They come from everywhere; travelers of all stripes. The rich and affluent, going to a second home or doing some tourist slumming, and migrants, looking for a better life. Seasonal nomads, following their migratory patterns, so ingrained the trip is no longer novel, and wild gypsy souls, forever on the road to their Kashmirs, but perhaps their place in the world is defined simply by the concept of constant motion. Young families, showing their offspring slices of the world beyond the confines of where and whatever home is, and the elders, who now that the children have grown up have decided to Jack Kerouac across what is still sometimes mournfully called This Great Land of Ours.
Here, the social strata, which defines class and caste is blurred by the scents of sweat, petroleum, and raw road dust. Upon the nameless roads between the nameless places, the rules of engagement change. A lesson I learned once, and I know it, better than most, but not as well as some.
They stop here to stretch their legs. Sometimes to switch drivers or use the water closet before being back on their way to wherever it is they're going. Occasionally, you can see them taking photographs of the geological curiosity of this place where the very earth has been twisted upon itself and folded and pushed up into towering walls of rock and pine and aspen.
Sometimes, they come a little further inside. Perhaps just to grab a complimentary cup of coffee or hot coca. Maybe it's to watch the traffic cams and check conditions or look at the propaganda touting our own bit of Byzantium, harkening back to halcyon days of the mining antiquity, in this in-between place, our Sahel. Sometimes, they allow themselves to be suckered by the various bobbles and gee-gaws and myriads of useless chachkies that sit in nervous anticipation upon many waiting shelves.
That's when they're mine...
From my vantage point, I sit and I watch. I like to watch. The half-bald monkeys that call themselves Man annoy, amuse, and terrify me, but I do so enjoy watching them. I imagine Jane Goodall gets a similar thrill. My skull is filled with countless observations of countless monkey watching expeditions. The comedy, tragedy, and irony of the human affliction is the greatest show on earth.
I do my best to be formless. Invisible. This is not as easy as it sounds. Were my spine straight, I'd be over seven feet tall, but as it stands, I'm only close to six and a half. My eyes are too big for the rest of my face and I am rather skinny. I'll jokingly say I'm lithe, but that's just a cute way of saying emaciated.
But I watch, almost always in silence. Extroversion has never been my cup of tea or glass of water. I'll nod in acknowledgment or a bare greeting may pass my thin lips. Otherwise, I just hang back at my vantage point, watching.
In front of my vantage point is a map. Laminated, though one can see by virtue of imperceptible senses the gazes of countless eyes and the marks of countless fingers across its hieroglyphs. This object is perhaps the most prized and sought after thing within the walls of this place.
When they walk toward the map, there might be the look of genuine wonder; holy fuck! We're in the mountains! This is soooooooooooo cool! Perhaps confusion, intermingled with just a little bit of fear; an unintentional game of Hansel and Gretel gone horrifically wrong. There's sometimes that arrogant look of cool confidence of I know exactly what I'm doing that dissolves into wonder or fear upon looking at the map. I chuckle at the looks on their faces. The cracks within the facades of their Voodoo masks.
It is as they approach that I take form, stop trying to another invisible shadow in the place. This tall, lanky thing with too-big eyes. Dysfunctional calico hair, pulled back respectively, a beard, a hoop in the nose, and a few in the ears. I might adjust my spectacles before clasping my hands tightly, yet politely, behind my back.
"Do you have an inquiry?"
Sometimes, my words are met with a blank stare. That slightly concussed look that all but screams; kangaroo? I bite back the growl over linguistic ignorance and rephrase.
"Do you have a question?"
Invariability, the answer is some mix of yes, and I don't mean the ancient prog-rock band. A smirk forms upon my thin lips. I bring my hands together in front of me, all but excitedly, the rings upon my fingers clanging together. I may get to give a story, or collect one.
Now, the fun begins...
"I'll be more than happy to tell you where to go," I say. "Perhaps I'll even be able to suggest what you can do when you get there."
Sometimes, they laugh, as if somehow I've made it all okay. Other times, they seem frightened, like I might not be joking and I'll lead them astray. It really doesn't matter. I get the ultimate joke of it; I get to watch the monkeys, snag an occasional story and I get paid to do it. The only price I pay for it is an occasional interaction over a map where I must stop being formless for a short while.