Marching to the Music
It was one of those crisp, clear days that made you think you could see for miles and miles. In fact, the air was so fresh and aromatic I believe it nearly made me tipsy just breathing it. For all appearances, you would have thought that the city had blossomed into some sort of colorful, joyful celebration, but I knew even then that this was just normal for the weekend. I was truly thankful for Homeland’s eight-day weeks, with their three-day weekends. It gave me all the more time to enjoy the city.
On one particular weekend, John Anderson took me on a walking tour of the downtown area, combining it with a few errands of his own. We stopped in to a shoe store, where he bought a pair of green shoes.
“Why green?” I asked, confused by his color choice.
“I know they’re a little stuffy, but I don’t have any shoes that I can wear on formal occasions,” he answered off-hand, “and I’m going to need them next Thirdday.” As we jostled our way through the crowd on the sidewalk, he informed me that he was an English instructor in the University’s Earth Studies Department, and that his class was graduating on that day.
Then we came across a band in one of the city of Hapdorn’s charming Pocket Parks. They were in full Hapdorn provincial costume, playing the traditional steel drums and yodeling. It sounds like a strange combination, but I’m sure my description isn’t as charming as the music was. The music had a peppy beat.
“Hey! Slow down!” John protested, running to catch up with me. “What’s the sudden rush?”
“I’m in no rush,” I said as I marched along, “Loud music is my nemesis; for some reason I can’t help myself, I have to walk to the beat!” I was pleased with the music, but very self-conscious about my marching. By the time we got out of range of the music, John was winded, and I was relieved. Once he caught his breath, he thought it was funny.
Every so often he took advantage of my weakness by calling out a cadence, just to watch me march to it against my will.
The Car Keys
I hurriedly grabbed my wallet off the dresser and stuffed it into my pocket, then I reached for my keys.
“What’s that thing you’re putting in your pocket?” Darryl asked.
“My key chain,” I said, “I never go anywhere without my keys; in fact, I don’t even feel comfortable if they’re not in my front right pants pocket.” I began to show him the keys one by one. “This is the key to my house; this is my car key, this is the key to the file cabinet in my office…“
As I was explaining this to Darryl, Harshan came down the hall to hurry us along. “It’s about time for us to leave, what’s taking you so long?” he asked impatiently.
“Oh, I was just showing Darryl my keys,” I explained, as I hastily stuffed them into my pocket and started out of the room.
“Your keys?” Harshan exploded in mirth, “You brought your keys?”
“It’s force of habit,” I said as my face began to get hot, “I never leave the house without them in my pocket.”
“That’s ridiculous!” Harshan laughed. “There’s nothing within twelve light-years that those keys can unlock!” Harshan then turned his head to face the living room. “Hey gang!” he called out, “Ken brought his keys!”
It took me several days to live that one down!
The Day I Got Lost (Again)
Then there was the day that I got lost. I had been in the city for a couple of weeks, and I had learned from my misadventure in the park to stay pretty close to home, but I managed to get lost anyway. Hapdorn is a beautifully scenic mountain metropolis, it oozes civility and decorum from every pore; but by Earth standards it is incredibly ancient—as a glance at any road map will attest. Honestly, I don’t see how these people can find their way around town without a city map in their hip pockets, but somehow they manage.
So it was about Secondday of last week that I decided to purchase a comic book at the nearby newsstand. I enjoyed trying to puzzle out the meaning of the language from the pictures, which is getting easier every day now that I have mastered the writing system (with Darryl’s able assistance). At first, Harshan thought that comic books were a frivolous waste until he sat in on one of our sessions, and then he had to concede the wisdom of my plan.
My plan was wise, but my feet were foolish, and they led me around the wrong corner. Before I realized it, I was hopelessly turned around. What to do? Ask a policeman for help? In Hapdorn the police are hard to find; because of the almost nonexistent crime rate, the police force is very small. Even if I did manage to stumble across one, I probably wouldn’t know it; they don’t wear distinctive uniforms, so you can’t tell them from civilians.
So I was lost in the capital city of a country whose language I did not speak, on a planet whose oceans did not spawn my forebears, twelve light-years away from home. Believe me, in those desperate moments, it was easy for me to grasp the concept of a light year as a unit of distance!
An elderly woman noticed my disorientation and correctly surmised that I was lost. She hugged me and cooed to me as if I were a child and took me by the arm. I didn’t want to go where she was taking me, but wherever it was I reasoned that it couldn’t be any worse. So I did not break her fragile grasp and slowed to match her pace. It took us an inordinate length of time to walk a mere two blocks or so, and she prattled on happily although I’m sure she realized that I couldn’t understand a word she said. I take that back; I could pick out a word or two here or there, but even the general drift eluded my tenuous grasp of the Thorgelfaynese language.
Finally, we stood before a large apartment building, and she insisted that I enter it with her. Her small apartment showed obvious signs of having only one long-term, elderly resident. She showed me photographs of what I assume were relatives. I specifically remember that she showed me a portrait of a tall, handsome man with a merry grin; she called him “kaleoma,” which I believe meant that he was her father. He was dressed in green, so it must have been a formal picture.
She then gave me a picture book to look at while she busied herself in her kitchenette, preparing a surprisingly sumptuous, if meager snack. By the time we were done eating, there was a knock at the door. When the elderly lady opened the door, who was standing there but a relieved and apologetic Melissa! Apparently, my benefactor managed to make a few telephone calls while she was preparing our food.
Melissa lectured me on the way back home, but I was haunted even then by the memory of this kindly old lady who took me in off the street and saw to my needs. When we left, she hugged me tenderly and kissed me on the cheek. I get wet eyes and a lump in my throat just thinking about it, even now. I wish I could have thanked her, but my words were inadequate for my gratitude.
A Night at the Theater
Last night, Melissa and Harshan took me to a performance of “Tahibfeneng Epθarkta Θorgelmü,” a historical drama about the founding of the Grand Duchy of Thorgelfayne, the country of which this beautiful city of Hapdorn is the capital. Melissa already told you about that play, so I won’t bore you by repeating the story line. I couldn’t understand any of it at all! It’s as if the actors were racing through their lines; as soon as I thought I had detected a familiar word, they were ready for the next scene! If the play had been performed on Earth, it wouldn’t be considered a play, it would be considered a kind of variety show with a theme, I suppose. Nevertheless, it was a fascinating evening. I especially liked the yodeling and the dance routines.
The play took place in the Main Theater of the Performing Arts Guild at Hapdorn University. It is a cavernous place with rough-textured beige concrete walls, and plum upholstery, very tasteful. The first act (or whatever it is called, I have no idea) went pretty much as you would expect. Right before the intermission, the action reached a climax in a brilliantly staged automobile accident. I was very impressed at the way they created the illusion of the two cars going over the cliff. The main characters (minus the accident victims) gathered at center stage and began chanting something, and the whole audience joined in. Then the lights went up abruptly.
As soon as my eyes had adjusted, I noticed that a large percentage of the audience was deeply moved, some were even weeping openly.
“Are you enjoying the play?” Melissa asked, trying in vain not to let her voice crack.
“Yes, I have a general idea of the plot, and I seem to be following it okay,” I said. “Tell me, though: what sort of clothing are they wearing?”
“They’re in costume. The events that are depicted in the play took place in 14728, and this is 17829,” she said. “So fashions have changed a bit since then; after all, that was over three thousand years ago! Did you catch how goofy those old cars looked?”
I nodded silently and check her arithmetic in my head. Although I’m not sure of my ability to do arithmetic in my head, I think she had it about right.
Homeland is an older world than Earth. What Homelanders call ‘recent history’ would be ancient by human terms!