With a sigh and a shrug, Wander logged off email, then the computer. Moving to the little table at the window of the hostel’s common room, Wander stared at the ocean. Blue rising. Whitecaps cresting, then falling. The dry air mingled with the sea spray, suffusing everything with the taste and scent of salt. The few days Wander had been here had been calm, refreshing—badly needed, especially after all that had happened in Thailand with Paithoon.
The memories stirred, the remembered dreams, the remembered past, hard won from five years of traveling and weeks of frustration and sleeplessness, trying to uncover a personal forgotten history. Wander had been more than ready to move on. The southwestern coast of Morocco, staring out over the Atlantic, was as good as anywhere else, but those final moments in Chiang Mai still clung to Wander’s mind. A storm had come, a storm had passed, and now Wander was enjoying the calm. At least, it felt like calm. But Wander knew a question cast a shadow even over the bright Moroccan morning: Was the storm truly over, or was this the quiet eye—to be followed by more storm?
A tap on the shoulder made Wander turn.
With a smile, Rashid held out a large envelope, bigger than a regular sheet of paper.
“What’s this?” asked Wander.
Rashid shrugged and set it down. “Today’s mail.” He left to answer the phone.
The side Wander saw was blank. Turning it over, Wander saw that there was no return address—not even a mailing address. Just “Wander,” written in a fine script with immaculate—and familiar—handwriting.
Wander opened the envelope and gasped.
The stiff thick sheet inside was like Wander’s favorite painting, called The Wanderer in the Fog. In that painting, the figure held a walking stick, wore a black tailcoat, and stared out over mountains and valleys. What was before Wander, though, was similar yet different.
Running a fingertip over the rough and smooth textures of the art, Wander had no doubt this was an original painting. A narrow finger of rock jutted out from the edge of a rocky cliff. On it, a figure stood before a sheer drop to a white-capped, gray-blue sea below. At the far edge of the sea, Wander could just make out a thin line, as if a new world lay just beyond. Despite the blue sky, shadows obscured the figure so much that Wander could not tell if it was a woman or a man. The black rock of the cliff didn’t look like it was in shadow, though. It looked like it had been burned and charred. Below the cliff, a strange, shadowy light seemed to glow upward from somewhere unseen, somewhere down the cliff toward the sea. It enhanced an overarching conflict, as if the painting were caught between darkness and light. Calm seas had grown teeth, whipped into a growing frenzy as a storm blew in.
The Wanderer in the Fog showed only one figure. So too did this similar painting—except the figure was in the foreground, at the left bottom corner.
Gloved in black leather, a left hand reached out toward the wanderer at the edge of the world.
Heart pounding, Wander turned the painting over and read:
No matter where you wander,
May you always find a
The Thai madwoman had signed her name. Wander smiled and let out a chuckle. It made no sense that Paithoon’s painting had gotten from Chiang Mai to this hostel in Morocco, but if anyone could have managed it, it would be her.
Beneath the message was a P.S.:
I dreamed recently, and at the last moment of the dream, this is what I saw. I don’t know how I knew it, and I don’t know where this is, but I knew this was you.
Wander stared at the calm seas outside the hostel’s window. The madwoman had to be wrong… but Wander knew better. Trembling a little, Wander tucked the painting back into the envelope.
“Happy birthday,” said the traveler sitting nearby, with a nod toward the card. “I couldn’t help but see.”
Wander shrugged. “I’m glad someone noticed.”
The sunlight coming through the window was warm, bright but soft. Wander had savored every moment so far, every bite of breakfast, every sensation, the touch of water on hands, the scent of tea. But this painting changed everything. A shadow hung over the sunny morning. Wander looked at the card again. A birthday could be a momentous day. A day in which someone could make a decision that just might change everything.
Wander considered going back to the dorm room and putting the card in the big pack there, but decided against it. The card was a memento, a reminder of what Paithoon had helped Wander learn, there in Thailand, those lonely, hard weeks ago. The daypack always went with Wander—and so would the card.
Wander unzipped the daypack and put the card inside. After all these years, the pack reminded Wander of a dog, though by now it was an old dog. It was the one thing Wander still had from then, from there, when as a teenager Wander had been left with nothing and so had left with nothing. Except for the backpack. The one constant in Wander’s life for the last five years.
With a sigh, Wander went back to the front desk. “So, what did you decide this here traveler should do today?”
Rashid cocked his bushy eyebrows. On a small piece of paper, he drew a map. He said nothing, only occasionally looked out the window, as if gauging something, checking something. Whenever he did, when he looked back the smile would be gone from his eyes, as if it had been taken by whatever he was looking for.
Or maybe he just wasn’t looking forward to cleaning up the puke in the upstairs bathroom.
Accepting the map with a thanks, Wander started to walk away.
“Wait,” said Rashid. “What you got in the mail. Was it good news?”
Wander shrugged. “You tell me.” Reaching into the daypack, Wander handed him the painting.
Rashid looked at it, saying nothing, just staring and staring. He read the back. Then, at last, he looked at Wander.
“Well, this is interesting,” he said. “I indeed gave you one option. But if you want, you could go here instead.”
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