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Adventure Drama Friendship

Between gigs, I found myself in a foreign country, free to discover what I’d never seen.

Enjoying the sounds and smells of an urban marketplace, I sampled exotic food at different stalls. The people were friendly. They smiled while describing their wares. But I didn’t know the language. It sounded like chatter.

I spotted a fellow American approaching. His head bobbed over the sea of humanity.

I often encountered countrymen when traveling abroad. Careful to avoid fast friendships, I’d found developing trust demands an investment of time. But I nearly always enjoyed greeting them and trading stories over a beer.

This American waded through the crowd as if expecting the waters to part. An ancient, local man tried to keep up while dragging an enormous trunk on a two-wheeled dolly. It was large enough for the American to lie in and still have room for company.

I crossed his path and stopped, forcing him to take notice. His servant patiently leaned against the trunk.

“Dr. Livingston, I presume?”

He looked at me as if I were mad. His mustache twitched as he tried to push by.

I tried again. “Ever see so many foreigners before?”

He scowled. “And what do you think you are…?”

“Of course. I was joking.”

“Do I know you?”

“We haven’t met. Hi, I’m Miles. You’re obviously a fellow tourist. Great meeting up with another American.” He looked at his watch. “I finished a job and am taking in the sights.”

“You’re a laborer?”

“I was on location, crewing for a movie…”

He rolled his eyes and huffed.

I continued, “We should compare notes. Anything interesting attractions...? Uhm, let me invite you for a drink…”

“I’m not a tourist. I’m traveling. Let me by…” He signaled his man and expected me to clear the way.

“When were you last in the states?”

I watched him recede until the crowd swallowed him.

What can you do? I shrugged. It seemed natural to catch up with someone with so much in common. But then, maybe not.

He had plans exclusive of me. Oh, well. His loss.

I travel light. My backpack held all my possessions. I’ve had apartments smaller than his trunk. I admit to being curious what he might be transporting in it. Going through customs must be a bitch.

I moved on. My travels were always rich with wonderful experiences and people.

~

I didn’t see this traveler, or remember him, until a year later. While riding the famous Orient Express, I passed his compartment en route to the dining car. I recognized him immediately.

He sat, reading a weeks old edition of the New York Times. What are the odds of encountering the same person, half a world away? Talk about serendipity.

You might think I mistook another traveler for him. I couldn’t. That mustache could only be his.

I stopped beside him. Suppressing a joke, I didn’t say, ‘We have to stop meeting like this.’ Rather, I said, “You’re the last person I expected to see… How’ve you been?”

He ignored me. The page seven article had him gripped. Dismissing me without a glance, he flicked his hand as if to a beggar.

I’d seen beggars on commuter trains in various cities. They worked the passenger cars, selling gum or cheap souvenirs. I once saw two ‘blind’ beggars greet each other in passing. One boarded and the other disembarked. They smiled past their dark glasses and canes and asked each other if business was thriving. Being friends, they laughed together.

But this was the Orient Express! No beggars here.

I desired nothing from the man on the train. And knew nothing of him. But who, when far from home, doesn’t respond to a familiar face? Or wish to connect through a shared experience?

Not Mr. Mustache.

“It’s Miles… We met last year… in La Paz…”

I swayed with the train. The traveler turned a page. His grip on the paper tightened. Not interested in confrontation, I continued on.

In the dining car, I ordered a drink and remembered a cat I’d kept before my travels. Though Allie and I lived together for years, she never spent time with me. When I entered a room, she exited. Co-existence. One learns not to push.

~

Years passed. My life took dramatic turns including marriage, divorce, and re-marriage. Not everyone believes living out of a suitcase is a non-stop honeymoon.

The mustachioed man with the over-sized trunk occupied zero space in my head.

My work provided an opportunity to consult on a major project in Mexico City. Working with those talented people was intense and rewarding. The days passed in a flurry and with little drama. Everyone knew their role.

One afternoon, a rare window of time opened for me to get out, take a break, and clear my head. I hit the street and pursued my whims. I found a tree-lined square where people gathered.

I strolled and sipped coffee, doing nothing more important than watching squirrels scamper amidst the trees. However much one loves their work, stepping back lends perspective. Sometimes it’s nice to just breathe.

Checking my watch, I thought of work. But a commotion engulfed me. A nearly naked man, staggered toward me with arms flailing. He was filthy, bruised, and barefoot. His boxers were ripped and stained. Matted hair covered wild eyes.

And he bore an unmistakable mustache.

I backed away.

He pointed and bellowed, “You! I know you. Help me!”

A crowd gathered. He howled at the sky. People laughed and jeered.

I gave him my jacket which he tied around his waist. We moved away from the crowd.

“What happened?”

His words tumbled. “Don’t know. Can’t believe... Attacked! Robbed!”

His blubbering made no sense. We sat. He drank the remnants of my coffee. I pieced fragments together. Walking home after a night of drinking, a gang cornered him. They beat and robbed him. Stole his money, passport, and even his clothes. They left him unconscious, in a dumpster, from which he escaped just before we crossed paths.

His name was Howard. Work expected me, but his needs were urgent. He had no one to call. I bought him clothes and shoes at a nearby store. We grabbed a quick meal and found the American consulate before they closed.

By then, he had regained his wits. He calmly described his circumstances to the investigating agent. They assured us he would not be put into the street without some resolution.

I made to leave. Howard stood.

He announced, “Thanks to… Miles, is it?” I nodded. “I owe my life to my friend.”

“I don’t think so…”

Smiling, he held out his hand.

“I know you. How many years have we been friends?”

I laughed. “I really couldn’t say. A long time?”

The consulate employees broke into applause.

We laughed. It truly had been years. I did know him. But who’d expect we’d be friends?

I knew he’d come around eventually.

November 10, 2022 15:16

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2 comments

Bonnie Clarkson
22:49 Nov 21, 2022

Loved the compassionate ending.

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John K Adams
22:57 Nov 21, 2022

Thanks, Bonnie. I try to keep it light.

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