Travelers Welcome

Travelers Welcome

Friday, July 2, 2010


by Pete Pazmino
 This place. This hard plastic chair, the back curved just enough to lack all comfort. He clutches his papers and presses against them with his thumb the tiny slip he took from the clerk. His hope, his salvation printed in bold blue: D221. 
 A woman’s monotone voice speaks overhead: A, zero-five-three, to window number ten. She repeats herself twice before a roundish woman with great sloping shoulders and blue stretch pants separates herself from the rowed seats.
 There are children by the door. They are playing a game, slapping hands and chanting. He listens to their nonsense rhyme. One, one, touch your thumb, touch your thumb because it’s fun, beef! They descend into giggles. The phone vibrates in his pocket. It is a text message from Elle, who like him is not working today but refused to spend the morning in bed. Errands, I need this day. Elle wants to know if he is free on Friday night. 
 Stuck at DMV, he texts back. The children chant: Two, two, touch your shoe, touch your shoe because it’s new, beef! A blonde mother and her blonde son sit in the empty chairs on his left. The boy’s bangs hang over his eyes. He slouches low in his seat. It looks as though he might slide off it and onto the floor.
 Three, three, touch your knee, touch your knee because it’s free, beef! The uniformed security guard, who carries a gun, strolls past. E, four-eight-one, to window number three. He peers down at the little slip of paper even though he knows that what is printed there is not what has been called.

 Four, four, touch the floor, touch the floor because you snore, beef! The dark-eyed couple across the aisle whisper to each other. The words he hears don’t sound Spanish, though he would have guessed they were Mexican. D, one-one-five, to window number six. The children laugh loudly. Somewhere past them a baby cries. The phone vibrates in his hand. Ugh sorry hate going there. 
 Five, five, touch your eyes, touch your eyes because they’re wide, beef! He thumbs his own text: Wish you’d stayed longer. A tap on his shoulder. “This seat taken?” He looks up to a bald man in stained blue overalls, Mike stitched on the breast in curling red letters. Mike points at the empty chair on his right. On his left, the mop-haired blonde boy sticks ear buds into his ears. He shakes his head and Mike sits down. B, zero, zero, eight, to window number one. He feels confined now, someone close on either side. The chair is too narrow. He smells flowery perfume as a rail-thin woman in a short jean skirt strides past. Mike’s eyes follow her. “You believe that?” Mike mutters. He grunts an agreeably noncommittal reply. Six, six, touch your wrist, touch your wrist because it twists, beef! 
 D, one-one-six, to window number seven. The phone vibrates. Wish I couldve babe. U mad? He senses Mike peering over his shoulder. He turns so that his body blocks the phone. The blonde-haired boy is nodding to a fast song. The children shriek laughter and a woman’s sharp voice cracks like a whip: Quiet yourselves down right now! Short silence. D, one-one-seven, to window number four. Two Ds in a row. He peers again at the tiny slip. His number has not changed. Seven, seven, touch your melon, touch your melon ‘cause it’s swellin’, beef! Another loud peal of laughter.
 Not mad, he texts. Fri sounds good. Not what he wants to say. All weekend she was distant, a thousand miles away and he trying so hard to connect. It was going to be different this time. That was what he had told himself. C, two-zero-nine, to window number twelve. 
 Eight, eight, touch your face, touch your face because it’s great, beef! What he wants to ask them is why they are saying beef. He wants to know who invented this rhyme, when it ends. E, four-eight-two, to window number three. Why hadn’t he thought to bring a book? The security guard walks by again. Mike grunts softly, pig-like. He knows that he is supposed to laugh and gives a placatory sniff of amusement. Nine, nine, touch your spine, touch your spine because it’s fine, beef! The phone vibrates. Yellow happy face. D, one-one-eight, to window number six. 
 He shifts in the uncomfortable seat. His leg bumps against Mike’s and Mike shifts sideways. What will be Elle’s reaction if he does not send a smiley in reply? He does not know. He slides the phone into his pocket. Maybe she will text again, give him something more. D, one-one-eight, to window number six. He frowns, glances over his shoulder at the rows of people behind him. Nobody approaches the counter. He glances at the tiny slip. D, one-one-eight, to window number six. “Fucker better get up there,” Mike mutters. 
 Ten, ten, touch your chin, touch your chin and do it again, beef! A new chorus of giggles. D, one-one-eight, to window number six. The red sign over window six is flashing. Nobody is at the window. He could claim the spot. They would not ask for his number. He leans forward, poised at the edge of his seat. 
 C, two-one-zero, to window number six. Profound disappointment: he has waited too long. The phone vibrates in his pocket. He does not need to read the message to know that Elle is suggesting he visit her tonight, that she will not even consider another night with him. The past visit was a one-time concession.
 One, one, touch your thumb, the children chant. He mouths along the rest. 

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