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Piqued - A Toki Ponist Adventure
Chapter 24: Trans-fair

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ona li toki e toki la, ni li pona taso tan ni: ona li sona ala e ijo.
Toki Ponist Pu

“I am not getting rid of you, but other people can take better care of you than a homeless guru like myself. You need people who love you, in a stable situation who make sure that you go to school.”

“But I want to stay with you,” Julian said.

Tipi hugged the boy, while eyeing the entrance to the police station with a slight suspicion.

“Look, I know your parents haven’t been there for you the way they should. I believe all parents do their best and have the best intentions for their children, but they may do this in the worst ways. Some parents hit their children, or worse. They might tell them off for not getting perfect scores in school or not be the best at some sport or they don’t show any interest at all.”

“Mine did all the above.”

“At the moment, I don’t know if staying with me will be an enormous improvement with all the kidnapping and shady hotels. But I realize this and I am looking for a better situation.”

“So where are you dumping me?”

“I could go to the police, they might have an international yellow notice about a missing boy.”

“But then they’ll just send me home!”

“True. I don’t know how to explain our story to the police either, they might take it the wrong way and think I kidnapped you.”

“But I’ll tell them it wasn’t you.”

“Will they believe you?”

“You’re just as bad as the rest!”

Ignoring the remark, Tipi searched for the European missing children’s hotline on his phone to give an anonymous tip about a missing boy standing on a street corner.

“You know what?” Julian said. “I’ll tell them everything about you. About the hole, jumping out of the mountain lift, your electronic toe, that woman, polar bears.”

He snatched the phone from Tipi’s hands and before Tipi could react, Julian ran into the police station.

Tipi looked left and right as if they could jump him at any moment. Not sure if he should run after Julian, he followed his fears and jumped on his bike and drove off. This night he had to find yet another hotel that would take his money. The next day felt very empty. Now that Julian was at a safe place, it became viable again to settle down. He would start by finding a place to stay that did not offer a breakfast buffet but he could call his own. This would be Tipi’s quest for the days to come.

Finding an apartment was not that easy. There were long waiting lists for the affordable apartments and unless you were in a terrible domestic situation—diagnosed and classified by a committee and many stamps and signatures—you could not get in anywhere. Other places were higher end. Sure, Tipi had the money from the sale of his house, but if it would cost more to rent an apartment than to stay in cheap hotels, it was better to keep on looking for a little while longer. He passed the cursed bookstore again. He checked with the woman inside whether she had heard any word from the publisher. She had not.

Where would Julian be now? Things were even more complicated now he lost his phone. He slid his laptop from his backpack and hunched against the bookstore shopping window. He snatched the free Wi-Fi network of the shop. There, he logged into his account to check where his phone was at. The gps marker pin moved on a highway away from Utrecht towards Amsterdam. Alarmed, Tipi headed on his bike towards the train station. If they found a new home for Julian in or near Amsterdam, he could also try to find something there. With all his stuff packed from the hotel, he could go wherever he pleased.

He could live in austerity. You’re not much of a guru if you can’t handle a proper amount of lackluster living. He had not expected Julian to be on the move. They are taking him to a better place. In the train, Tipi checked the location again. It was now half an hour later so they could have arrived at their destination. The pin on the map had stopped alright. It proclaimed much more a beginning than an end to a journey. The pin hovered ominously over a terminal of Schiphol Airport.

Tipi got out of the train at the nearest stop and rushed outside where a bumper kissing chain of empty taxis was idling. He hailed a driver who was sitting outside smoking his cigarette while holding a paper espresso cup in the other. Seeing the rushed passenger, he sprang into action and helped Tipi get inside.

“To the airport,” Tipi said before the taxi driver could ask whereto.

“Late for your flight?” he asked while exiting the parking area with his knees, attempting most of the steering. One hand aided a little, but it was also responsible for holding the cigarette and the empty espresso cup. With the other hand, he put a phone on one of many chargers. There were three different phones lying around. After all that, he turned on the taximeter and continued the small talk.

“You pack light.”

“I’m not flying,” Tipi said. “I’m picking someone up.”

“You should never be late to pick up your girl, or your mother-in-law. Big troubles brewing, I’ve been there. Which one is it?”

“Neither. Shouldn’t you be wearing seatbelts?”

“What, no.”

He glared at Tipi.

“You don’t trust my driving?”

He shook the steering wheel left and right to show he was master of his domain and was a trustworthy despot behind the wheel of a potential killing machine.

“Just abiding the law,” Tipi said.

“I have my own laws,” the driver said. “And they’ve kept me out of accidents for twenty-five years. Can you say the same?”

“No, I’d be happy to be accident free for twenty-five hours.”

The rest of the trip was rather awkward, and they spent most of it in a sizzling aggressive silence. Once they arrived at the airport, Tipi checked Julian’s location again, but the pin was no longer there. All that remained of his phone’s whereabouts was a semi-transparent marker showing the last known position.

They put Julian on a plane home. He had failed once again. He wanted to bang his head against the concrete walls holding up the arrivals hall.

Instead, he entered the hall and found it was quiet. The worldwide health crisis had put a stop on international travel. He checked the large screen that showed the list of arriving and departing flights. There were four arriving flights, but that did not interest Tipi at all. The departing flights list was empty. He walked up to the only desk that was manned, and a woman manned it. She welcomed him with a dull face.

“There are no more flights today, sir. New regulations have gone into effect. Haven’t you seen the news?”

Tipi hadn’t. Watching the news is as futile as watching a sports match, most of the time. There are winners and losers and at the end of the season, one teams wins. But when the season starts anew, it is not clear what they and the audience won. There are also only a countable number of news story topics. The names and locations cycle, but the content is otherwise the same. You could get by without being up to date with all the news.

“No, I haven’t,” Tipi said to the woman. “But did any flight leave today?”

“The last one just left.”

“To Austria?”

“Almost. To New Zealand. They still believe there is a virus killing us all, so they were very thorough in deciding who to allow on the plane. You could not have entered the flight if you wanted to without a proper health check, anyway.”

“New Zealand?”

Tipi took a few steps back and sat on the floor. Minutes later, a uniformed man armed with a mop asked him to leave.

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