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Chapter 3

He covered his eyes in discomfort, the overpowering sun rays flooding through the window. His hands reached for the curtains, depriving the rays further access. Falling back on the squeaky bed, his eyes were wide open not of morning freshness but due to sleepiness. The accommodation at The Franklin Motel proved to be a less luxurious stay than the one at Wild Florals. Felicia made sure that the bed was bouncy enough to be comfy, soft white linens, two velvet fun-sized pillows. Apart from all that, the minibar was stocked at all times. The room also had a peculiar smell of lavender. But now, he has settled for a messy motel. It wasn’t that it was bad but when one has to compare a fisherman’s shack to a five-star hotel that is ready to serve champagne in fancy metallic bottles 24/7 - it was culture shock for Bastian.

He got up and looked around. A neon coloured abstract sign hung on the wall like a novelty, a wooden table situated directly below with three red coloured chairs. The table had some tiny white cups and a kettle along with the usual sugar, coffee packets. A small coffee table that had a strange-looking succulent in a green porcelain cup with some pamphlets. An AC, a wardrobe and a medium-sized minibar was also there. Opposite to his bed was a door that led to the bathroom. It was literally for one person. You could either stand and shower or use the loo.

Twenty minutes later, he was ready. He changed to something more casual, a pair of jeans and a white shirt. After making sure he had his wallet, he picked his keys and slid on a grey hoodie before locking the door.

“Looks like you are early. It’s only seven. I thought you are going to go easy on the first day.”

He turned around to see Haruhi holding a white cat with black and orangey-brown patches. She wasn’t wearing her makeup, giving her a more ‘innocent’ vibe.

“Good morning, Haruhi. Seems like you just got out of bed…” greeted Bastian.”

“Say good morning, Tamago,” she talked to her cat and continued, “I should say it is early for me though. How is your stay at Franklin’s?”

“Errr...good? I’m still settling down... ” Bastian answered honestly. He didn’t want to disappoint his host.

“That’s why I suggested some hotels for you. You are welcome to leave anytime. Don’t feel burdened. Do you have money - Lessian dollars?”

Bastian awkwardly smiled and said, “It’s okay. Nope, I’ll exchange it. Anyways I’ll get going. I’m still not sure where to begin..”

“Well, I’d suggest checking out Knoxville. It’s Erska’s neighbourhood and she probably hangs out a lot. I only know that she is well known but I’m probably as clueless as you are. Good luck!”

Bastian slightly nodded as he went down the stairs to the reception. In the reception sat an old man wearing transparent plastic-framed glasses and colourful overalls, Franklin, who was the owner. He smiled cheerfully at Bastian as he went out. The reason he chose the motel was because of Haruhi. She was staying at the motel permanently. She could easily afford a mansion with the kind of money she makes but the humble neighbourhood of Cafakla had enticed her. Initially, she had stayed along with Francois Pierre who owned Pierre Winery which is now Solitarie. After his leaving, began her temporary stay at the motel but she had gotten so used to the owner and the neighbours, their little businesses that she had asked the owner to let her stay permanently while also paying rent. She also helps take care of the motel when he falls sick.

He did a slight nod at Franklin and went out to catch a taxi.

Almost immediately there was a taxi to pick him, it seemed like a busy day.

“So, where to, sir? You seem like a foreigner.. “ asked the driver through the rearview mirror.

“Knoxville but most importantly, is there like a place in Knoxville where everyone gathers?... Like a mall or restaurant… anything like that? The hottest places for youngsters… something of that sort..?” Bastian asked, doubtfully.

“ Ah, I think you mean something like Leisure? You can see all the young people going there! It has ten floors with twenty stores in each, sir! An open swimming pool and theatre too!!” he exclaimed, stressing on each syllable like an overwhelmed tour guide.

“You talk as if you’ve done all those fun things, my man!” Bastian replied. He chose the mall because he thought that would probably be one of the most visited places for a rich kid like Erska, specifically if she lives in a neighbourhood with people of similar attitudes.

“No, sir. Not me. I’m fine with the merry go rounds and cotton candy at the Deliah Park. Leisure’s for people whose coins don’t stop jingling in their pockets!” he laughed heartily as he said. Bastian wasn’t sure if it was mockery but he smiled to himself.

He looked out the window for the first time after taking the taxi and was surprised to see the scene change from smaller establishments to larger, more pristine looking households. They all had a distinct vibe of being picturesque yet pleasant though amongst them were few that couldn’t resist splashing bling all over themselves. Houses were present within a larger compound, enclosed by secured gates which had powerful symbols like the lion on it. People who walked the streets presented themselves like models, their hair perfect like the ones in shampoo commercials, dresses fluttering to the light breeze. Even their pets couldn’t escape from their influence.

“Here we are. Welcome to Leisure..” said the taxi man. “That’ll be sixty seven Lessian dollars.”

“Umm the thing is I haven’t converted my money into Lessian dollars there like a foreign exchange booth or...?” Bastian stuttered.

“There’s one just opposite to us. See, inside Leisure. Do make it fast, sir. I can’t park in front of Leisure for long.”

Bastian got out of the taxi in a jiffy, making a run for the booth and came back in a minute to pay the man yet within those few seconds, the taxi man was fed up with the constant honking he received. As soon as he was paid, he left without acknowledging Bastian.

Crazy, alright.

Bastian walked in and found a help desk that contained a digitally interactive board that was built to help identify any store in the mall, lending information regarding it. It was no easy task. The taxi man was right. Every floor had a restaurant/bakery, three or five clothing stores, appliance store, spa and a lot more. Bastian turned to the help desk to find a brightly smiling blonde woman, way too eager to help.

“Ummm I’m new to Lessa and I’d like to, you know, kick start my journey here by visiting the ‘hottest places’ here. What would you suggest?” he explained, finger quoting.

“First, I definitely think you should start with the Teenage Dream. It is the cafe to my left. They have the cutest, tastiest quick fixes ever. And that’s also the place for cutest guys and prettiest girls of Knoxville or should I say, Lessa, visit. The correct spot for, you know what I mean, picking up ladies..” she said as she winked which made Bastian regret asking the overly-dramatic woman. He grinned widely and walked hurriedly towards the cafe. Any passer-by would acknowledge that he was suffering from severe constipation.

As he went for the door handle, he could tell why it appealed to everyone. He liked it himself a lot. The ambience was rebellious but not too much. There was a touch of class with the adding of wooden motifs to the vintage-like striped walls while the signboards shone in neon blue, the furniture cubical and black. It felt like going to a club to enjoy a cupcake. An unknown soothing yet upbeat EDM song was playing, the laughter amongst a group of guys and girls were prominent. There were few couples too and some groups of girls, giggling with their phones.

He chose table forty at the end of the cafe and looked at the menu. Woop! What the hell do these people have in their pockets? He looked around in wonder but money was never an issue for him. All his expenses were covered by the Drapha HQ and a small amount was set aside for recreation. If it had a purpose that contributed to their assignment, it wasn’t going to be a problem. Enough budget was allocated for the Draphas during the Annual Celestial Budget Meet.

“Can I take your order, please?” said a dude wearing a black apron with a PC tablet in his hand.

“I’ll have a double chocolate deluxe gold. That’ll be it,” said Bastian as he closed the menu and placed it on the table.

The waiter blinked twice. His face looked mildly confused.

“Are you sure, sir?” he asked before inputting into his device.

“I’m very sure that I’ll be having a double chocolate deluxe gold smoothie if you want me to be specific...” stated Bastian, carefully choosing his words.

“No, no. I heard you. It’s just that it costs a hundred and fifty Lessian dollars. Will you be able to pay?” he asked again, grinning widely which seemed very offensive to Bastian.

“What makes you think I can’t pay?” asked Bastian, bamboozled.

The waiter did not respond but did a quick survey of Bastian up and down. To him, Bastian looked like someone who was on the run and did not have time to cut or wash his hair. Anyone who could afford to drink for a hundred and fifty Lessian dollars was at least going to a carry a designer bag with them even if they turned up like a nomad.

“I apologize. Maybe it’s because you are a tourist but normally people dress a lot better here. No! I mean more formal..” With that, he left Bastian with the same grin.

Bastian was usually least offended when it came to clothing considering his experiences with his previous assignments always involved with his ‘looks’ or ‘physique’ but when he scanned the room he was sitting in, he felt fish out of water. He was surprised at himself as the waiter. Each individual around him looked like they had gone to a high-end label and got draped as mannequins.

Suddenly, the LED board above the counter blinked, containing the order numbers that were ready. “46, 31, 2, 40.......yup!” Bastian said to himself, partially excited to see what the wealthy neighbourhood of Knoxville had to offer. But the array of dishes at the counter was no joke. They looked like customized delicacies. Whatever he ordered was the literal definition of ‘Death by chocolate’ but it is funny because they had another dessert by the same name. How worse would that be.

The glass almost looked like a vase, twice the normal size, placed on a plate. For the most part it comprised of a chocolate drink with extra chocolate sauce but floating in it were three scoops of vanilla, matcha and chocolate ice cream garnished with nuts, little violet flowers, more sauce, gold powder and two wafer sticks. On the scoops, were miniature figurines intricately carved out of chocolate. It looked like a fairytale kingdom on its own. Added to the extravaganza were pieces of white chocolate and dark chocolate dripped with strawberry and caramel sauce respectively.

Bastian stared at the concoction for a little too long to the annoyance of the waiter. Then, the waiter smiled at the other customer, helping her with a tray of smoothies.

“Oh, it is okay. I can handle it..” she said.

“That’s okay. Should I help you to your table, Erska?”

“No, that’s alright. I can do it myself, ” she said.

Bastian’s ears perked up instantly as he turned towards his right to see his assignment in motion. She looked just like the picture except for her outfit. Her pale purple hair was put into a bun, a pencil tucked behind her ear. She wore a plain black hoodie with matching track pants and bedazzled white sneakers.

“Can I help you? Is there something wrong?” she asked Bastian, her eyes dilating partially in shock.

“Oh umm no no..I’m just..I-I just thought you looked like someone I know..” Bastian stuttered instantly, coming to senses. All of a sudden, he changed his stance, a bit more confident as he leaned against the counter while his left hand supported his head and said, “Well, what’s up?”

“Nothing much,” she replied, rolling her eyes as she walked back to her seat.

Bastian hit his forehead and came into contact with the waiter’s eyes who seemed disgusted. After a moment he said to Bastian, “That is a bad move to pick a girl, I tell ya. Better luck next time.”

Bastian laughed nervously. First impressions are important, you idiot. Well, she’s going to be a little hard to handle.

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