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She sighed and looked up at the gash in the ceiling as dust settled on her shoulders. She paused, the broom in her hand forgotten. Two machine guns – there hadn’t been that much firepower in the Quill and Ink for a long time. At least she hoped not. She smiled slightly, knowing how many map jumpers drank at the bar it probably wan’t true. There probably were weapons in here all the time that she didn’t know about. She revised the thought: there hadn’t been that much damage in one night in a long time. As she swept up bits of ceiling tile from under the tables by the door she wondered for the hundredth time why she ever got tangled up with the jumpers in the first place.
She didn’t really need to be here, sweeping up, at zero dark hundred as her mom used to call the time when the night is darkest and the whole world seems to be asleep. She knew from long experience that the clean up crew that followed the jumpers would be here at 7:30 on the dot but she also knew that she wasn’t going to sleep for several more hours. She picked up the broom again, partially from habit, and partially to give herself something to do while she waited for the birds to wake up and the sky to brighten.
As she swept her her thoughts drifted to memories worn smooth and bright with age and attention, the way that parts of bronze statues will remain shiny log after the rest has been darkened with the patina of age. She thought about the first jumper she ever met, in an antique store in Macau.
She was young and bright eyed, travelling through Asia three weeks after graduation. It was long before she stepped behind the bar at the Quill. Before she learned to read people by the way the entered the room, the way they carried themselves. But even then she knew that there was something different about the man that she saw flipping through the stack of maps. She watched him out of the corner of her eye as she admired an antique typewriter.
He flipped quickly past map after map. He didn’t seem to be looking at the maps so much as listening to them, feeling them. She felt silly as soon as she thought it. People didn’t listen to maps, they read them, or they felt them as she saw the man doing now to one corner of a worn map he pulled from the stack. From the way he spread the map on the table she realized he was blind, maybe he was looking for braille? That wasn’t it – the map was too old, braille probably hadn’t even been invented yet when it was printed. She couldn’t explain how she knew it but she knew her first impression was right, the blind man was listening to the map, feeling it.
She felt light headed.
Even though she hasn’t jumped in years (carefully avoiding all maps and wearing gloves when she leaves the village) she still remembers the sick/thrilling feeling of vertigo on her first jump in that antique store as she watched the blind man run his fingers gently along the edge of the map.
The whoosh of air, the darkness, the disorientation. How everything appears foggy at first, and then slowly, the fog clears and you have no idea where you are.
She shakes her head to scatter the memories, and turns the music up a little louder. Kevin’s music always make the night seem a little shorter.
Story-Jumpers continues with part 14 by Yin Wah.