“Tripoli” by Chas Wilson

Rocky had just worked a double shift and was having trouble keeping his eyes open.  He had been to the laundromat before his first shift started, so he had been going for over 18 hours.  He was beat!  Ten more minutes of driving and he would be home.  He cheered himself up with the thoughts of all that tomato-season overtime.  The cannery would pay him for twenty-two hours even though he had only worked sixteen.  He was saving every penny that he could.  He had big plans for his future and wasn’t going to squander this opportunity to make his fortune. 

Nothing was going to derail him from making a lot of money and becoming somebody!  He started to nod off to sleep when he was jerked awake by his ancient Volkswagen humping and bumping off the road and onto the shoulder.  He braked to a stop.

“Jeez, I thought you were going to run me over!  Anyway, thanks for stopping.” A young woman wearing a bicycle helmet was cradling something in what appeared to be a shirt of some kind.  It must have been her shirt, he thought, since she was wearing a bra, but no shirt.  Despite the adrenaline coursing through his veins, little of it had reached his over-tired brain and he was still in somewhat of a dream state.

“I was out for a ride and like I got a flat and when I was sitting down kinda looking at my tire I heard like a mewing sound and it was coming from a big paper sugar bag but when I opened the bag I found like a bunch of eggshells and snails and this little kitten inside.  And she was like moving and mewing and then she stopped doing anything and so I kinda wrapped her in my shirt and figured I didn’t have time to fix the flat. And so I started waving at the cars and you stopped and we need to, like, take her to the animal hospital or something!”

Rocky tried to keep up with all the words she machine-gunned at him, but could only get out, “I don’t know where a people hospital is, let alone an animal hospital.”  He didn’t add that he had no time for hysterical girls and that all he really wanted to do was go home and sleep.

“I got it on my phone.  Can we take my bike too?  I don’t want to leave it here.” 

His VW bug came with a roof rack when he bought it, so he swung the bicycle up and secured it to the rack with a couple of bungee cords she had in her bicycle’s basket.  She was in his field of vision when he was securing the bicycle and he was having difficulty concentrating on the task at hand.  He had seen much more skin on the tourists who came into his parents’ souvenir shop back home, but on this morning, he was definitely distracted by her flawless pale skin. “I have some clean t-shirts in the baskets in the back.  Perhaps you would care to put one on.” 

“Oh yeah, sorry.  Thanks!   That’s so sweet.  Hey, you have kind of an accent.  I’m Emily.  What’s your name?  Where are you from?  Just go straight on this road for a mile and a half.”

“Everyone calls me Rocky.  I’m from Trinidad.”

“I’m not very good with geology…that’s kinda between Hawaii and New Zealand. Right?”

He was having trouble gauging her seriousness and keeping up with her speech delivery, so responded with a weak, “I suppose one could say that.” 

“So what brought you here? Turn left at the light.”

“My sister married an executive at Intel in Folsom.  He sponsored my immigration.  I don’t have much computer acumen, so I got a job in the label room at the cannery.”

“D’you like it here?  I don’t.   I’m thinking about moving to France or Cleveland. Take the next right.”

“I like it here very much.  In fact, I want to stay and become a citizen one day.”

“You see what they did to this little kitty?  People who did this are…there on the right.” 

He pulled into the parking area and hadn’t even come to a stop before she was out of the bug and into the hospital.  Now what?  Stay?  Leave the bike and go home?  After a few moments, he followed her in and saw her disappearing around a corner right after he opened the door.  He sat down and picked up a four-year-old copy of People magazine and was asleep in a few moments.  He was awakened when he heard her raising her voice.

“What do you mean I can’t take her until I’ve paid?  I told you I would bring the money back later.”  She turned to Rocky, “They won’t let me take Tripoli home!”  He mouthed the word “Tripoli?” without making a sound.  “Yeah, I named her in honor of your country and because she has three white feet.  Isn’t she cute?”

Despite wondering what he was doing here in the first place, he approached the counter and asked how much it would cost to release the kitten and would they accept his credit card.  The receptionist looked at his card and said, “Rakesh Patel.”  Then she pushed the card into a machine and asked, “Which one is your last name?”  He told her.  “OK, the transaction went through, so the account for Tripoli Patel is paid.”

“Thanks everyone for fixing my kitty!  Thank you, Rocky!  Come on, let’s go.”  Once outside she said to him, “You are so sweet!  You also look pretty tired.  You want to get a coffee or something?”

Tired – no.  Exhausted – yes, and wondering what he was doing with this girl!  “Yes, I am rather tired.  I think I would like that, although I prefer tea.”

“I know the best place to get tea – English Breakfast, Irish Breakfast, Earl Gray, Dar-something.  Anyway, they charge by the number of bags in the cup, not the size of the cup.  Cool, huh?  They’re right next to where I work; I’m a cashier at Toasty Buns.  You know, burgers and stuff.”

So they went to Cuppa, next-door to Toasty Buns.  Once inside, he found that she knew everyone inside, all the staff and every customer.  She introduced Rocky to everyone and told them what a wonderful person he had been this morning.  One customer, introduced to Rocky as “Dr. Bike,” agreed to take her bicycle down to his shop and repair the tire.  He was back before their tea was cool enough to drink.  “The chain gang put Our Emily’s machine ahead of all others.  Good as new!”

They sat and drank a lot of tea and Emily touched his arm often, when she was emphasizing something she had said.   Rocky needed to go, but wanted to stay.  He finally said that he must get home and get some rest; he had to go back to work later that day.  Emily said, “Wait, hand me your phone.”  She typed a number into his phone, which caused hers to vibrate.  She clicked hers off and handed his back.  She leaned in, kissed his cheek, and said, “Promise you’ll call me,” then took Tripoli out to her bicycle, put her hand with thumb and pinky extended up to her ear and mouthed to Rocky, “Call me.”  She put Tripoli in the basket and pedaled away.

Somehow Rocky managed to stay awake long enough to get home.  He had to be back at work in just under four hours.  He set all three of the alarms he had, just in case.  The caffeine in the tea didn’t keep him awake.

However, three hours later the water in the tea helped to awaken him.  As he was walking to the bathroom, he grabbed his phone and began muttering about a “crazy beautiful dream.”  In the bathroom he looked in the mirror and saw the lipstick on his cheek.  Smiling, he looked down at his phone and there was a text message from Emily which said, “Thinking about you.  Call me.”

He paused for a brief moment and considered his plans for the future and his fortune.   Where one’s heart is, naturally enough, will also be his treasure.  He called her.

Chas Wilson has been published in Creative Colloquy’s monthly online publication (December 2019) and in Creative Colloquy Volume 6 (February 2020). He has a BS from Cameron University in Lawton, OK, and an MA from the US Naval Postgraduate School, in Monterey, CA. He was once a contestant on the television quiz show, Jeopardy! He is currently working as a financial advisor and lives with his wife and their three youngest children in Tacoma, WA.