Rediscovering Travel

When I awoke in my private dorm in the comfortable hostel, hours after the alarm intended to wake me for the morning run I had been putting off, I guiltily struggled through a poor substitute of pushups and squats. Reminding myself that I still had a few days left of this time of relaxation and complete break from the rigorous schedule I typically keep, I spent the next 20 minutes reading the news with a cup of tea provided by reception before showering and dressing in the same set of clothes I’ve been wearing for days.

The relaxed morning brought me quicker than planned to check out time, and it ended with a bit of a rush as I hoisted my pack for the trek toward a suggested pancake restaurant. With a brief stop at reception to confirm I was set to leave, I stepped out into the damp and cold late morning Lithuanian air. The courtyard was an empty lot of packed mud surrounded by a forest of bare trees. Despite the less than attractive appearance, the scent of the fresh air and feel of its harsh cold brought back a sense of dejavu.

The feeling was not immediately recognizable, and I stood for several moments considering where it had come from and what was triggering it. My mind at first went back to my time in Korea, but I couldn’t place a specific moment. Mulling over it, I began walking down the road of broken pavement and uneven sidewalks. With the tug of my pack against my shoulders and its weight tight around my hips, the textured grip of my camera in the fingertips of my right hand, and swishing of my jeans over warm leggings, I realized that this feeling was not from a single moment, but from a way of life that I had too long been absent from: the life of solo travel.

I had no appointments to keep, no friends to meet, no guides to follow, no acquaintances to interview, and no locals to listen to. I was alone. The day was mine.

I have fully enjoyed the travel of this holiday to this point, but it has been far more conventional than my last extended time on the road. At each location, I have had someone to pick me up or at least meet me a short distance from my point of arrival. I have been flying, which for me is a far less authentic form of travel. And at each destination, I have almost always had some local guide to take me around. I have learned much and am forever grateful to all of my friends, guides, and new acquaintances, but overdue was a time for me to wander alone and reflect on the things I had experienced.

On my second and last day in Vilnius, my only commitment was to catch a train in the early afternoon. Until then, I was to wander and find what food I could to experience the Lithuanian culture beyond the language barrier, which I must admit I have not even tried to overcome.

As I walked at a leisurely pace along the poorly maintained road flanked by construction sites, I stopped frequently to capture images of the area, something I had been utterly reluctant to do when tagging along with a guide, and I think the quality of the photos reflects that. It has been too long since I went walking with only the objective of capturing what I see.

Less than halfway to my destination eatery, I spotted a gathering that I have sorely missed since living in the US and Sweden: an open air market. A long row of wooden shelters hosted a variety of artisans selling foods and crafts, surrounded by trucks from local butchers, dairies, and bakers. Walking along the counters, perusing the options, I reconsidered my decision to eat at the restaurant. My decision to stop was made as soon as I saw the open face of a freshly cut dark loaf of bread, steam rising from its hot interior. I immediately jumped in the long line.

bread at market

Securing a quarter of a loaf, I continued on. Spotting some sort of pastry displayed in neat rows before a kind-looking middle-aged woman, I stopped again. She was delivering a full order to the man in front of me, and I considered thoughtfully the array of mystery treats before me. As I looked, it appeared they were actually sandwiches, likely filled with meat. However, the man ordered one more item to go: a cup of the steaming soup, which I had not at first noticed. The steam of the soup drifted my way, and I caught the scent of the boiling vegetables and spices, and my breakfast was decided.

I settled down on a drain cover on the bank of the river across the street from the market. The view was less than glorious, but the seat was dry. The next 10 minutes were heavenly spent dipping the bread, so dense I struggled to tear it, in the mango chutney and mixed vegetable and bean soup.

morning soup – Version 2

Nourished for a continued walk, I packed the rest of the loaf and made my way up the hill toward my original goal. As I walked, I considered my choice of an “Indian” soup when seeking a traditional Lithuanian experience. The thought didn’t persist long because even a cursory inspection of “traditional” foods around the world typically reveals that many dishes are at most a few hundred years old. If we think about “traditional” Italian food, it invariably contains tomato sauce. If you weren’t aware, tomatoes are not indigenous to Europe. So, I postulate that whatever the style of the food, a bowl of soup made in Lithuania by a Lithuanian woman is sufficiently Lithuanian for me.

My postulation guided me again when on my way to the recommended restaurant (a touristy business with a location even in the train station), I stumbled upon a small vegetarian restaurant that was about to open in just a few minutes. Again, an excellent detour. The small restaurant felt more like a friend”s living room than a public eatery. With perhaps 16 or 18 seats, the restaurant was only staffed by one chef and two servers, who were preparing the day’s items in a small open kitchen, separated from the dining area by a high counter as any good home kitchen would have. The food, beautifully plated, clearly reflected the chef’s care for his creation, and I felt perfectly satisfied in my choice another Indian-influenced dish: curry and rice.

Feeling fully nourished, I wandered (with complete dependence on my phone as I have apparently lost my sense of direction) out to the train station. After nearly leaving my brand new mittens at the counter while buying the two-euro ticket to Jonava, I headed back into the city to see if I could find more photo subjects, but the area near the train station is far less notable. What I did find was a fast food joint that seemed to be serving “authentic” Lithuanian fare. As I had been recommended, I ordered a trio of potato pancakes. I was also offered a glass of a mystery “bread drink” that looked like beer. However, it turned out to be the closest thing to root beer I have found in Europe. Though it lacks the characteristic sassafras taste, it was similar in savoriness and feel. Unfortunately, I had to rush through my meal because I spent too much time wandering before settling on getting more food, but the rush did not take away from the deliciousness of the meal.

Now overstuffed, I returned to the station, and felt yet again the familiar sense of true travel as I located the platform and settled myself into my second class seat. Trains will always be my favorite mode of transportation.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all, a good night.

Despite our religious apathy, many of us have grown up in a culture of “holy” days that have come to mean something far different from that which was originally meant or that contemporary believers may wish. Regardless, these holidays have come to mark significant times of the year, and for me, Christmas will always be a special time. Not all Christmases have been great, and some have been flat out disappointing, but my first Christmas abroad was sure to be different. In all honesty, I was a bit apprehensive.

I first cast off from the US almost two years ago with the intention of spending a full year abroad (I had even contemplated spending Christmas in North Korea!). However, massive change of heart and change of life direction sent me rushing back home to arrive just in time for Christmas for the second year in a row. This time, however, I will do no such mad dash around the globe.

No, this year, Christmas has come and mostly passed as I mill about comfortably at Joel’s home in Germany. The relatively warm weather and persistent gray gloom have suppressed the Christmas feeling, and the ubiquitous Christmas markets in the towns I’ve traveled through in Scandinavia and in a couple cities here in Germany have bespoken only the gaudy consumerist veneer I hate about Christmas. Even last night, on Christmas Eve, I spent most of the evening alone while my host family visited the grandparents. An experimental meal of avocado and jalapeño poppers with failed thumbprint cookies was hardly the Christmas Eve fare I’ve grown accustomed to (although it was delicious).

Things all started to come together this morning. A cute little tree had been set up when I returned from my run, and Joel’s mom, Michaela, was in full frenzy in the kitchen. The smell of roasting sweets and sauteeing delectables filled the house as the boys strung one strand of white lights around the tree. The family proceeded to decorate the Charlie-Brown-esque evergreen with simple orbs and ribbons as I watched unobtrusively from the corner.

Feeling the need to contribute, I began to prepare a batch of cookies by darting into the kitchen to grab tools and ingredients each time Michaela stepped out. When Joel’s dad returned with his 91-year-old mother, I was just finishing up the dough, and the table had been prepared with a gorgeous ad hoc centerpiece of fallen bark, boughs, and leftover ornaments. The bubbly grandmother, who shuffled about a full head shorter than anyone else, prattled incessantly to the whole family, even me, who understood only a few words of her rough but joyful German.

Dinner was simple but delicious, and Michaela even accommodated Joel and me (I have been conforming to his pescatarian/vegan diet) by preparing two plates of salmon separate from the pork roast. As we finished up the main course, I tossed the prepped cookies in the oven for a few minutes, and the hearty oatmeal cookies were well-received when the attempt at ice cream didn’t quite pan out.

Just as I might have done on a typical Christmas Eve, we then gathered in the living room to open gifts. I was pleased to see that I’m not the only one who obsessively unwraps gifts without tearing the paper (the whole family did so). I was also pleased to see the unashamed gifting of alcohol (grandmother got each member of the family a bottle).

But most of all, I was stunned when two of the presents were delivered to me. Having spent much of the evening quietly observing from the corner, I felt dragged warmly into the scene when Michaela handed me a small black and silver package with a bow. It was a small journal and pen, perfectly timed as I’m filling the final pages of the one I brought to Korea. As I hooked the pen over the soft moleskin cover just as I had done for so many months on my previous travels, I couldn’t stop smiling.

This family has already been unbelievably generous in hosting me in their home for nearly a week now, and I feel I can hardly repay their hospitality. Yet, they even went the extra step to bring me into their family tradition with this small gesture. Though I’m not with my family this Christmas, I have found a family, and I am forever grateful for their kindness.

Whether you’ve gotten together to worship or just to share time and food with family and friends, I hope your time is joyful, and I wish you the best on this Christmas Day.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

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Headed North – Part II

The alarm on my phone gently woke me as it had every day prior, and for a brief moment, I forgot that I was not in my usual bed. The few hours of sleep were surprisingly restful even though my initial attempt at sleep was unsuccessful. The audiobook of holiday stories I eventually plugged in did little to lull me off to dreamland, but my restless mind finally acquiesced around three hours before my alarm was set to wake me for the early morning flight to Oslo.

Quickly shaking the fog of sleep, I reattached my sleeping bag to my pack, slung the bags over my shoulders, and started the short journey back to the international terminal. The vendor with the sandwiches had reopened, and whatever prepackaged food was being heated gave the area a surprisingly appetizing aroma. I had no intention of stopping.

In the international terminal, the airport was surprisingly busy for 5:30 am. Masses queued for the bag drops and check in counters, families with carts full of luggage quarreled over repacking, and panicked travelers weaved through the crowd to catch their flights. Smug in my having arrived the day before for my flight, I walked lazily through the terminal and stopped at an empty bench to repack some of my things in order to squeeze my sleeping bag into the pack for easier checking.

Having successfully compacted my relatively small amount of things, I sauntered to another set of check-in kiosks. After punching in the code I had by now memorized, I was able to get a printed boarding pass, but the machine refused to provide me with a baggage tag as it appeared it was giving all the other customers. Looking around slightly frustrated, I located the SAS check-in area at the far end of the of terminal.

After making the excessively long trek out to the flagship airline, I noticed that the crowds of the other airlines were only the tip of the iceberg. The check in line (of which there appeared to be only one) backed up to the end of the serpentine area. Preparing my new boarding pass, I approached the attendant at the beginning of the line.

Till Longyearbyen?” he confirmed.

Ja,” I responded in the affirmative.

He pointed to an area of more check-in kiosks and said something too quickly for me to understand.

“Oh. um.. I’m sorry?” I asked for clarification.

“Oh! Yes. You can get a luggage tag from those machines and drop it over there. The line is much shorter,” he explained after seamlessly switching to English.

“Oh! Thank you!” I responded with a smile and walked quickly over to the machines.

Scanning my boarding pass, I entered the one piece of luggage, and the machine said Thanks! Have a nice flight!

Slightly frustrated, I tried again.

Same answer.

I looked about the area and identified a well-dressed man with a name tag. Assuming he was an SAS employee, I approached him to ask if I was doing something wrong. With a courteous nod, he stepped immediately ahead of another traveler to take the next machine. Repeating exactly the steps I just had, he arrived at the same screen.

“Oh. You need to pay for this hand luggage. You cannot do that here,” he stated plainly.

“Oh. Got it. Thank you,” I responded as I snatched back my boarding pass and stepped hurriedly back to the growing line.

As I approached the man with whom I had spoken just a few minutes earlier, I explained the situation, and he nodded in sympathy.

Remembering the notice on the travel reward booking site, I had partially expected this, but I failed to consider the complexity of the process. As I stepped into the line, I checked the clock: 6:05.

It was really only at that point did I realize that my flight was set to leave at 6:45.

Shuffling along the row, I glanced almost continuously at the clock. As the minutes ticked by, the extra layers I had worn to make space in my bag grew ever more uncomfortable. The lack of airflow under my thin rain jacket that enclosed the stack of sweaters trapped the moistening air over my core, down my arms, and beneath the heavy pack on my back.

Overheating, I tried to relax and shrugged the bag of my back and opened my jacket. Zipping the shoulder straps under their travel covering, I kicked the bag forward along to collect a layer of white dust on its front. As I rounded the corner of the third to last layer of the serpentine, I checked the clock yet again: 6:15.

How did I completely fail this timing exercise?

I tried not to contemplate the mistakes of the morning and focused on accepting this as a lesson learned. Granted, it was a lesson someone who has circumnavigated the globe should have learned by now, but I’ll give the defense that most of that journey did not involve airports.

Finally reaching the last half section, I prepared my passport, boarding pass, and credit card. Holding the large bag resolutely in one hand and wearing the other tightly on my back, I braced myself to rush the next available attendant.

As soon as the next customer gathered their boxy, colorful rolling bags and made space at the counter, I was approaching, tossing my large pack onto the conveyer belt. Handing over my boarding pass and passport, I waited impatiently as the attendant pulled up the flight information.

“Do you know when your flight leaves?” She asked in a half concerned, half condescending voice.

“Yeah. In about 30 minutes,” I responded with full condescension.

“25 minutes,” she rebuffed, matching my attitude.

Turning back to the clock I had stopped watching, I muttered a curse as I realized her estimate was actually generous.

“I don’t know if I can check this,” she said worriedly. “But let me…,” she trailed off as she turned to a colleague behind the counter. She began a conversation in Swedish that I only partly understood but knew fully conveyed this young backpacker’s incompetence.

After a short deliberation, she picked up the phone, hopefully calling someone connected with the aircraft I was hoping to get this bag on. The conversation extended to the point that I feared it would take us past any time limit I had not already breached, but when she hung up the phone, she looked confident.

“Ok,” she said clicking items on her screen. “You will need to take this special baggage just over there,” she indicated to my right with her eyes. “Go as quickly as you can, and then run back to security,” she nodded to my left.

“So, special baggage over there,” I pointed while she prepared the luggage tag, “and then back to security that way?” I confirmed, slightly confused, having noticed the security beyond special baggage to my right.

“Um… Yes. That will be faster,” she confirmed. “But you need to go now.”

With this final statement, she looked me in the eyes with a stern lifting of her eyebrows, and I understood that this may be possible, but it’s going to be close.

Like a thief making off with the goods, I snatched my bag and picked up my knees, accelerating to my right as quickly as the slick, dusty floor would allow. My boots bounced lightly along the surface and ducked behind the rows of customers at the counters that stood between me and my destination. When the path opened, I lengthened my stride and shot down the empty line chute as if through the end of a race.

Cross the finish line, I slammed on the brakes, coming up just short of another backpacker, a tall young woman in sleek traveling gear, laying her pack on the large independent conveyor belt. The attendant had just scanned the tag and was walking slowly back to his computer on a low desk to the left.

“Just a moment,” he said in heavily accented Swedish. “I need to confirm that it is okay,” he alerted the tall woman. I held out my bag expectantly, waiting for her to move.

“Okay. The bag is alright,” he confirmed, and I immediately threw down my pack and held out the tag as the woman stepped aside. The attendant unhurriedly scanned the tag and repeated the process. As he leaned over the computer, I bounced on my toes, ready to spring out under my lightened load.

“Okay,” he began to say and jumped at the starting gun.

The chute was still empty, and I accelerated out between the stanchions. Skipping between lines of travelers, I flew down the corridor back the way I had come. Entering the area of the other airlines, I scanned the signs for security. I needed to get to gate 4, but I had no idea of the layout on the other side of security.

The queuing area of two abandoned airline desks stood empty, and I juked around a stanchion to take advantage. As I approached the end of the area, my reentry to the flow looked blocked. A woman with a baggage cart a stroller stood at one of the ticket kiosks. Her things were spread, but the gap between the cart and the stroller was sufficient, if only just.

Leaping to get my hips over the handles of the stroller, I cleared the gap smoothly and caught my stride again as I reentered the flow. Scanning the signs to my right, I saw only “Gates 11-20”.

With the end of the terminal in sight, I began to doubt the woman who had told me to this way. Not wanting to risk the idea that this security gate would not connect me to the others, I halted, pivoted and turned back.

Back through the oncoming flow, back through the stroller gap, back past into the SAS area, back across the check in line, and around a group of other passengers into the security line, I hustled, my heart rate now racing and my under layer fully soaking with sweat.

The first line moved rapidly, and I used the moment to prepare my things; emptying my pockets, removing my computer, and chugging the water in my bottle. After quickly handing over my passport and boarding pass to the security agent, he smilingly waved me through. My brief bout of confidence ended rapidly as I scanned the lines: three of them, each 25 people deep and apparently not moving.

Fuck.

I looked up and spotted another line on the upper level. The stairs to my right were empty. I shot across the flow of passengers into the lines and up the stairs, two at a time.

Reaching the top with was also the end of the line, I recognized my fate. The situation was no better here, perhaps worse.

I’m going to miss this flight. I’m actually going to miss a flight for the first time in my life.

The self-pity lasted about four seconds until desperation set it in.

Fuck it.

I strode past the line until I was within about four passengers from the front. Just hoping that everyone in the immediate vicinity spoke English, I announced, “I’m really sorry, but my flight leaves in about ten minutes. Would you mind if I cut in?”

Much to my surprise, the entire front section of the line apparently was made up of Americans who responded colloquially with such reassuring phrases as “Yeah, dude. Go for it.”

Tossing my computer into a bin, my bag in another, and my jacket in another, I shoved my things into the machine and strode through the scanner without waiting for the attendant. Fortunately, my belt was too cheap to be made out of real metal, and my boots apparently went unnoticed.

Without even trying to reorganize anything, I slung on my bag, wrapped up my jacket, and tucked my computer under my arm as a slid around the outgoing line. Rounding the corned for the stairs down, I slipped on the dusty floor but caught myself in a less than graceful clomping of feet. Thinking back to days of stadium training, I bounced down the stairs with the quickest feet I could muster and used the extra energy to spring out when I hit the floor.

Looking at the gate signs I realized my folly and the wisdom of the attendant. I was at gate 27, the exact wrong end. Winding my way around the shops and milling customers, I shouted mixed phrases of “Excuse me!” “Ursäkta!” “Sorry!” “Förlåt!”

The terminal split, and I lost sight of the signs that had 1-10 on them, but I kept moving. The terminal entered the duty-free shop, and I didn’t slow as I rounded corners around bottles of cognac and whiskey that cost more than my budget for this entire trip. With no indication, I bet on the left, and a distant sign proved me correct. The crowd thinned, and I hurtled down an incline.

Gate 4 came in sight, and the area was completely empty. Hearing my rapid footsteps, the attendant shouted, “Geoffrey?!”

“Yes, sir!” I responded, with some apparent need for excessive formality.

“You missed your flight!” He retorted.

“Fuck you,” I muttered as I approached with my boarding pass extended.

“Where have you been?” He asked with hands spread.

“Running!” I said instead of Shove it.

His colleague, more reasonably, had gotten on the phone to the flight crew. “Boarding pass,” he said, extending a hand. Scanning it with the satisfying beep, he handed it back, and I shoved off too fast, running into the closed and locked door to the gangway. I pressed it again, and it gave as the attendant hit the button behind his desk. Squeezing through the opening gap, I launched into stride again and rounded the corner, thundering along the suspended passageway, just to see the lead flight attendant apparently reaching out to close the door. Hearing and seeing me, he stepped back, and I ducked into the aircraft, only slowing once inside.

“Thank you,” I said breathlessly to the row of attendants whom I had nearly bowled over.

As I walked calmly down the aisle, the voice of the lead attendant came over the intercom: “Boarding complete.”

Headed North – Part I

The glass doors at the top of the escalator from the express airport train opened gracefully as I approached slowly, hesitant but not yet tired under the weight of my pair of bags strapped over my shoulders like a military utility vest. Terminal 3 was welcomingly bright and impeccably clean, but its lack of rubbish was matched only by its lack of visitors. Only the swish of my pants and the squeak of my rubber soles on the polished granite floor echoed in the wide, low-ceiling room as I slowly shuffled over to the electric timetable on the walls. Curious to see if my flight may be posted, I perused the three screens, but none of the destinations matched my search.

The doors swished open again, and I turned back to see a casually dressed young Asian man step through, head bent over his cell phone, and stride away quickly with his rolling suitcase humming along behind him. As I followed him with my eyes, I turned fully around to watch him disappear through the next set of sliding doors into the passageway to terminals 4 and 5. When he was gone, I examined the area again, looking for a good place to make my homestead for the next several hours, but the wooden benches and stone floors offered no enticing options, so I decided to follow toward what seemed to be a terminal named “Sky City”.

Behind the next row of sliding doors, the long hall glowed almost overbearingly with a mesh of bright white lights over the windows that looked into the parking garage. Averting my eyes, I followed the passing faces of the photos on the wall, each with the phrase “We are Arlanda!” inscribed beside it, accentuating a short description of baggage clerks, pilots, ground operations crew, flight controllers, and so on. The diversity of smiling faces bespoke of the Swedish pride of their openness and tolerance for the multicultural background they so love to extoll, but their efforts – whether sincere or motivated by a need to appear cosmopolitan – have always felt a bit hollow for someone who struggles to keep track of the rapidly shifting cultural and ethnic makeup of the United States.

Several dozen paces later, the portraits ended, but the hall and its lights continued through another set of sliding doors. This time the wall sported only random patterns of stained glass in windows that apparently overlooked nothing interspersed with wide murals of typical Swedish geographical features. Losing interest, my eyes fell to my hands that clutched the small red pack hanging from my shoulder straps like a small child. Though more durable, this pack would be as dear to me over the next few weeks as any child to its parent, as it contained, by monetary value at least, the vast majority of my things.

The next set of sliding doors, which opened just a moment too late for me not to break my stride, opened into Terminal 4, and I realized the airport wasn’t quite dead yet. A few passengers milled about, probably getting ready as I was, to make the most of the overnight stay before an early morning departure. A middle-aged man in a loosely tucked white uniform shirt of the resident vendor cafe pointed with the sterile metal tongs gripped between the fingers of his plastic-disposable-glove-clad hand at the immaculately displayed but disappointingly filled stack of sandwiches behind the glass, and the exhausted customer considered thoughtfully if he wanted the brown or the off-white bread, both necessarily laced with substances that make it possible for the stack of barely-edibles to remain undisturbed in the display case for an amount of time he probably wouldn’t want to know.

Behind a row of metal and glass turnstiles guarding the entrance to the escalators, a clerk leaned heavily on his podium, head sunken into his shoulders as he scrolled the likely illicit smartphone through some social media to keep his mind engaged as he awaited the passengers of the final flights of the day. The barrier reminded me that I had neglected to check in for my flight earlier in the day, and I ambled over the bank of electronic check-in machines.

Punching in the confirmation code as I read it off the email still open on my phone, the machine displayed in Swedish what appeared to be an error message. After hitting exit button and starting over, I tried again. Same result. To be sure I was reading the Swedish message correctly, I tried one more time after changing the language to English, but no, my language skills had not failed me. I needed to contact the staff. With several hours remaining to solve my problem, I put off the panic and decided I might have better luck at the international terminal where my flight would be departing from anyway.

The next passageway was shorter and less interesting, and I soon found myself in a familiar area where I had hurriedly bought a ticket for the train to Uppsala when I had arrived in Sweden nearly six months prior. The brightly lit area still hosted customers of the local cafe, and the train station attendants smiled courteously as they helped the late arrivals. The sound system blasted cliche Christmas hits that competed with the music and lively discourse of the eatery and drinkery on the second level above me to the right. The comparative wealth of attractions here signified that I must have found Sky City. An earlier recommendation noted this as the place to find somewhere comfortable to sleep, and I immediately began the search. Already, however, the conglomerate that I would be spending the evening with had begun to stake out their territory, sprawling over long benches and laying out bags on the few padded seats. Seeing nothing of interest, I decided to perform what evening routine that I could as I found my way to nearest restroom.

Trying not to feel awkward as I spit out the toothpaste in the nearest of the long row of sinks, I tried even harder not to touch anything that wasn’t necessary. Although I know my bathroom at home is in no way germ-free, the thought of the global plethora of bacteria that was sure to coat every surface kept me conservative in my movements. With teeth brushed and face briefly washed, I felt I’d be as ready as I could to try to sleep in the brightly lit and loudly musicked hall.

A continued search through the area revealed no better places to lie down, but a saunter underneath the airport Radisson revealed a pair of circular couches that looked especially cozy. These two had already been claimed, but like trying to place to place that other card in a game of memory, I thought back to where I’d seen another during my walk. It hit me as I remembered the stale sandwiches, which I saw just after stepping around just such a couch that a few minutes ago was not occupied, so I decided to return.

When I rounded the corner of the vendor, the man in the white shirt had drawn down the gate for closing and was sweeping up the tacky tile floor. Behind the brightly lit glass, I could still see the stacks of sandwiches, untouched, uneaten, and unrefrigerated. Fortunately, my stomach was full; even better, the couches were not.

Not even attempting to change or make myself any more comfortable, I laid down my large bag, unsnapped the sleeping roll to serve as a pillow, wrapped my childlike bag in my arms and curled up around the couch, smearing the fold of my wool-knit cap over my eyes, and did my best to sleep.

to be continued…