Continued from Part I
“We only accept barter or cash.” Her words were music to my ears. There was little cash to be found but I had hoarded some in preparation for my journey.
“I thought that might be the case and so my university supplied me with an adequate amount,” I replied to her in a very rehearsed and believable manner. “Do you have a menu?”
“Don’t need no menu. Everyone knows what we serve. We got two types of breakfast and sandwiches. That’s it. If you want anything else, you best move on to another town.”
“Just bring me one of your breakfasts. I’m not fussy. You decide.” Within a few minutes, a bowl of fruit filled oatmeal and coffee was slapped down in front of me. I recognized the flavor and knew it was nothing more than instant with hot water you could make in a minute at home. That was okay. It was fine. I needed nothing more. Just sustenance to make it through the morning so I didn’t have to raid my food supply. The coffee was brewed and actually tasted like the coffee I remembered from the past. There were no chemicals from the water supply, just pure delicious coffee.
“Is there a place I can stay?” I queried as I paid my bill in cash.
“See that two story building?” She pointed out the window across the street as she spoke. I nodded. “Go there; they have a couple ‘a extra rooms. Ask for Jesse. Tell him what you told me and he’ll give you one.”
In the lobby of this ancient, probably once busy, hotel sat a man isolated in the corner in a tattered red cloth chair. It looked as though the chair had been plush in its day but now had a rough texture with occasional patches of deeper red at the side of the arms and back, spots that received no wear. The man spoke in what I thought was French, glanced about and changed to a language that could pass as Asian but I had no direct recognition of what he said or even of the language itself. As he spoke, he raised his head and noticed my gaze. Suddenly, he was quiet. Slowly he lifted himself from the chair and left the room.
I walked to desk and rang the bell. A man appeared from an open doorway covered by a sheet. He too was craggy from years of desert living and appeared inconvenienced by my intrusion. “The woman at the diner told me to come here for a room. She told me to tell you I’m a phytologist studying the Helianthus deserticola, the desert sunflower.” I said as he suspiciously scanned me and watched my movement.
“You’re from the city. You got the chip.” He said looking at my hand. I suddenly felt conspicuous. It never occurred to me that not everyone in the world had a chip. Everyone I knew had one. “How do I know you’re not from the government?”
That thought brought a smile to my face. I wasn’t sure how to answer. “I guess you don’t know. You just have to take my word for it. I’m not sure why a government official would want to stop here anyway. There’s nothing to tax.”
The remark brought a smile to his face and evidently pleased him because he retrieved a key from the wall and handed it to me. “It cost 90 bucks a night in cash. You pay it before you move in and if you stay more than one day, every morning. We don’t do chips.”
“That sounds fair,” I said as I reached into my wallet to retrieve the cash. “Can I pay in advance for a couple of months? I have a big job ahead of me and it’s liable to take quite a while. I’d feel more comfortable doing it that way.” He thought over my proposition and nodded.
“Your room is the third one on the second floor. Just go up those steps and you’ll find it. This place ain’t that big to get lost.” Then he smiled, just a small almost imperceptible smile and I knew I had stopped at the right town.
Continued in Part III