Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Baffled Banker

Most of the transportation in the Golden Desert is done either by caravans or along the Desert's few permanent roads. The times when a caravan arrives in a village on a road - such as right now - are prime opportunities for trade, so the caravan will be staying in Denemat for a short time, trading spices and cloth and various other crafts for basic supplies. (Apparently, the caravan's pack animals eat truly prodigious amounts of vegetables.) It will be another day or two before I leave.

I spent today wandering the village and painting various things for people. There is a surprising amount of color in Denemat once one knows where to look for it. Like CheChmit, which I visited last year, Denemat is mostly shades of gray and sandy brown. There's just the occasional red door or green window frame. Some people will just paint a few stones of a house, or a few posts of a fence, outlining them in white or pale yellow to accentuate the pattern of the material. It's a nice touch. It has obviously been some time since any of the paint was retouched, though, and much of it was peeling off. It was a busy day. Fortunately, in most cases, speech was unnecessary for the jobs; the villagers and I could communicate just by sketching and pointing at colors.

A few goat-like people wanted me to paint their horns, which took me a little longer to figure out. Seeing the results - only the most intricate patterns would do - several of the reptilian villagers asked me to paint their scales as well, requesting streaks and spots in bright yellows and oranges. Overall, I might have painted more people than buildings today.

The elderly couple I met yesterday have been kind enough to let me sleep on the bench in their garden for the next few nights. Their names are Fenbit and Hasisha. Before coming to the Golden Desert, I had rarely slept outdoors, except in the wild areas between towns. In the small Desert towns and villages, though, it's quite common; it rarely rains here, and there is little chance of having one's possessions stolen overnight, at least in the small communities. Travelers need little more than a spot out of the wind to spend the night. I'm glad to have met someone kind enough to provide one.

I was on my way back there, just before sunset, when I came upon a man standing just beyond the center of the village. He was dressed in an immaculately pressed tweed suit and carried a briefcase in one hand. Sand was blowing into his shoes.

"Excuse me," he said in English. "Could you direct me to the bank?"

I looked back at the main street of the village, bewildered; I'm not sure if Denemat even has a bank. The villagers usually pay in eggs or radishes and don't even bother with money. When I turned around, he was gone.

At first, I suspected that this was a hallucination brought on by the heat. The man had been rather too opaque to be a ghost. When I drew a rough sketch for Fenbit and Hasisha, though, they exclaimed over it, pointing out the briefcase and the decidedly out-of-place clothing. What I gathered, from the small amount of communication we could achieve, is that the man is a wanderer of an unusual sort. He pops up in town after town in the Golden Desert, constantly asking for directions. No one has ever seen him stay long enough in one place to actually find what he's looking for.

There are many stories of eternal wanderers, such as the Hat Man, the Stubborn Postmistress, and the Flying Dutchman.* I'm not sure what this one would be called. The Baffled Banker? The Confused Clerk? The Disoriented Office Worker? Fenbit and Hasisha had never heard of him introducing himself by name.

Whoever he is, I hope he finds the bank he's looking for.

* The origins of the Dutchman story have, sadly, been lost to history, along with the definition of what exactly a "Dutchman" is. Literary historians have speculated that it is a type of large echinoderm. This would explain why the flying is worth noting.

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