I am totally in luck that my shirt was rucked up. It will cover the graze in the seat of my pants. At first I don’t realise that I’m stopped by the press of the crowd, their legs, at the edge of the perambulating crowd that I intended to watch for Mongoose. Mongoose please please recognise me.
The crowd moves its legs and keeps walking. It divides around me like water and then I’m in the crowd. A part of it. I get up, walk with it, into the distance they are all walking. But I can’t see. I’m too short. I am claustrophobic. I begin to edge out.
I have no time to generate any ideas as to what system is operational here. I could insert a swear word every second word to relieve my frustration but have no time for that either. I’m out of the crowd. Near to the beginning of a ramp. I skedaddle up faster than the prevailing pace which is no more a snail’s pace per hour.
Not one single person is sitting out on the ramp. I make my way a bit higher, to where I can’t be pulled down by someone jumping up and grabbing my feet, for example. Sit down with my legs either side of a guard rail stanchion. Tuck my shirt under my almost bare sit-bones.
The first person I see is a nude mongoose. As in, it is not wearing Mongoose’s gear. I abort the waving I began.
"Your Mongoose is too smart to hang with the Indecisive"
“What does that make me?”
"Not smart enough. Indecisive. A child still. Take your pick"
I argue. “How is looking for Mongoose indecisive? We’re in love. We got married before take-off. We belong together.”
"I picked you because you wanted to travel the high road?"
Good thing I’m sitting already. My heart only drops to my belly because that’s as far down as it can go. The iniquitous bastard in charge is not going to allow me to search for Mongoose.
“Did you pick Mongoose, too?”
"Five credits. He is at the training I set him"
Affirmative answer of a sort. I’m heartened then by the thought that if Mongoose is getting credits, we might meet at the canteen.
Up to me to learn the system. I take a leaf from the edible book still hanging in my shirt neck, stuff it into my mouth and start thinking back through the credits I have so far been awarded.
First the one when I gave the little girl a leaf. None for the second leaf. The leaf I’m chewing doesn’t taste like anything. For the second credit I didn’t do anything. Was it a …? I chew and chew and the leaf becomes rubbery.
Third credit was when I started edging from the crowd. By now the leaf is a stodgy grainy gruel filling my mouth. I stop chewing. Fourth credit I ran up the ramp. No way can I swallow. I choke and retch and spit the stuff out beside me on the ramp’s downslope.
Could be the same sort as the second one, I think, as I summon up spit to swill out my mouth. Don’t want to count either of them but keep that a secret for now. I should be able to get some real food with three credits.
The canteen is on the uppermost gangway. Make my way there, keeping out of the way of any children. I front up to the counter. “I have three credits?”
The woman hands me five tokens. “Don’t waste them.
Huh. Waste on what? With trembling fingers I feed a token into a slot, open a little door, and grab a rolled pancake stuffed with a filling resembling spinach and soy-cheese. When in doubt get something you’ve at least seen before.
I gulp it down in half a dozen bites, without tasting it, just registering there’s something real in my stomach. I go through the performance again for a second spinach and soy-cheese roll. I don’t see any boxed drinks. I look around when I hear someone slurping something. He is squeezing the contents of a balloon into his mouth.
I get a balloon. Guess I’m keeping count on my own now. Two tokens and one credit. Burp. Oops. Then it’s me walking out wiping my mouth with a serviette, clutching the balloon and the second rollup.