© 2011 Josh brick

The long walk.

I need an adventure, I’m feeling restless. It’s one of those sell everything I own and buy a plane ticket to anywhere kind of feelings. Somewhere across an ocean, I’m going through customs. I can barely understand french, but it’s closer to english than whatever language the cab driver started with, so we make do.  I don’t really have anywhere in mind, so he takes me to a bar.  On the way, our french syncs up a little bit, we stick to present tense, common verbs, sprinkled with terrible english. He manages to tell me about his friend, Luco, owner the bar we’re going to, who might have a job for me.

Luco’s wife speaks english, and the four of us knock back a couple bottles of the cheapest vodka I’d ever bought. Luco is withered by arthritis, can’t do much around the bar, needs a hand.  They can’t pay me, but they’ll give me a place to sleep and keep me fed.  The exchange rate is long in my favor, so besides the plane ticket and the vodka, I’ve still got all my earthly possessions crammed into a billfold of traveller’s cheques.  I take them up on the offer.

A few days in, I’m picking up useful phrases and making much needed repairs. On more than one occasion I dip into my pocket and shell out for a power drill, weatherstripping, and new glass for some of the broken windows.  Mrs. Meidani makes fantastic dolma and Sarraga me Limua, fried sardines soaked in lemon juice. We drink moonshine with dinner and Luco regales us with folk tales; which his wife translates for me.  Luco relentlessly questions her translations, as if he wants to be sure she’s telling it as well as he does.  Luco’s stories were all in the telling, because regardless of the translation, they didn’t make much sense.

Two weeks passed quietly. The few regulars knew my name and peppered me with questions about where I was from and why I had come to their city. I told them my own stories, whatever I could think of on the spot; I was a poet, looking for inspiration, an actor researching a role, a distant descendent of a famous general trying to find my roots. They often made jokes at my expense, but made up for it buying me drinks and telling their own stories for me to collect.   Some of their stories were, as you’d expect, anecdotes about their involvement in a rebellion during the late 90s, survival stories about persecution in the 60s, about struggling to make a living, or live up to their fathers; but Alenki, a mechanic, told me a story that broke my heart.

Alenki, when he was thirteen, fell in love with a girl named Jehona. They were inseparable, and their romance went on for years.  When the violence began, around ’97, Jehona was seventeen, her parents were forced to flee to Italy.  Alenki took off after her when he found out, but couldn’t track her down, and couldn’t get out of the country.  He returned home to find his father had been killed, and Alenki had to find work to support his mother, but ever since had dreamed of going to italy to find Jehona.  His mother was perpetually ill, and Alenki couldn’t bear to leave her for any amount of time.

Before Alenki left the bar to return home for the evening, he pulled me aside, and whispered that even after all these years, he had been reaching out to anyone he knew of in Italy to find out what became of her.  He confessed this to me as one might confess to a mortal sin, as if it were some great betrayal. I told him to bring me a picture of Jehona.

Three days later, Alenki returned with a worn photograph of the two of them as teenagers.  I snapped a still of it with my phone, which I had to reanimate from the dead; tracking down an adapter was no easy task.  I’d had some time to dwell on Alenki’s story, and talked it over with Luco and his wife.  Armed with the photo, as much information as I could pump out of Alenki, and a flask full of moonshine, I said my goodbyes. On the following morning, I was on my way south.

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