The World is My Home
The young woman, he figured later, must have agreed with his assessment, because when he asked them if they knew of any hostels in the area, she said, “You can stay with me.”
How does a thing happen like that? Should I start drawing some conclusions about either myself or Germany or the world, he thought.
He went to tell his friend Allie Dagneau. He was on a pay phone calling hotels.
“Everywhere is full. Do they know of a place?”
They laughed and didn’t understand it and proceeded to go on their best behavior. They didn’t understand it when she took them to her house and gave them two warm beds. They didn’t understand it that night when she and the young man took them to a restaurant inside a castle. They didn’t understand it the next morning when she woke up early to go to the bakery and bring them fresh bread for breakfast.
But Arvin’s surprise was that she could see something in them that went with her taking them in and showing them the city, not that there was something there to see. He knew there was something because all that he and Allie were concerned with since they’d left Utrecht was everything. And he and Allie were concerned with everything before then, but when two good friends were concerned with everything in motion, that was it, it was the last word. There was no getting closer to living than that, and his only surprise was that she could see it as quickly and clearly as that, which he felt a little bad about because maybe he shouldn’t sell people so short.
“Would she have done this for any two guys?” Allie said that night when they were in their beds.
“I don’t know. It’s too much to think about.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean it’s obvious to us that we’re two guys to take in. We rode in the back of a van driven by a goddamn traveling video game salesman coming from Utrecht, and we almost slept in a field that night. We met my cousins in Hannover and we listened to their dreams. And we didn’t say a word from Berlin to Dresden because the man driving us didn’t speak a word of English and we didn’t want to exclude him. Can she see all that? I don’t know. It beats the hell out of me.”
“Is the world a beautiful place?” Arvin said.
“It might be.”
“I know I ought to be glad to hear you say that, but you know what it sounds like to hear you say it? It sounds like work.”
“What kind of work?”
“The kind that is going to make who we are when we’re traveling be who we are when we’re just living in one place.”
“You think it can be done?”
“I think it’s the only choice.”
The next day she took them to a museum, and by then it didn’t seem strange any more. They were three friends, and it almost seemed stranger if she hadn’t taken them in. She talked with both of them together, and at different times she talked with each of them alone, and at those times they each fell a little in love with her, as a way of understanding her. A young man ought to fall a little in love with a young woman who would do that, they thought.
They clowned around a little bit for her, exaggerating their personalities, telling embarrassing stories of each other that seemed less embarrassing far away from where they’d happened. Her laughter was beautiful, because she looked like she was not overflowing with it as she might’ve once been. The whole thing was nice, because they knew if they stayed here, one of them would feel enough to want to know exactly what was the story with the young man she’d been with on the first day, but for a couple of days, it was okay.
Arvin and Allie didn’t think any more of whether she would do this for any two guys. It was enough to be in it. Whoever they had been and whatever they had been doing to make her invite them home without a second’s thought, their only job was to keep being and doing it, and since they hadn’t been trying to be anything other than who they were, the worst thing they could do was to start trying now.
In the afternoon they went by train to a spot she said would be a good place to catch their next ride from. Allie fell asleep on the train. Arvin looked out the window and saw an area outside the city with rows of beautiful gardens and what looked like very small houses beside them. He built a whole vision of who he imagined lived there: They were all people who’d come to the conclusion that gardens were more important than houses. It was a fair enough conclusion, he thought, having already seen a few European cities and having seen the same lostness and vastness he’d seen in American cities. They had all decided that it was worth it to live in very tight quarters if it meant being able to step outside to the immediate presence of flowers and vegetables and fruit trees.
Arvin asked the young woman about it. She explained that they weren’t houses. They were plots that people in the city rented to garden, and the little houses were their sheds. She told him that it was her dream to one day have one of the plots, only there was a very long waiting list.
“That is what I like to do,” she said. “Something with my hands. Something with the earth. I don’t really like to do anything else. If I had my choice, I would read a little each day. I would go and see my grandmother. But mostly I would like to work with the earth, to make something, to produce something. I am studying psychology but I don’t know what I would like to do with that.”
All these girls in America that I felt sad for, Arvin thought, and along the way I was assuming that my sadness was confined to America. I didn’t know they were wondering the same things in Germany. I didn’t know they were dreaming of days of reading and seeing their grandmothers and gardening.
Sometimes the world felt too big to be his home. If there were girls wondering and dreaming like that in Germany, then they were doing that everywhere. He couldn’t sit and listen to all of them. Even when he sat and listened to one of them, the world was just barely his home. It was the infinite depth of one person, more than miles they had traveled or distances between cultures, that was the greatest obstacle to the world being his home. Yet somehow it was the greatest opportunity too.
It was good to have Allie around, because some time later when they were standing on the side of the road again like they had gotten used to doing, he would tell Allie about the young woman’s dream and then the two of them would carry it together, like a water bucket they were carrying between them, and even if his side would be a little heavier sometimes because Allie was distracted by something along the path and would end up carrying his side too low, Arvin was still happy to be carrying it with someone. It was an opportunity to see exactly what he carried, in step with the day when he could carry it by himself.
They came to a spot by the train station where they said goodbye. They thanked her for everything and they wondered if they would ever see her again.
After she left, Arvin told Allie about the poetic vision he’d had, of the people living in little houses beside their gardens.
“What do you do with a vision like that when you turn out to be wrong?” Arvin said.
“It still counts,” Allie said.
Arvin didn’t tell him about the young woman’s dream. They were very good friends, and it was enough to know that he could. And he was beginning to think that if the world was really going to be his home, he was going to have to get used to its mystery, he was going to have to get used to doing something like listening to a young German woman’s dream and holding it somewhere where he didn’t have to answer it, where he didn’t have to collapse at the thought of all the dreams of the young women he didn’t know, all the dreams of the young women who were now old women, and the men too, both young and old. He was already good with everything he saw, even seeing visions that weren’t there, but he was going to have to get just as good with everything he didn’t know and couldn’t see and would never be able to touch and would certainly never be able to tell somebody about and would most certainly never be able to always have a good friend like Allie around to tell about either. He was going to have to get good at something infinite.
SIAMAK VOSSOUGHI was born in Tehran and grew up in London, Orange County, and Seattle. He has lived in San Francisco for about twenty years, where he writes and works as a tutor. He has had some stories published in Faultline, Fourteen Hills, River and Sound Review, Washington Square, The Rumpus, and Black Heart Magazine. He is the recipient of the 2013 Very Short Fiction Prize from Glimmer Train. Along with writing short stories, he is also at work on his second novel.
Two of his favorite pieces of road literature and On the Road, by Jack Kerouac, and Short Drive, Sweet Chariot, by William Saroyan.