Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Soma: part 3

Soma headed west, towards the outskirts of town, away from the shops that would be closing up for the day. People smiled at him as they walked home to be with their families. Soma tried not to think about them or what had happened earlier. All he wanted was to be alone. The day had been so strange, like dreaming you are asleep dreaming, and only waking up once. The world seemed somehow different now; more surreal, less rigid, like the physical laws of the universe had quietly relaxed their grip, allowing for a bit more freedom. However different the external world might seem, Soma’s bodily functions remained unchanged, and he desperately needed to find that bathroom.

He eventually came to a rundown filling station at the edge of the desert. Two gas pumps stood beneath an overhang in front of a small general store. A garage was attached to the building, and car parts spilled out of it onto the driveway. The front door was propped open by an old wooden chair. A cool springtime breeze blew into the store; it swept a small cloud of dust up into the air. The cloud curled and collapsed into itself as it rolled over like a wave. The scene was momentarily reflected by the last gleam of sunlight, which was suddenly cut off by the horizon as the sun set and dusk fell over Arizona.

Soma walked through the door and saw a man inside, a lanky fellow in overalls sitting on a stool behind the counter. He was picking at one of his fingernails with a pocket knife. His hands were dirty, covered in black grease. He looked up and nodded casually at Soma as he came in. Soma walked over to the counter.

“What can I do ya for, sir?” the attendant asked; sitting up straight, ready to do business.

“I’m looking for a bathroom. Have you got one?” Soma replied.

“You bet. The key’s there, hanging up” he said, indicating the far wall. “Round back’s the toilet” he added, pointing with his thumb over his left shoulder.

“Thanks.” Soma said and grabbed the key and spun it around his finger as he walked around behind the station. He found the bathroom. It was filthy, of course.

When Soma’s feet hit the ground outside of the bathroom, he was able to breathe again. He delivered the key back to its place on the wall and browsed the aisle for some vittles to satisfy his grueling hunger. “A bag of trail mix will do” he thought to himself, as he picked one up off the shelf. Soma grabbed a large bottle of water and approached the counter with his big bag of mix. He put his things down on the counter, the man and him standing opposite each other.

“This be all?” the man said, looking down at the items.

“You bet. Couldn’t afford to buy the crude stuff you’re selling there” Soma said, indicating the sign through the door, selling gas for six dollars a gallon.

“Don’t I know it” the man grumbled. He finished punching the register and came up with the total, “that’ll be three fifty, for ya there.”

Soma rummaged through his pockets feeling for some cash. He still had the crane and the key in one pocket and the map in the other. He came up with a five dollar bill and handed it over to the man.

“You on foot then?” the man asked as he fished for Soma’s change.

“Ya, luckily I’m traveling light” Soma said and nodded as he stuffed his purchases into the backpack he had been carrying.

“Where’s a man like you staying?” the attendant asked.

“Any place I can find.” Soma said, remembering that he did not have a place to stay tonight. “I’ve just woken up from a deep sleep. I’ll be out on the road tonight I suspect.”

“Woo-doggy, the desert can be a harsh place to travel through, especially alone, and at night to boot!” The man handed Soma his change and saluted, as if to say goodbye and good luck.

Soma’s mind had floated away; he was stuck in deep thought. His legs stood rooted to the ground he stood upon. He held the change out in his hand, his elbow pinned to his side and his forearm extended in an awkward frozen position. The man standing across from him squirmed uncomfortably. He waved his hand in front of Soma’s face to see if he was ok. Soma eyes just gazed into the distance, his vision lost on the horizon and his mind beyond in outer space.

The filling station attendant began to worry. He thought his customer might be seriously ill. He leaned over the counter, intending to poke Soma in the face. Surely that would bring this fellow to attention. As his index finger neared Soma’s head, Soma snapped back to reality. He looked wide eyed at the man crawling towards him over the counter, with his finger aimed at his forehead. The man froze in place when he noticed Soma’s awareness. An awkward moment passed. Soma looked at his feet and stuffed the change into his pocket, as the man leaned down off the counter and back onto the stool.

As Soma was about to turn and leave, he drew the crane out of his pocket and continued to stand in front of the counter, speechless, still partially lost in thought. The attendant noticed the crane. “Where’d ya, did ya…where did the bird come from?” the man finally managed, a bit unnerved.

“It’s kind of a long story, I don’t think I could tell it all.” Soma replied.

“That’s fine.” The man said, and paused before continuing. Hesitantly he said, “You know there’s a guy, makes lots of those cranes. He comes in here for band aids on occasion, for all the paper cuts, ya know?” the man said, with a nervous chuckle. “His name is Chief Woebegone.”

Soma’s eyes widened a bit. “I might know this guy, any idea where he calls home?” Soma asked.

The attendant thought for a moment, and then he said, “Oh ya, he lives on an Indian Reservation for sure. In fact, I do believe he lives on the Havasupai Reservation down in the canyon, about twenty miles west of here.”

Soma nodded thanks to the man, and left rapidly, with a plan. He was going to follow the crane folding man into the bottom of Havasupai Canyon. Soma had read about this canyon in some pamphlets he had leafed through at a local diner.

The Havasupai Canyon was formed by a tributary of the Colorado River. Over millions and millions of years the Grand Canyon and other smaller side canyons, like the Havasupai Canyon, were carved in the dry sedimentary rock of the Mojave Desert. Havasupai Canyon takes its name from the Havasupai people, or The People of the Blue Green Water who have lived there for generations. There are many spectacular water falls and unspoiled glassy blue-green ponds along the lush river bed.

The people themselves are economically devastated. Its population survives on marginal subsistence agriculture and government cheese. There is a hotel for visitors, with no phones or electricity. Many people would rather skip the twelve mile hike and depressing local scenery altogether. The long walk to the village is a treacherous one. A sturdy mule can manage to navigate the uneven terrain, but truly, your ass is better off on foot.

Soma thought of this unspoiled natural habitat, with its dying culture, as he headed down the darkening dusty road. He knew he had lots of walking to do before got there. It was twenty miles to the plateau, and another twelve into the canyon itself. By morning Soma thought he could make it at least to the plateau, where he could rest before beginning the decent. Soma was lucky to be walking at night. The sun would beat him to death during the day. But now he walked into the evening twilight, full of energy and hope. The questions that had plagued him earlier were of no importance to him now. Time travels, castles, cranes, they were all illusions. But the man had been real. And the angel, that woman, she had also been real. Soma thought, if only he could find the man he saw folding cranes, not for an explanation of what had happened before, and not for instructions about what comes next, or about how to find the angel, but only because Soma had gained the freedom to choose to do what he truly wished to do.

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