible factor and cancelling it from the equation. Eventually the knot just disappears; it’s just yourself, in an inconvenient configuration. It’s the same with emotional stuff, but it takes longer and it hurts more.

I worked on that for a while — the hair, the meditation — as we made our way through the intersections and traffic circles. We let the guy off at Central Post. We passed fruit stands and hardware vendors and billboards written in Sumi or, puzzlingly, in English. "Study in Ukraine!" Advertising is advertising, of course, but you get trained in letting it roll off your psyche like water. And it’s hot, it’s always hot in Capital City, but the taxi windows were open and when we got up to speed, the breeze just carried the heat away. On balance, it was all very pleasant. That’s when we got hit by the first big-porter.

It just swept in from the right, trying to merge with us at the cobblestone intersection. The hoverpad slammed into the driver’s-side door. No religion has a prayer to cancel inertia; ours has come close but we’re still not yet there. So the whole car skewed off the road and into a bar, which was convenient enough because it gave me something to do while I waited for the Police to show up and assign blame.

Three bulbs of wine and a box of Hello Cookies later I was free to go so I picked up where I left off. I could have taken a moto if I thought it would have made a difference, but I figured to do the taxi thing again since I was increasingly unconfident in my ability to remain from falling off of a moto. Hailed a taxi again, specified Voyager Station directly this time, and off we went.

It’s good that I didn’t take the moto, because the second big-porter would have probably taken me right off the thing, and wearing a helmet is about as effective as wearing a head of cabbage in that sort of situation. Not a pleasant way to go. Instead, the front half of the taxi crumpled up like a whiskey sachet and me and the other passengers in the back got thrown around like livestock. The driver was hurt really badly, crying in pain and praying in Sumi and another language I didn’t recognize, I guess his tribe’s. There was a lot of blood and I didn’t really know what to do. We have Health missionaries who are former nurses or doctors. Me, I’m in Education. I can’t do much beyond call for help in mediocre Sumi. And even that wasn’t really necessary; other Zhenais were already scrambling to tear the vehicle open, stop the bleeding, sending for professional medical assistance. The Church of the Universal Stochastic encourages to find the signal in the noise, and two accidents in one travel was probably a Hint. But it could have been a challenge, too, a gauntlet that I needed to run to show how badly I wanted this.

We fool ourselves into believing all kinds of things.

Soon enough I was on my last taxi, the one that broke down a few hundred meters from Up Station. I was dirty now with the effort of even this little bit of travel, and my hair didn’t seem any less tangled than when I had started. I was dizzy and sore and I was thinking about going to a White Market to get some soy sauce or something to make myself feel better. I was trying to ignore the telltale taste of glueworm in the back of my throat and I am sure the Zhenais at the train station thought I was a sight.

"Bedroom for May shuttle. Supplication."

"It’s possible. Five thousand Sum."

"Here." I paid with a crisp new bill, and he gave me my reservation slip. "Gratitude."


We’re all unique quantum events but at that moment, stuck in the middle of Capital City having accomplished what I thought I wanted, I felt more utterly unique than I ever wanted. Ever feel alone in your own head? It was like that. I had a bad feeling that I’d find myself at the end of the night in a dark corner at the bottom of the bottle of soy sauce. It’s been like that for most of my life. The moral of the story is that sometimes you get exactly what you ask for — and it usually turns out to be not what you wanted at all. But that’s why I came here, to make that kind of mistake, to throw away the prudence and put my faith in the randomness of experience.

I’d had enough for one day, so I decided to go back to the Mission.

Decided I’d walk it, though.

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