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Piqued - A Toki Ponist Adventure
Chapter 6: Dustcover

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sina suli e kasi la sina ken pali e lipu.
taso sona pi kasi suli li lon ala lon lipu ni.
Toki Ponist Pu

“Watch it, dorkhole!” a voice cried out while Tipi was trying to get his bearings in a busy shopping street just outside the park. He turned around in shock to see who said it, but he only saw the backs of people walking away from him. Then one of them turned around and flipped Tipi the finger.

What’s the matter with this world? Tipi wanted to plan his next move and had hoped to pick up inspiration from an anonymous stroll. But left and right he saw people pointing at him and laughing. These ridiculous lederhosen. It had not been a topic at all during his conversation with the raking ranger in the park, so he had forgotten all about the comfortable garment.

But he would not let himself be the center of mockery. He would wear his outfit with pride. Let them have their fun, but not at his expense. Tipi put his nose in the air, released a strong yodel and crossed the street in confidence. The euphoria did not last long because a car skidded to a full stop inches from Tipi’s ankles. The window rolled down, but Tipi hurried along to evade the cannonade of swear words that he now heard anyway, muffled.

On the other side of the street, a car matched speed alongside Tipi and then stopped. The door opened, and a woman emptied an ashtray full of cigarette buds, ashes, and candy wrappers on the street. The woman scowled at Tipi. “What are you looking at? Do you own the streets? No? Then piss off.” The door closed, and she drove off.

Tipi was in front of a huge glass facade with revolving doors. A constant flow of people fluxed in and out, carrying bags, bags and more bags. Paper bags, tote bags with elaborate prints, plastic bags all bulging with clothing and cardboard boxes. So much stuff. He paved a way through the masses of shoppers and scuttled into a more quiet side street.

This quietness also did not last. One by one, seven loud roaring motorcycles flamed by leaving thick wafts of smoke behind that had creeped up Tipi’s nose before the visible part of the exhaust had reached him. Tipi dropped on all fours in a coughing fit. Crawling, he reached a wall and rested his back rest against the cold concrete.

He felt a presence next to him and then looked straight into the eyes of a scruffy-looking gentleman sitting on one piece of cardboard and holding another one with a message that Tipi could not read from where he sat. “Got some spare to spare?” he said to Tipi. “Money? You speak English? Food, food, money.” He gestured the universal signs for eating and money in an almost hypnotic cycle.

“No,” said Tipi. “I mean, I do speak English, but no, I’ve got nothing to spare for you at the moment. Or would you be interested in this Bavarian garment?”

“Get lost, then!” the man shouted. “This is my patch. Go find your own place to squat.”

“Git!” the man then said, when Tipi only looked at the man in disbelief. “I’ll send my dog after you to rip the flesh from those skinny knees.”

The even more scruffy looking dog next to the man lacked all the characteristics an aggressive dog required.

“Very well.” Tipi got up and dusted the dirt from his knickerbockers. The wafts of motorcycle smoke had mixed with the rest of the putrid city air and the regular cacophony of honks, skids, and motor noises had replaced the loud roars. Tipi hurried along to find a place less rousing to the senses. He entered a coffee shop. Such a coffee shop had been a safe space the day before. The door of the establishment closed behind him and a wall of warm aromatic air washed over Tipi. This lulled him into a more relaxed state.

But then came the noise and the chatting. The infinite stream of gabbling and babbling mouths, streaks of non-sensible irrelevant chit-chat. A multi-lingual Babylonian tower of verbal shit-storms entered Tipi’s ears. His internal translators begged for a fortress of solitude.

A woman at a nearby table pushed her used fork over the edge on accident, but showed no intention of picking it up again. A server stepped on it but also left it there. Smeared and smudged napkins littered the tables, mugs standing tall in puddles of spilt coffee, glasses taken away by servers with a few good swigs left in them. Tipi staggered into the bathroom area, but not before putting the fork back on the table. He washed his hands and his face with cool running water before looking at his flustering face in the mirror.

Behind him, unsanitary noises escaped one stall. A blowing nose ejected something, coughs with mucus sounding like regurgitation and then excessive pulling and rubbing of tissue paper. A toilet flushed and a heavy man walked out of the stall and with unwashed hands vanishing into the thicket of the coffee shop jungle.

“This is disgusting,” Tipi said to himself in the mirror. “The noise. The filth. There are only dilapidated buildings, a constant decay in demeanor, a tendency for people to descent into degeneracy.” He refreshed his face one last time, sampling the chlorinated water and spitting it out in disgust, before dashing out of the bathroom and out of the coffee shop onto the darkening street. He ran.

At every corner he met human carelessness. And with every eye contact, the hate, and the fear and the stress brewing within confronted him. He ran.

And then he stopped. In the shopping window of a second-hand bookshop, a scroll painting hung among an eclectic assortment of books. All the lines flowing on the monochrome ink painting meandered to a focal point, where clouds of outlined water vapor rise from a tall waterfall that disappeared between steep mountain peaks. “Come in,” the mountain said. Without hesitation, Tipi entered the shop.

The smell of oil, urine, and sewage stayed outside. Inside, the stale smell of musty books took over. An older woman approached Tipi from behind a trolley full of weathered manuscripts. She put on her glasses, which had been dangling on a beady cord around her neck.

“Can I help you, sir? We were just about to close.”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Tipi said. This portal through time had calmed him down. “The mountain told me to come in.”

“Ah yes, that scroll beckons. You are not the only one invited in by its beauty.”

“It spoke to me with audible words.”

The woman nodded. “They call it shan shui. It doesn’t depict an actual mountain, or how a place could look like. The image conjures a sense of how nature is without showing you what it is. Now, are you looking for anything in particular?”

“I’m searching for my soul,” Tipi said. “You have not seen it by any chance?”

The woman grabbed a wicker chair and gestured Tipi to take a seat. “Tea, dear?”

“Yes, please.”

She walked to the back of the store, leaving her goods and the till unattended. Tipi was not a thief. A few minutes later the woman returned with two cracked mugs of steaming tea. “There are many books here that can help you search for your soul, but none of them contain it, and none of them can do the searching for you.”

“I know.”

“I have books with answers and brimming with wisdom, but to be honest, for most practical matters they are futile against human stubbornness. You should not read books for the solutions they offer or for the insights they put forward.”

“What do these books of you offer me then? So far, you are not selling your wares very well.”

“If you need a hip management book, you should one-click buy online. Or get the audiobook version or the 2-page summary.” She sipped her tea, and Tipi did the same, enjoying the bergamot aroma.

“I’ll show you what I have in store.” The woman, who introduced herself as Sally, turned the open sign of her shop to closed. During the next two hours, she fetched books from shelves, stacks, and trolleys, while Tipi listened in silence to how each story had impacted Sally’s life. From how she grew up in a humid orphanage to how she reconnected with her father and then lost him again a few weeks later in an accident. How she met the love of her life and how it did not work out. She talked about the children that she could never have and how above all she kept her dignity and strength.

“Sometimes, I wish I could get unstuck in time, like in Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse V,” she said. “But the price for that is living through death marches and the Dresden bombings. My history has granted me my personal set of superpowers. Powers that are only balanced by the misery they require.”

“My superpower is falling from enlightenment,” Tipi said. “I am reborn without the wisdom that put me at the pinnacle of awareness.”

“Your power is someone else’s envy, I am certain. I am afraid my books are more fitting to my situation than yours.”

“Sally, these books have put me at ease. The city outside with all its hustle, bustle, hate, and filth tries to tell me I don’t belong there.”

Sally reached out to a few booklets, which she could just grab while standing on her toes. “This City now doth like a garment wear, “ she says while brushing the dust of the paperbacks. “The beauty of the morning; silent, bare.” She handed one to Tipi.

“Wordsworth,” she said. “Most people think his writings are pure schmaltz. I don’t hold such strong opinions about any author.”

“I don’t think this city ever sleeps nor is it ever bare.”

“Maybe not, but everything has to come to terms with nature. Here,” Sally said and gave another bundle of poems to Tipi. This time with the name Shelley on it. “Thou hast a voice, great Mountain, to repeal, Large codes of fraud and woe; not understood.”

“What does that mean?”

“It’s in his Ode to Mont Blanc. In this city, we like to think that we are in control of everything. But nature has a voice too, and we can hear it on the desolate slopes. While our false sense of lordship in the city dims our imagination, the snowy peak humbles us into freeing our imagination.”

“You may think this city is terrible,” Sally said. “But the cities were even more horrible in their time. Think industrial revolution. Filthy cities brimming with poor self-centered workers toiling for prototypical capitalists uncaring about their workers’ wellbeing. Disease and unrest mixed with the intensity of human progress, rules, and etiquette. It’s no wonder sensitive souls such as Wordsworth dreamt about leaving the human industrial mess behind and worship a simpler life in nature.”

An energy surged through Tipi’s veins. “You are right. To open my mind and remove the block that prevents me from remembering my past, I have to seek refuge in nature’s arms and lay my head to rest on nature’s bosom.”

“Wander like a lonely cloud,” Sally said, taking the empty mug from Tipi’s hands.

“Sorry I didn’t buy any of your books, I have nothing on me to pay you.”

“Don’t worry, you’re welcome anytime. I think you are ready to go now.”

“I am,” Tipi said. He thanked Sally again and walked into the evening air. “I just need to tell my three friends I am now ready to go to Austria. The news will thrill them to the core.”

He walked a few blocks and then a cloth covered his head and a stick hit his knee cavities, causing Tipi to collapse onto the pavement. He heard a van stop and a door slide open. The last thing he sensed was being dragged along, a weird smell, and then everything was dark and peaceful.

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