Haruhi tried so hard not to laugh only to end up rolling down the floor like Tamago did when it played with a yarn ball.
“I thought you were supposed to be a pro or something..even the waiter knew that you looked odd,” she said finally ending her laughter roulette. “I should have warned you perhaps.”
“You really should have. Otherwise, I would have definitely outdone the humans. Back at the HQ, it is almost like a natural need for one to immerse oneself into luxury unlike Earth’s boring offerings. I’m darned sure any human would envy our lifestyle,” Bastian said as he placed the mug on the bed which squeaked a bit.
The only flaw in Haruhi’s room had would be her bed. It definitely looked better than his quarters. She managed to add a touch of herself. Similarity in design and structure to that of Solitarie seemed inevitable. Tiny potted succulents lined near the windowpane, the table accommodated a laptop, some books, coloured glass cups. From the white ceiling hung fairy lights, walls covered by minimalist pixelated decals. She also had a separate area for Tamago and shared Franklin’s cooking space most of the time.
“It isn’t as hilarious as the second time I was caught at her own publishing company,” stated Bastian, offering himself as a scapegoat at the expense of trying to seem funny.
“The employee whoever I was talking to vouched for me, saying that I was a struggling writer blah blah blah...but her eyes were pitch black as if it was fired up to catch a prey,” he explained, adding details.
“How did it end?” she asked, amused.
“How else do you think? I had to sneak out as fast as possible...I’m not sure what to do now...mostly when I get caught or something, I can manage to sweet talk or kind of seduce. But Erska has this real suspicious glare. Bad first impressions are the worst. Her eyebrows become like wings of a crow. Damnn, I’m ranting like a loser. Honestly, I just want vacation. Ughhh,” Bastian said as he buried his face into his hands. “Wouldn’t it be cool if we had some powers like the Grim reapers? Knock them out or use hypnosis?”
“Well, you could still beat them up and threaten the crap out of them,” suggested Haruhi, absolutely serious.
“I’m not the violent kind,” he said, instantly shuddering. “Observe, gather, plunge into action. One needs to know everything about the person and the best way is to find through other people that surround the assignment. It’s just I kind of get cold feet when things don’t go my way..” said Bastian, exhausted as he completed his oration.
“Interesting..for a person who wants to get done with his assignment as soon as possible, you are pretty meticulous..” Haruhi noticed.
Bastian scratched his head. “As much as I do want that..I’m..umm..let’s just say it’s kind of like a work ethic thing that somehow steers me in directions…ughhh...”
“Stop whining. Take a break. Let’s explore Cafakla instead. Don’t be like I’m devoted to my work and nonsense. It’s clear that you are under your assignment’s radar and it isn’t contributing much to your working ‘ethics’ if that’s how formal you want me to call it..” Haruhi had enough of chattering. She was more work-work than talk-talk.
Bastian sighed heavily. Things weren’t exactly going his way from the beginning. Perhaps, it was his yearning for some warm sun, cool breeze and eternal sleep that prevented him from being a fully functional Drapha. Or low-key annoyed with the fact that his assignment was an uncooperative idiot. Or rather how unfairly he was being punished. Rubbing his cheeks in frustration, he said, “Fine. Some uncalled deviations must not hurt.”
“Okay, now go put on your best clothing unlike your previous attempts at dressing..” Haruhi snickered as she showed him the door.
Bastian smiled at his host’s efforts to comfort him and wanted to gift something like a slight whack on her head for her warm heart. Uh uh. No one can tell me that I dress bad. This is the face that charmed all his assignments. Watch out because the world isn’t ready for me.
Forty minutes later, Haruhi was knocking on his door. She traded her usual makeup for a more simpler look - a clear glass skin and nude lipstick that complemented her simple oversized blue flower printed blouse, black denim, sandals and silver hoops.
Out the door came a very dapper looking Bastian all decked up like a rich version of a dollar store Christmas tree. The sleeves of the sky blue shirt was rolled up, the beige pants reaching his ankles paired up with black loafers on which ran chains of gold. His hair was let loose messily. But as soon as Bastian looked at Haruhi, he tried to shut the door as fast as possible but Haruhi’s faster reflexes saved her another ridiculous monstrosity for her to laugh about for the rest of the day.
“Are you sure you are a pro? I’ve never met a jokester better than you,” Haruhi commented as they walked outside the motel.
Bastian took deep breaths, trying to forget the roll of embarrassing memories. He quickly switched to cargo shorts and a white tank top, dashing out before there was room was for any fun to be made.
“I was simply errr mistaken? Look. I was thinking about Knoxville when I was choosing because when I go fancy, I go real fancy. I’m not joking. You saw what I could do,” Bastian managed in a loud tone to cover up his pinkish cheeks as he tied his strands into a knot.
“I’m not going to even begin anymore. You get riled up yourself..”
“Okay, so where are we going now?”
“We’ll just walk through the neighbourhood. By afternoon, there’ll be a lot of street vendors near the Cafakla Circle around which is the Deliah Park. That’s a fun place to be. They organize a lot of community activities that might interest anyone,” she explained as they passed a laundromat from which a lady waved at Haruhi who waved back.
“You seemed to know a lot of people around here. Is Lessa like divided into Knoxville and Cafakla?” Bastian asked as he looked at the little establishments along the streets they walked.
“Not exactly, but Knoxville and Cafakla are like bigger settlements compared to Norda, Renest and Marune in Lessa. The other three give off mixed scents but Marune is a party heaven for youngsters. Lessa is a very diverse island and its facilities are immense. Cafakla isn’t like a poor neighbourhood, they have enough to get by. Knoxville is just filthy rich. Fisheries is a commonly chosen field in this case. Also, there is a green cover near Renest which apart from camping, affords enough resources for export.”
Bastian nodded affirmatively as she explained. There indeed seemed a vast difference. More visible than any well-known country he had visited. From a distance, the painted signboard had the letters Deliah Park, italicized with the help of lightbulbs. On both sides of the small street, street vendors slid under the cover of large Banyan trees which invited hordes of people standing. Haruhi grabbed him towards a cluster, peering to see a magician performing tricks on gullible children who were left shook while some resorted to crying. Guided by his host, Bastian found himself being given a glimpse of the colours on the street. Cotton candies, fried flowers, pretzels, hot dogs, egg tarts to balloons, fur dolls, action figures, wooden fans, charm bracelets and other little trinkets that might be of liking for young children. He could also see couples walking with their hands clasped, enjoying an ice cream or giggling like toddlers.
Inside Deliah Park, it seemed more like vast green spaces for people who liked to exercise rather than an amusement park. It had some food stalls, a giant wheel, a merry-go-round and a rollercoaster.
“Looks like we have an art display today,” Haruhi observed after looking at the crowds gathered around various canvases. Few people even sat on the benches that were arranged for them to enjoy the sketches.
“Why do some have their laptops?” Bastian asked as they walked towards the maze of artisanal works.
“Aaah..probably some take inspiration from others. I do that too. In fact, I do have a few friends of mine here. I must greet them. Care to join me?” Haruhi asked politely.
“Sorry, Haruhi. I don’t exactly understand art. I think I’d feel a bit awkward,” Bastian declined.
“Okay. I’ll see you at the end. My Draphacon’s always there if you want to contact me..” Saying that she plunged into the crowd in the opposite direction while Bastian waved till her silhouette disappeared.
Aaaah. Should I have just accompanied her? What am I going to do all by myself?
Now, he was left with a thousand some paintings to look for entertainment. He breathed a fresh intake of air, cleared his mind and ventured on a journey. First, was a picture of withered lavender flowers. Next, a cat sleeping on a car. Next, a bauble hanging from a Christmas tree. Next, two parallel lines. A serpent-like fish. A diamond encrusted skull. Sketches using decayed leaves. Watercolour painted basket of breads to which was added crystalline salt for a shimmery effect. By the time he reached a human head floating in a wine cup, he was done. Wiping the sweat off his forehead, he sat on the bench that overlooked the strange canvas.
“How messed would your mind have to be, Sir...Gro?” he said to himself, trying to read the minutely signed named at the right corner of the painting.
“Probably because Sir Gro is an alcoholic,” commented his fully clothed neighbour who was typing away on a laptop.
You are crazy too. A face mask and a hood under the scorching sun, my dear man or..woman? Your voice sounds a bit muffled under the layer of clothing. I don’t discriminate anyways, fellow being.
The person continued, still typing, “Art reflects the artist, mister. The ignorant sees nothing but the surface. The underlying truth actualizes itself when you can connect. Well, obviously your comments show how much of an ignoramus you are. What I don’t understand is why you are here.”
Bastian sat baffled. His mind was trying to comprehend what had gone down. The unsuspecting monologue caught him. He tried to contribute a definite opinion only in vain. He said, “Lo-ook, sir or umm lady. It’s none of your business on the kind of opinion I’ve got. I kindly suggest you to back off.”
The stranger was prepared to zip his mouth. Bastian could see the sleeves rolled up, preparing for a fight. Turning towards Bastian for the first time since their conversation began, the stranger said, “That’s because you don’t exactly understand it-”
It took some time for Bastian to register with whom he was in a staring contest with. A familiar pair of dark coal eyes and a bob of light purple hair was viewable under the hood. Erska Saphine. Bastian’s instant reaction was flight. His feet switched towards the direction opposite to her, ready to run as he panicked on the inside. He hadn’t placed a step on the ground when the figure barred her hands against his seven-foot figure. Bastian’s green eyes distorted as he breathed through his mouth. He closed his eyes before giving himself time to prepare something credible.
“I’m sorry. I-I know it wasn’t...err appropriate and-”
His fears were futile when she placed her hands against his lip awkwardly. He took a step back as she began to explain, removing her mask. A whiff of faint vanilla hit Bastian’s nostrils.
“I should be sorry. I was completely rude to you. Now and yesterday. I tend to go cranky sometimes and run my mouth. I heard it from Nate that you were a struggling writer, wishing to avail the services of Bon Voyage and that you were also my fan. He also told me that you were a foreigner. Obviously, our previous meeting at the cafe, if you remember, wasn’t exactly a delightful prospect for me. We have gotten on the wrong track and I hope you do understand why I have reacted to such an irrational fear. Though I myself do not admit my present capabilities, my status as a celebrity caused me to think it was a coincidence....”
At least, she seems polite.
“Oh uh uh..” he began as Erska looked on while Bastian tried to think of appropriate sentences before fleeing, “Nah, my bad but it is okay. I understand your position. You are very polite. Now, I need to go. My friend is-”
With that, he turned around and began walking swiftly but she grasped his arm instantly.
“Dude! We’re fine, right? Then, why are you running away?” she asked, almost screaming. Then, she produced a white square card with a metallic red border and placed it in his hand.
“That’s my real apology. My family’s holding a party for all. Just a get together of sorts. There’ll be people from various fields. You’ll meet writers of all sorts. It will definitely help you, I guess. Be there! If my apology meant anything at all to you….So, a fresh start. My name’s Erska and you are?”
“Well, hoping to see you...Bastian,” she said nodding slightly. Packing her laptop, she jogged down the opposite direction.