Memories in the Dust

 

 

 

Chapter Eight

 

Feeling nowhere near as calm as he looked, Diego walked next to Minta as they approached the building.  She waved at one of the commuters coming in their direction and it stopped right in front of them.  Opening the door, Minta motioned and said, “Go ahead, Diego, get in.”  He hesitated, then slid into the seat, his companion right behind him.  Giving instructions to the driver, she leaned back against the seat and laid her hand on his arm, smiling.  At her touch, his tension eased.  He returned the smile and looked out of the window at the countryside whizzing past them.  The commuter seemed to be moving at an incredible speed to him, but Minta’s serene presence continued to calm him.

Within a very short time, a peaceful languor stole over Diego, a distinct contrast to the continuous activity of the morning.   He laid his head back against the seat and let the humming of the machine and it’s smooth, gliding action further lull him.  His eyelids began closing of their own volition.  It seemed only a moment before Minta shook him awake.  “Diego,” she said softly, “We’re at the transfer terminal.”  

He blinked sleepily and gazed out of the window of the commuter.  The sun sat blood red on the horizon, bathing everything in a rosy blush, evidence that he had slept for several hours.  He stepped out of the vehicle, stretched and looked around, gaping in awe at the vast height and number of the building surrounding him.  Minta gave the driver something, and without giving Diego time to take in his surrounding, motioned him toward a large, glass door.     

Diego walked close by Minta’s side as they entered the large building.  People were everywhere.  They were crowded together so tightly that he wondered how they managed to get from one place to another.  Some of the people talked together, while other voices seemed to come from the air above him.   Innumerable footsteps echoed on the hard floor.  Everything combined to create an almost mind numbing cacophony of sound.  People’s eyes seemed focused on destinations that he could not see; they seemed to look at each other without seeing anything.  And there were no children.  Children?

Minta grabbed his arm and pulled him close to her.  “Diego, look as though you know what’s going on.”

He felt closed in. Even though he tried to focus on Minta and the feel of her body next to his, he saw in his mind a dusty square under a steel blue sky.  In this other place, which he knew now was his real home, there were people everywhere too, but it was not so crowded, and they were laughing and joking, looking at things spread on blankets on the ground or hanging from little wooden stalls.  Pungent smells drifted through the air-- tamales, tortillas, beef and chilies in small stew pots, pumpkin soups with corn and squash, spicy with peppers.  Tortillas?  The names came to his mind as his inner eye pictured the foods in front of him.  Smoke rose from small, hot fires in pits or braziers.  Newly woven blankets hung from poles alongside strings of dried onions, garlic and peppers.  Nearby a baby lay in a basket happily sucking on its toes, its mother next to it, weaving a basket.  A toothless old woman smiled happily as she ground cacao for champurrado. She sang a lullaby, lisping softly.  Diego wished he could understand it all, the song sounded so familiar.  The whole scene felt comfortable and reassuring. 

“Diego,” Minta hissed, tugging at his arm and pulling him along.  “Stay with me, please!” 

His vision vanished along with any feeling of well-being.  The present crowd seemed more frenetic than the other one, their movements too rushed.  Someone bumped into him.  “I’m sorry,” the person said politely, vanishing before Diego could say anything in return.  He watched as Minta discussed something with an older man seated at a small table in front of him.  She pulled out a small card, the same one she had used before, and presented it the man.  He then rubbed the card over a light and handed it back to her.  As Minta put the card in her carryall, a tiny slip of paper popped out of a slot in the table.  Smiling, the man gave it to her, along with a tiny device, that she put in her pocket.  She smiled back, thanking him and turned to Diego.  “We have our commuter.  Let’s go,” she said.

They walked to an area lined with commuters and continued down the row until they found a certain one. Minta pulled out and clicked the tiny object she had been given and the doors of the commuter popped open.  She motioned him to get in and then sat down beside him.  Soon she was pulling out of the congested area.  Diego watched as buildings, people and other commuters seemed to zip past as they sped down the wide road, the commuter’s lights, like glowing eyes, bright in the increasing darkness.  Soon, the lights of buildings and commuters diminished and the world seemed enveloped in darkness with only intermittent lights showing in the distance.  Diego relaxed.  He felt the land rise sharply, and he had to swallow periodically to get rid of the popping sensation in his ears.

As they sped along they alternately talked and listened to what Minta called a broadcaster, from which music played.  At times he found himself dozing off and he finally rolled up the jacket to make a pillow.  Once he woke up to find that Minta had stopped the commuter by the side of the road and was doing the same thing.  In the dark, he could not see her, but he was comforted to hear her soft breathing next to him.  Reaching over to lightly touch her arm, he then fell back to sleep himself.  Sometime afterward, Diego felt her head resting against his shoulder.  This pleased him greatly.

The next morning, Minta stopped the commuter near a small building.  Taking a thin cord from the front of the vehicle, she attached it to a pole in front of the commuter. At Diego’s puzzled look, she merely said, “Electricity.” He got out of the commuter, stretched, and saw just how much the land had changed.  Rocky hills lined the road, the air was fresher and moister, and the trees looked more wind-blown. 

“Let’s go in and have breakfast, Diego,” Minta suggested. He nodded and followed.  There was a cool tang in the air, marked by the wispy clouds of their breath.  When they sat down at a table in the building to eat a quick breakfast, the little food packets in her carryall amazed him.  The food stayed warm or cool depending on what was inside, he supposed.  As soon as she opened the packet with the breakfast rolls, they got very warm, steam hitting him in the face as he reached in for one.  Minta chuckled and tried to explain the mechanics of the devices, but he wasn’t sure he understood.  “I don’t believe I totally understand it, either,” she finally said. He washed his face and hands in a nearby men’s bathroom that she pointed out to him, once she had assured him that the disguise wouldn’t be affected by plain soap and water. 

Minta did the same, also changing into other clothing she had brought along to wear.  Diego stared, unable to take his eyes off of her graceful, willowy form.  The outfit was one piece and form fitting, covering her body, but showing every curve and detail of her figure.  The light blue color seemed to match that of the sky he saw in his dreams and waking visions and it accentuated the darkness of her exposed skin as well as her amethyst eyes.  Diego gaped as they walked to the commuter.  He had always been attracted by Minta’s beauty, inner as well as outer, but this outfit awoke desires that had little to do with simple admiration.  He felt his cheeks warm as they walked toward the commuter, and he pushed his desires aside for the moment. 

When they started out again, he gazed at the rolling hills as they became rockier and more barren.  Their route continued to take them into mountainous heights.  So much of it seemed familiar to him and yet there was still an unfamiliarity that nagged at him.  “Are we getting closer to my home?” he asked hesitantly after some time had passed.  Before Minta could answer, he continued, “But I suppose that could not be possible.  How would the sun in the sky change from red to yellow?  The ground can change, but not the sky.”

“Diego, this is just the first part of the journey.  It is a long way to your home.  But we’ll get there, I promise you.” 

“You said it would not take that long,” he reminded her, puzzled by the comment that seemed to contradict her earlier ones.

“That’s true, but mainly because it will be a very fast commuter that will take us to your home,” she explained. 

Diego felt a thrill at her confirmation that she would be returning home with him.   “Oh.  What will it look like, this commuter?” he asked, curious.

“Very large, where many people can live for long periods of time.”

Diego pondered the idea of a commuter so large that many people could live inside it and felt a tinge of fear.  Then in his mind he saw a vessel skimming across the water, huge white sheets of cloth stretched upward like the wings of the fat water birds.  At times it almost bounced on the waves of water, sending spray in huge plumes on each side. As he stood on the deck of the ship looking over the railing, the spray pelted him, soaking the front of his shirt.  He licked the salty droplets from his lips and felt the cooling breezes tug at his sleeves.  Watching the seabirds laughing above him, Diego chuckled with them.  Then the pleasant images disappeared as the commuter slowed down and left the smooth roadway.  He looked up in surprise. 

“I thought that this would be a nice place to stop and eat lunch,” Minta said cheerfully at his questioning look. “And this has been a very long drive.  I need to stretch my legs.”

“You have more food?” he asked gazing at her carryall in wonder.  “I thought that we had finished all the food at our morning meal.”   

Minta laughed her merry laugh.  “Yes, I prepared enough to hold us until we get to the large commuter.  This is the last of the food, though.  We will be getting to the next commuter, the one that will take us to your home, this evening, if all goes well.” They walked a short distance away from the commuter to a small meadow where the moss grew thick and spongy.  Insects buzzed among the tiny flowers of swirled blue and yellow, and various birds chirped, whistled and sang in the nearby bushes and trees.  The soft breeze carried the sharp scent of the flowers.  

Minta laid out the various foods, pulling them out of their sealed containers, the aroma of the bread vying with the cheese-like chunks.   She poured a cup of zrelis tea from a portable heating unit and handed it to her protégé, its steam rising gracefully toward the lavender sky, broken only by the slight eddying of breezes that played in the top branches of the shrubs.  Despite the jacket she was wearing, Minta felt chilled, and she held her teacup close to her face.  At first, she was surprised when Diego placed his jacket across her shoulders, and yet, when she thought about it, she wasn’t surprised at all.  This was just another manifestation of the real person under the suppressed memories. 

“You came unprepared.  You need this,” he said with a smile. 

“I couldn’t very well come with packed bags, could I?” she asked, chuckling.  She wished she could have packed a change of clothes for Diego, but that was an impossibility, since all clothing for units was issued at the hospital, and an extra set of clothes wouldn’t have fit in the bag anyway.      

He laughed along with her.   “You did very well with what you brought.”  They sat drinking their tea for several minutes.  Then Diego broke off some of the pungent smelling cheese and nibbled on it, continuing to gaze at the scenery around him.  “In some ways, this is like the other place, wild and empty.”

“Not totally empty.  There are a great many wild creatures living here.  This is a protected wilderness area,” Minta said.  She saw the evidence of this year’s dry spell.  While the flowers that sprinkled the moss were still bright and fragrant, those on the trees were already wilting.  Even some of the patches of moss were browning from lack of moisture.  The drought had been harsher than in years past.  “Here, have some crila bread, it goes well with the cheese,” she added, tearing off a large piece of the end of the loaf and handing it to him. 

“I meant empty of people…” Diego said and then stopped, looking toward a stand of brush between them and the commuter. 

“What is it, Diego?” Minta asked, catching his tension. 

“Sh!” he admonished, quietly laying down his cup and the bread and cheese without taking his eyes off the brush.  Quickly he glanced around, saw the knife with which she had cut the cheese, and grabbed it.  Diego got up slowly, facing the brush, his body in a slight crouch.  He stopped and listened again.  Minta wanted to ask questions, stand by his side, but she didn’t.  Diego seemed to know what to do.  In the sudden quiet, she heard a sound, a soft huffing cough, and almost silent footfalls.  She continued watching as Diego stayed crouched, listening, watching, at the ready for whatever hid behind the brush.  “Minta, get up slowly and walk back to the commuter,” he told her softly, in an even voice.  “Do not take time to gather anything.”  Glancing back, he saw her hesitate.  “Now, Minta.  Do it now!” he hissed, his voice still low, but urgent.

Deliberately, slowly, she did as she was told, only taking her carryall, which had been by her side.  As she walked toward the commuter, she kept glancing behind her.  The huffing sound, which she finally recognized as that of a brisal, came to her ears, almost causing her heart to stop.  Diego was also slowly making his way toward her, his eyes never leaving the source of the sound, his feet seeming to know exactly where to step as he made his way backward toward the commuter.  The knife was held in front of him, but Minta thought it a wretchedly puny weapon against the speed and strength of the brisal.  Suddenly with a crackling of brush, the animal leaped into the clearing.  Its ribs could be counted; it was so thin, making the reason for its boldness all too apparent.  Its tufted ears swiveled, trying to catch the sounds of their breathing.  Its reddish-orange eyes seemed slightly unfocussed, an additional indication of malnourishment.  The head on the long, almost sinuous neck moved from side to side as though deciding which of them would be the easiest to attack.  

Minta had heard of brisal attacks before, but they were so rare she never dreamed that stopping here would invite one.  Standing by the commuter, breathing raggedly, she clenched and unclenched her hands in fear and apprehension for Diego.  Very, very slowly, he eased his way toward her, stepping over a broken branch from a spider limb tree.  Minta saw him glance down at it.  

As Diego continued to move backward, the brisal stalked forward, making its huffing growl.   Its eyes had glued themselves to him.   Then with a whine, it sprang, its long thin legs were still filled with great power, and its claws were extended.  But Diego had not been idle.  As soon as the animal had crouched slightly for attack, he had grabbed the limb with one hand and Minta’s picnic blanket with the other.  The cloth made a graceful arc in the air, landing squarely on the brisal, covering its head and turning the deliberate charge to a blind one. 

Using the limb, Diego knocked the animal off its feet, further tangling it in the cloth.  Its huffing rose to frustrated screams as it tried to extricate itself.  As soon as he saw that the cat was incapacitated, Diego dropped the limb and sprinted to the commuter, where he motioned her in.   “You should have already been inside,” he chided her, panting from the exertion, frowning at her carryall.

“I was worried for you, Diego.  A brisal is so very dangerous, especially one that is starving.  And before you chide me for bringing the carryall, I had to have the access key for the commuter.”

“Well, this one will get a bit to eat,” he said with a slight smile, looking at the food laying scattered around their picnic area.  “If he still wants it after he escapes.”  They watched the animal tear and claw at the cloth; then Minta started the commuter and drove back onto the road.

 

Chapter Nine
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