Nothing looked familiar. The road didn’t resemble the one he’d walked down. This didn’t seem to be the sidewalk he’d glanced down at every six steps or so. The signs weren’t familiar, they weren’t even in English. It’d only been a few blocks, or so he thought. But no matter how (it didn’t), he was here, in this place, whatever it was.
The market was supposed to be close by. They’d never walked far from where the bus stopped. They always went there, it was accessible and the closest one. This was the closest town and it had its one market. It wasn’t a big town. Making the journey on his own should have been as smooth as summer mornings.
His hand fidgeted on the umbrella, tilting it further over his head. The drizzle was turning into a solid layer of rain now. He was supposed to be back at the designated meeting spot. They were all supposed to be headed back to the observatory. That was not the case, though.
The case, in point, was that Adam was lost.
Lost in a small Denmark town (village, maybe a better term). His had phone conveniently decided to lose all means of network. He’d shuffled both up and down the sidewalk, trying to find service. So far no luck. At first, there wasn’t any extreme nervousness. It wasn’t that a big a place, it couldn’t be hard to find the way back.
But an hour later, he could feel the twinge in his hands and the jerk at his elbow. If he stayed in one place, maybe someone would find him, maybe something would suddenly seem as if he’d seen it before. Yet, here he was. On a side walk near the edge of town, in the rain, staring towards the shops, and trying to slowly fill his lungs and then release. Repeat.
To his left, the sound of a firm stride, steady in the footfalls. A few people had passed by him, no one had said anything. If that was a blessing or a curse, he could not decide. The man, who happened to be a bit taller than him, walked by. Adam didn’t glance after him, instead he closed his eyes, and tried to retrace his steps. He had gone to the right from the bus stop, then taken a street to the west, then straight ahead.
The footsteps paused, then began to get closer once more. Adam opened his eyes to a concerned and mildly cautious gaze.
The man carried his own umbrella, a small package under his arm, and there were slim glasses perched on his nose. Adam blinked a few times, shifted his gaze away, then back. The man spoke, probably asked something, but Adam was new to Danish. He had been trying to learn in the last week or two. He could discern it was a question, but not its entire meaning. He swallowed, hearing all the new words he’d learned begin to tangle in his mind.
“Lost,” he said, “I’m lost.”
The man watched him, his face not changing expression. No eyebrow twitch, no lips pressing together. He might not know English at all. A tightness began in Adam’s ribcage.
“Lost,” the man repeated, his voice heavy with accent.
Adam nodded, hand moving to smooth his jacket down. His fingers brushed against the ID card he had on. The man’s gaze was drawn to it and Adam looked down. It had the observatory’s name on it.
“I attend the program there,” he said. “We were supposed to meet near the post office.”
The man’s expression brightened a little and he said a name that sounded familiar to Adam. That was the street. He nodded again, fingers tightening on the umbrella. The man spoke again, but it was too fast and he didn’t recognize any of the words. He seemed to realize this and made a pointing motion off to their right. Adam looked to the direction he was pointing, but he didn’t move.
They stood there in silence as the rain pattered on. This man was probably pointing him in the direction of the street he needed to be on. Adam sucked in one side of his cheek, then made a few steps in the direction, and paused. Did he go down the walk-way and to the left or did he go down the walk-way, to the left, and then the right? His free hand clenched then unclenched.
The man stepped after him and lightly touched his elbow. He said something else in Danish and Adam thought he heard the word help. The man motioned once more to the direction ahead of him, only this time he tapped Adam’s elbow again and began to walk with him.
The stranger didn’t say much after that and Adam trailed just a step or two behind him. The silence sat upon his shoulders, leaning heavily against his ears. But it wasn’t the kind he sought out when people were too bright. This was different. This was the kind where people just stared at each other and waited.
“The weather said it would rain all night,” he said. “Clouds make it difficult to see and not much work gets done at the observatory. Right now, Saturn is clear to our view and we’ve been working with new equipment to study its moons. It takes Saturn ten-thousand seven-hundred and fifty-nine days to orbit the sun. Saturn has one-hundred and fifty moons, the ones we know about, anyways. The largest one is Titan and the second largest is Rhea. There’s speculation that Rhea may have its own ring system-” Enough. It was enough when he had to stop to take a breath. That’s what Carol had said.
He ventured a glance at the stranger. He could barely see one side of his face from where he was. The man didn’t give any indication that he’d understood what Adam had said. Adam licked his lips, pursed them together, and then relaxed them. They had gone down the walk-way, across the street, and back into the main part of the town.
They were crossing one another street and Adam missed the curb, collapsing forward. The stranger paused mid-stride and Adam found himself face first into his shoulder, almost losing his umbrella and his fingers clutching onto the man’s arm. He righted himself, using his grip on the man’s arm.
Apologizing would be the right thing to do. But Adam couldn’t find the words, stuttering a few times before giving up altogether. The man’s eyebrows raised just a little and he muttered something Adam couldn’t place. He was moving again and Adam trailed after him. They passed through a small alley between buildings and everything was how Adam remembered. He’d been here. He could see a street sign with the right corner dent, a brick missing from the sidewalk to the right, and further down the street the pull off where the bus let them off.
His colleagues were there and appeared to be waiting. The man motioned towards them and said something. Adam recognized the word ‘friends’.
“Yes,” he said, “I work with them. They’re waiting on me.” He let go of the man’s arm. Somehow he hadn’t realized he’d still be holding onto the edge of his jacket.
Two steps away, Adam stopped. He turned around just as the stranger was beginning to leave. “My name is Adam. Hello,” he said,
The man’s lips stretched into a grin. “Hello, Adam. My name is Lucas,” he returned, his words less confidant. Lucas turned, walking the back the way they had come.
Adam watched him go for a moment or two, then started crossing the street over to his colleagues. Carol spotted him first.
“Adam, where have you been?” She met him half-way, falling in step besides him. “When you didn’t show up, we got worried. A few of us went looking for you.”
“I got lost. Nothing looked like I remembered,” he said, “I couldn’t find the right street and then everything just kept going. I just couldn’t find the way.”
“You should have called one of us.”
“I tried but the phone wouldn’t work. I got lost,” his fingers tightened on the umbrella, “I didn’t recognize anything. All the streets were different. I couldn’t read the si-”
“You’re here now,” Carol said. “That’s what really matters.” She glanced over him, trying to read his expression. Adam had glanced away, shifting his leg and shoulders. She patted his elbow. “Come on. We should go back now.”
Lucas was nowhere to be seen, he checked, so he followed her back to the pull off where everyone was grouped together. He just nodded stiffly when people asked if he was okay. He waited behind a few of his colleagues as they shook their umbrellas out before getting on the bus.
Adam settled in next to Carol, who had the window seat. It made her feel less bus sick, she’d said. She turned to him once the bus had started, motioning with two fingers to the brown paper bag near her feet. “I picked up a few things you like,” she said, “which was good, since you got lost.”
He nodded once more, pressing the palms of his hands into his thighs. “Next time, next time I won’t get lost. I’ll know the way. It’s not that far, I can d-”
“Adam, it’s not a big deal, really. We just got worried,” she told him. “You haven’t been here long. I should have gone with you.”
“I can do these things.”
“Of course you can. It’s just a new place, that’s all. I got lost a few times too.” She shrugged. “It happens.”
He looked past her, out the window where green foliage blurred by. That man, Lucas, had stopped to help him. He wondered if he lived there in the village. He’d understood Adam when he’d introduced himself.
“Do you speak Danish well?” he asked.
Carol cracked a few fingers. “Sort of. Well enough to get by. I try to study in my down time when we’re not doing research.”
He tapped his foot against the floor of the bus. She studied him for a moment or two. “Hey, I can give you a practice partner if you want to learn. There’s a bunch of materials and exercises I’m not using.” She offered a grin. “It might help with the getting lost too.”
“That was only once and-”
“I know, I know,” she said. “I’m sorry. I was teasing.”
He gave a stiff nod and glanced out the window.
The observatory had a nice set of dorms near it. They resembled apartments more than dorms. The building was a grayish-blue that melded into the fog on early mornings. They were stacked six high with large windows for the main rooms. Everyone ended up with a roommate and Adam’s happened to be a man near his age who hailed from a Washington University.
“Hello, Adam,” he greeted when the door opened. “Bus was late in getting back. Something happen?” He turned his head to look at his roommate from where he sat on the couch. “Was there a deer in the road?”
Adam hung his jacket up and then put his bag on the table. Eli raised an eyebrow. “Did you not end up getting groceries?”
“No, I did not,” Adam said, heading for his room. Eli set his book down, open face, on the couch.
He paused by the doorway to Adam’s room and watched his roommate shuffle around, putting things back in place by an inch or less. Adam finally turned, gaze downward, but his body facing Eli.
“Was there something you needed?” he asked.
Eli shrugged, “Not really. But you seem agitated. What happened, Adam?”
“It was nothing. Nothing happened. Happened means that an event passed and it did not. There wasn’t anything that happened,” he said.
Eli raised his hands up. “Alright, alright. But you didn’t bring groceries back with you. I guess I was worried about what you’d eat.”
“There is still food in the refrigerator.”
“Sure, but not enough for another week.”
They finally met gazes, and Eli blinked, tilting his head upwards. “If you need to get something, then we can go in the next day or two. Just us. I probably need to pick up a few things anyways.” He turned on his heel and headed back to the couch, snatching his book up. He settled down, finding the sentence about gravitational orbit he’d left off at.
He was onto the paragraph about interferences when the room was occupied by a second person. Eli paused, tilting his head to the side.
“In the town, I wasn’t able to find the market by myself,” Adam said.
“It’s just because you can’t read the signs yet,” Eli said. “We can practice letters this week.”
“And we can go back to the village tomorrow, if we’re up for it.”
There was a moment of silence and then the shuffle of feet. Eli turned back to his book, settling back.
He’d dig up his language books tomorrow.