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Piqued - A Toki Ponist Adventure
Chapter 18: Toils and travails

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ilo open li pona la, sina sona ala e ni: ilo li open e seme.
Toki Ponist Pu

The journey home lasted several few days. Under normal circumstances it would be a one-day trip by train, provided all trains departed according to plan. The route would then go from Innsbruck in Austria to German München, Mainz, and Köln into Dutch Eindhoven and Utrecht. But amidst the current chaos, even the German train system unraveled into dis-punctuality. Tickets to intercity trains had to be booked in advance with seat reservations using official documents, which Tipi did not have. His travel companion—a silent and unfathomable young man—disappeared at one of the many local train stations on their alternative route. From here, Tipi had to endure the constant temperature checks by service workers in protective gear alone.

There were no children busying the streets. Even though in the official statements nothing was mentioned about it, rumors endured that the virus was nasty to children under twelve in particular and so parents kept them inside. He wondered how Julian fared back with his parents, if that was where he was. Tipi regretted his time on the mountain and thereafter. He had not really been climbing the mountain, but flowed uphill on the currents of hot air fables and upwelling situations. This flowing with a stream strips you of taking control of your own actions. Even though the predetermined universe set our actions in space-time stone, it still feels unheimisch to let the story unfold instead of folding it. This would all change now.

To be a guest in the neighborhood you have lived in for so many years is a feast for undeserved nostalgia. It was no longer his house. Since he had embodied Mount Meru, he had could access most of his before memories if something triggered their release. But recollections of the two years in the ever more doubtful enlightenment remained missing. If he had to believe Kalisa they would never return because he had been under the spell of some controlling entity and Joakim’s brain would be incompatible to decode the messages. This spell had also distorted some memories of the period just before being taken over.

The memories of this street and this house were less lively than he had hoped. From the exotic remoteness of Canada and Austria, the prospect of leading a normal life was enticing. But now he and his accompanying painful memories were here, and the seducing qualities vanished into a coiled-up dimension. Still, there was no other place to go. He knew he had sold the house, but the details and memories of the transaction eluded him. It must have been moments before everything went dark for Joakim.

He rang the doorbell, but nobody opened. He took a few steps back and saw that the lights were on upstairs. It was early in the evening, so Tipi had hoped for someone to be home and awake, let alone be willing to open up to a stranger in times of uncertainty. He knocked hard on the door and then checked the windows upstairs again. The curtains moved and there was a quick peek. Then the curtain opened wide, and a woman looked down at Tipi and then disappeared again. From the quiet street where Tipi stood, you could hear the woman barge down the stairs. She opened the door, half out of breath.

“Joakim, I assume?” she said, leaning against the doorpost, more to catch her breath than to give off a laissez-faire attitude. “I didn’t expect you here.”

“We know each other?”

“No, but after we bought this house, we received a letter. It had a picture of you in it. Wait here.” She took a few steps back into the house and rummaged through a drawer full of bric-à-brac knickknacks. She fished out a photograph and showed it to Tipi. “This. This is you, right?”

“It sure is. Do you know why someone sent you this letter?”

“No, not a clue.”

“This was my house, I lived here.”

“Makes sense,” she said. “There was something else. A brief note, but I lost it. It wasn’t important, it only said that if the man from the photograph would come by I had to give him a bibelot.”

“A bibelot?”

The woman with short, very red hair hit herself on the forehead. “The trinket! Where did I leave it?”

“Everything alright, Tilda?” a man called from upstairs.

“Yes, yes,” she replied. She dug into the same drawer again. “There it is, a knot in a cord, on a chain, on a label.”

“What’s it for?”

“It might have been on the note, but I don’t know. But here, take it.” Then she whispered. “Look, I have to go. You shouldn’t come here anymore. Bye.”

And before Tipi could say anything, the door closed in his face and holding nothing more than the photograph and the label on a chain. The label contained an address. St. John’s street, number 12. He knew the address; it was a half-hour walk. Who had sent the letter? Had he done it himself? Did he know he would lose his consciousness or was it done during enlightened? The house was a closed chapter. While he had found his way on the streets, he had hoped to at least find a familiar friendly face to help him stay the night somewhere.

Coming home carries connotations of finding solace in a safe and peaceful place surrounded by loved ones. But in reality, home is not a physical place. It is the jumbled mess inside your head you have to deal with it—forget about peace and safety. And those loved ones turn out to be your discarded former selves that welcome you with the same stifling captivity that made you discard them.

He visited the address on the label first, before securing a place for the night. It was now well in the evening when he arrived in a quiet back road which was lined with garage boxes. How typical. Tipi looked up at the sky. Garage boxes are ploys in unimaginative fiction to deliver clues to push forward a story that seems otherwise stuck. He tried to ground himself in the reality he found himself in now. Flashes of the fiction-verse with Gary, Ferdinand, and the rest passed through his aphantastic consciousness with no visual quality.

He tried to open garage box number twelve as jotted on the received label. Of course it did not open because of the sturdy lock. He banged his head on the metal door and produced a ring with a quality unlike the meditative gong in his hostel’s dojo. He threw his backpack into a bush. A classic street light lit the patch of bush and bag, its light reflecting on the bag’s zipper. No key, no progress, no place to stay the night.

He stared at his bag lit by the cold led light of the streetlight. Where to find the key? A man once lost his key—or was it glasses, maybe smartphone—and looked for it near a streetlight. A passer-by had asked the man what he was doing. “Looking for my thing,” he had said. “Did you lose it here?” the intrigued other had asked. “No, but this is where the light is,” the man had answered. Tipi certainly did not lose his key near this metal lamppost. Or had he? He walked to his bag and zipped it open. He dug deep down in one of the small inner pockets. And there, he retrieved the tiny key he wore the day he had stumped his toe.

With sacrosanct carefulness he carried the key to the lock. The key did not fit. He had to be close though, and twelves would be the key to the code. Twelve are a dozen, but only in the decimal system. You have ten fingers but you can count the twelve, נו, vingerkootjes, digit bones, phalanges of your four non-opposable fingers with your thumb. What is 12 in the base-twelve, duodecimal, system? If 10 or a dozen would be twelve, and 12 or do-two would then be fourteen. He checked the lock on number 14. Again, it did not fit.

Life is not about numerical coincidences hiding within long-winded puzzles. He kicked door number 14. In its reverberating reaction, the door crawled open a bit. Tipi stuck his fingers under the resulting crack and swung the door open over his head. It had not even been locked.

Still unsure if this unit even ever belonged to him, he found it had next to nothing it it. There was a mountain bike, and a backpack. The backpack contained a laptop, a smartphone, a wad of cash bound with rubber bands and a wallet. The wallet and the still valid bank cards, driver’s license, and passport confirmed this was all his. He opened the passport and stared at his face staring back at him. He stuffed the new items into the bag he had been carrying all the way from Austria.

He put a breath of fresh air into the tubes of the mountain bike and drove with noisy gears and chain to a nearby hotel. The streets were just as quiet here as where he had come from. Nobody ventured outside unless they had to. The first hotel he saw was closed, and another one did not accept anyone without a longstanding reservation and certified health check.

Joakim ventured more to the outskirts of town and found a small motel that was both open and welcoming. He registered. The bed he dropped himself onto was awful to most standards. He hurt his ankle because the bed was too short and he gravitated into a sinkhole in the middle of the bed. But by golly did it feel good to rest in a place that he could call his own for at least the time that he had paid for. He brushed his teeth and fell asleep almost instantly.

The next day he had a simple breakfast in the hall downstairs. Instead of venturing in town, he went back to his room and put up the do-not-disturb sign to keep the cleaning staff away. There was nothing for him out there except contamination. He needed to find clues on what happened to him the last two years. His bag full of novel nicknacks should help with that. The laptop and smartphone came packed with cables, so he hooked them both into the wall sockets.

Charging lights appeared and sure enough, after a while both devices sprung to life. He let his fingers type his laptop password from muscle memory. He spent the rest of the day looking at pictures on his phone and reading all kinds of documents. It took a few minutes for all the e-mail to download into his mail application. With some sadness, he saw nothing worthwhile. It was mostly spam and newsletters, but since this was a few years’ worth of junk, he would sort it some other time. There were too many interesting documents. Some contained lousy poems, notes for something he could not remember, and manuscripts of stories. There was a word list in what he recognized as the language toki pona.

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