Photo courtesy of Cheri Lucas.
“Can you all please stay out of the street?” Guillermo waved his arms, trying to herd his passengers back on the sidewalk and behind the disabled tram. As soon as he turned away to make another attempt at contacting his boss by cellphone, they wandered right back into the street, like so many pigeons.
“I knew we wouldn’t make it up this hill,” Randall said as he wiped the cracker crumbs off the front of his green striped shirt and watched them fall onto the cobblestones. The crackers were a specialty of the Nordine region, and he had bought a whole box there. He wished he had brought more crackers with him today, but his wife had portioned them out into eight little plastic baggies, and he was only allowed one.
“They can’t expect us to climb the rest of the way to the next stop, can they?” Brenda searched the faces of her fellow passengers for an answer. She had worn her favorite skirt and tied her hair back in the scarf she bought in Pieñera, and she was wearing the shoes that pinched her toes and made her legs look fantastic. Still, Guillermo greeted her that morning with the same smile and nod of his head that he gave to all the passengers.
“I’m just glad to be off those hard benches they have us sitting on.” Milo reached his hands to the sky, the way he had learned in the yoga class he took last summer. He liked to think he had taught the instructor a thing or two on the single date they had before his trial membership ended and he had to quit the class. “I could feel the discs in my spine compressing with every jolt of the tram car.” He frowned at Guillermo, as though the tram conductor was at fault for the poor condition of the rails.
“Please, please! Stay out of the street!” Guillermo shooed everyone back up on the sidewalk again. All he needed was for one of these bozos to get run over and he could kiss his career with the Bergenstadton Transit Authority goodbye. Maybe if he climbed to the top of the hill he would get better reception on his phone, but he didn’t dare risk leaving the group alone. Already, that young couple had wandered across the street, oblivious to his instructions to the group to stay together.
“Is there a restaurant anywhere near here?” Randall asked. “Maybe we could pop in for a quick bite while we’re waiting?”
“Please just stay right where you are,” Guillermo pleaded.
“Oh, that sounds good!” Sandy Potter, nee Caparelli, five months pregnant with her first child and just beginning to show, rubbed her tummy and looked over at her husband, Ken. “This region is famous for a local dish called poppenchitti. It’s made with bacon and cream and noodles–oh, doesn’t that sound yummy? I’m starving.”
Without even being aware of it, Ken Potter let out an audible groan. “Honey, you had lukensporlicht for breakfast. Didn’t that have bacon and cream in it, too? Aren’t any of these towns famous for their salads?” With the entire group now staring at him, Ken realized how he sounded. “I mean, that kid is never going to eat his vegetables if you keep eating lukensporlicht and poppenchitti!” He let out an unconvincing laugh. On their first date, Sandy Caparelli had told Ken Potter that she did not want to have children. On their second date, she had worn a string bikini. Some nights still Ken could not sleep remembering how she looked on the beach at Montauk Point. Now here he was in some godforsaken country where the trams don’t even work right.
“See? The pregnant lady is hungry.” Not for the first time, Randall was glad there was a pregnant woman with this tour.
Guillermo swore under his breath in his native tongue. “All right. But we must meet back here in one hour! One hour! Please, don’t be late!” The group went in several directions, and Guillermo began hiking up the hill in hopes of improving his cell reception.
“Guillermo!” Brenda called after him. He paused to allow her to catch up.
“Yes, Ms. Teschler?”
“You must know all the best restaurants! Where are you off to?”
Guillermo shook his head and held up his cell phone. “Just trying to get a call back to the main office. I think the reception might be better if I get to higher ground.”
“Oh. Well, maybe we can get some lunch after you make that call.”
“No, I’m sorry, I’ll have to wait with the tram for the technicians.” Like a captain unable to leave his sinking ship, Guillermo thought.
Brenda nodded, the disappointment revealed on her face. “Perhaps another time,” she said, turning to head back down the hill. She stopped to remove her shoes when she was sure he was not watching.
Milo stood waiting by the tram as she walked back down the hill barefoot. “What was that all about?”
Brenda shrugged. “He’s calling for help.” She dropped her shoes on the tram step and then sat down beside them. There didn’t seem much point in keeping her outfit perfect any longer. “Heckava trip this has turned out to be.”
“They seem to be having fun,” Milo motioned to the couple across the street. Brenda turned to see the young woman backed up against the graffiti covered wall, the young man pressed against her, his thigh between her spread legs.
“What do you say we get a drink?” Milo held out his hand to her. “I think we should be able to get a flaming ouslaki somewhere around here.”
Brenda ignored his hand, but picked up her shoes and followed him anyway.
One hour and twenty minutes later, Guillermo sat on the curb of the street beside his tram as the mechanic finished packing away the last of his tools.
“Good as new, Guillermo.”
The two men shook hands, and the mechanic drove away on his BTA scooter.
Guillermo looked up and down the street but his tour group was no where in sight. The sun was setting, leaving orange streaks in the sky, and casting long shadows on the ground. He was already nearly two hours late for his next destination. After one long last look down the street, Guillermo took off his cap, unknotted his tie, and tossed them both inside the tram before crossing the cobblestone street.