[Editor's note: For earlier installments of this series, click here.]
Friday, March 4, 2157
What an extraordinary few days it has been.
His name is Walter. He alone takes care of the desalination station. Techs come out twice a year, he says, to service various systems that he cannot take care of by himself. Otherwise the whole place is automated. He stays here fulltime, alone.
I find myself reflecting on how lonely he must be, contrasting his situation with my own. All the years I lived in the arroyo, until recently, I had people around me. They came and they went, but there were always people about, in their homes during the heat of the day and in the streets in night’s relative coolness. And there was my roommate, until he departed. But even when I had a roommate in that enormous house, I was still alone.
Even with the people on the street, I was alone. Even during the times when we all took a communal meal together – which happened more and more rarely as the years went on – I was alone. I was surrounded by folks, and yet forever alone.
When real loneliness came, after everyone went away, for a time it did not feel much different. I only began to feel true loneliness after I started the trek to this place, to get water to take back home.
What a pipe dream. How the hell was I to lug it back? I fixated on Mad Max so much, in the days before I began the journey, I probably figured that I would find a vehicle somewhere on my travels and be able to drive it back to the arroyo, carrying gallons upon gallons of water with me. Pure fantasy. The one thing I have not seen in all my travels was a vehicle of any sort.
Walter says he has a little electric car that he uses from time to time, to get away. But they don’t like it when I’m away too much, he said.
He has taken very good care of me, making sure I felt OK and that I got my strength back. Only after he felt that I was doing alright did he ask any questions, where I came from, how I came to visit the desal station. I told him my sob story. He knew the area I came from. It surprised him that it went D classified. It’s very pretty there, he said. I guess there aren’t many places left where you can find trees. The flats here near the bay have some large shrubs, but no trees.
Walter has been the most gracious host, like he was born to it, like he did it all the time. We always have plenty to eat and of course water is not an issue. It didn’t even taste bad. I didn’t call it toilet water around him. I didn’t know if that would have offended him. And he’s been very kind to me.
I haven’t asked many questions of him. Though very friendly, I felt something reserved about him. I did not want to pry. Though yesterday I did ask if those hippies down south ever came by. He nearly spat when he said no. He said, I’ll have nothing to do with those baby killers. They’ll get no water from me.
Then I asked about being alone. I didn’t mean to. As I said, I did not want to pry. But he was as calm and collected by my question as he had been the whole time we’ve been together.
I don’t have to work here, he said. I am alone by my own choosing.
Yesterday and part of today he showed me around the desalination plant. What a complex. It hums constantly, like a living, breathing entity. He gave me the grandest of tours. Many of the doors we traversed said, AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY, but clearly he didn’t give a fuck.
In fact, after we went through about the third or fourth such entrance, he turned and gave me the most mischievous smile imaginable. I think it tickled him to break rules. Like I said, sometimes he goes on road trips, even though he shouldn’t leave the plant for too long. Three days, he said, that’s the longest I usual go for. Just three days.
Most of the rest of the time we sit and listen to music. He has an enormous library of music, mostly digital. But he also has old vinyl. My great-granddad had lots of old vinyl. He left some to me, but I wasn’t able to take it with me as I moved from one place to another.
The collection includes ancient classical music, old jazz from two centuries ago, and bogo music, the sound of rebellion for my generation. Every generation has a soundtrack for its angst. For mine, it was bogo from the 2110s.
I’ll never forget the time when something had put me in a funk and I put on some bogo full volume. I was probably 14 or 15 at the time. It was like pumping caffeine into my veins. I started bogo dancing and in the process trashed my bedroom good. Pictures smashed, holes kicked in the wall, my desk knocked over. I thrashed the place, everything except the player. I needed it to keep feeding me, fueling the rage I expressed without words or even grunts, just with my fists and feet. I got grounded for a long time after that, but it felt good to destroy that room.
I told Walter about this youthful melodrama, and he smiled. Later on, during one of our tours of the plant, we reached the main control room. He turned to me, that same mischievous smile painted on his face, and he said, Don’t get any ideas in the control room.
No sir, I said, no bogo in the control room. I think I may have been blushing.
I told him about my books, and how I missed them. He nodded, understood. He loved books, too. He had a modest collection compared to the one back at my house, but it was still nice to be around them, to touch them and breath in their essence. Nothing revives me faster than the scent of an old book. That and bogo.
It’s been an extraordinary past few days.
Just now, after dinner, he said that he wanted to show me something tomorrow. He said that it would put everything into perspective. He said nothing further, but now I obsess over it. What could he have meant? I thought we had gone through every forbidden room in the place. What more did he have to show me?