Savannah and I stood on the grass in the long park in the middle of the road as though it were an island. From between palm leaves I could see the hotel receptionist watching us from the hotel steps. If I decided to go farther than the park the police would have to accompany me.
After fifteen minutes milling about Savannah and I returned to the hotel. The receptionist greeted us. He was young and skinny and with a mop of black hair.
“I have my eyes on you,” he joked.
“Come here, Savannah.” The receptionist crouched down to bring Savannah in for a hug. She pressed her head into his belly and he patted her side. He was Berber and had a dog who stayed at his house in the mountains. It was rare to see dogs in the city, he said, but in the mountains they were more common.
I went to my room on the second floor and packed. Two twin beds and my cart made the room cramped. My cart occupied the entire pathway at the foot of the beds. I had to slide the desk into the corner to make enough room to sit down.
It was five-thirty and outside it was already dark.
At eight the next morning I’d leave and walk eight hours along the coast until finding another hotel. Boumerdès was far enough away from the sprawl of Algiers that when I left tomorrow morning I’d quickly be in the country. The landscape was rocky everywhere bordering the Mediterranean but in the Boumerdès province the coast was shrouded with forests of stone pines. Those forests offered lots of hideaways for camping, but with the police escort beside me at all time I would have to pass over those hideaways for a hotel.
I appreciated the protection. During the day it meant I could relax and talk to people without being overly-cautious. But staying at a hotel each night took the rhythm out of my adventure. When I camped I could go days without stepping inside for longer than it took to drink a coffee or eat a sandwich. After a few days of camping time fell into a sort of stream. One day bled into the next and soon I was in a wonderful routine of waking at sunrise and falling asleep soon after sunset.
But hotels interrupted that stream. They made a sharp delineation between the adventure part of my adventure and the resting part of it.
As I thought about all this there was a knock at the door. When I opened it the receptionist was standing there suppressing a grin.
“Mr. Thomas, there’s a woman downstairs who wants to meet you.”
Other than the police and the hotel staff I didn’t know anyone in Boumerdès. The only other person who knew I was in the city was an Algerian friend who lived way back in Algiers.
“Ms. Algeria. She’s a model. A television personality.”
“What does she want to meet me for?”
The receptionist shrugged and a grin cracked through. “She’s very famous here.”
“Alright. Give me a minute.”
“You’ll meet her?”
“Sure. One minute.”
I put my shoes on and went downstairs. Ms. Algeria was standing very formally and erect in the florescent light of the small lobby. She was almost as tall as me. She had large brown eyes, brown hair and cheekbones just pronounced enough to shadow her cheeks. The way she stood reminded me of my longtime friend who’d been Ms. New Jersey.
“Hi.” We shook hands. “Tom.”
Three members of the hotel staff were behind the reception watching us, another two people were watching us from the hotel entrance.
“He said you wanted to meet me?” I nodded at the young male receptionist.
“Yes. I hope that’s alright and that you weren’t busy.”
“No, it’s fine. I wasn’t doing anything. How did you know I was here?”
I wasn’t worried about being found, but it was slightly confounding to get a knock on my hotel door one Saturday night in a small city in Algeria and being told Ms. Algeria wanted to meet me.
“That’s my uncle.” She turned and gestured to a burly older man wearing a dirtied camouflage uniform of someone who’d just returned from hunting. He smiled and nodded to me. “He owns the hotel. He said there was an American photographer here. When I heard there was a photographer here I said I had to meet him.”
“Are you a photographer?”
“No, but I want to learn. I’m taking photography classes soon.”
“Oh that’s great.”
Perhaps I was being a bit cold, but our meeting felt formal and stiff.
“And I’ve been to America. I lived in New York for some months last year.”
At the mention of America, Ms. Algeria suddenly changed. She smiled genuinely, revealing red braces. Her shoulders rose a half inch as though a shiver of excitement had touched her spine.
“Do you want to sit down?” she asked.
We went to the enclosed sitting room a few steps down from the lobby. For a while we spoke haltingly. I said I’d had a few photography jobs but didn’t mention I was walking around the world because it was too much to get into. She told me about a restaurant job she had in New York and how she wanted to get back there. Her posture was perfect. It made me realize how poor my own posture was. I sat straight for a minute then gave up the effort and lounged back into the seat.
“Should we get something to eat?” Samara asked. “Are you hungry?”
I wasn’t hungry, but I’d always take the opportunity to speak English with someone interesting for a while.
“Good. Bring Savannah too. I want to meet her.”
I collected Savannah from the room. When I returned to the lobby Samara was talking to the hotel staff.
“They say the police are going to accompany us, but I told them we’d be fine. Are the police always with you?”
“Since I entered Mostaganem.”
“We’re going without them.”
The young receptionist made a plea with Samara to wait for the police, but Samara was nonplussed. She looked to me for an accomplice.
“Do you trust me?” she asked me.
The receptionist was pleading to me with his eyes.
If I were alone I would have waited for the police. I’d been waiting for the police since entering Algeria. But with Samara being unconcerned I was suddenly unconcerned as well.
“I doubt I’ll be kidnapped by Ms. Algeria,” I said.
Samara smiled. “No, that would be very bad press.”
Samara, myself and Savannah walked outside and around the block to her house. It was the first time I’d left the hotel without the police. At her door I looked over my shoulder expecting to see a police officer on the corner watching me, but the street was empty.
Samara’s house was concrete, as were most homes were in Algeria, but beige paint, balconies, molding and dozens of plants softened the limited flexibility of concrete as a building material.
“My father designed it.”
“It’s a beautiful house.”
“Wait until you see the view. You can see the whole city.”
We walked under a vine-covered terrace to the back entrance. Savannah ran ahead. We walked up some steps and her father met us at the door.
Samara and him spoke in Arabic. I picked out ‘American.’
“Welcome, welcome,” he said in English.
Her father and I shook hands. He wore a tweed suit jacket and a gray beanie folded above his ears as though a sailor.
“It’s a beautiful house,” I said to him.
“Thank you. She’s yours?” He pointed to Savannah, who was happily looping through his legs.
“Yes. She’s very friendly.”
“He speaks English,” Samara said to me.
The house was spacious. Four stories. The floors were tile and only in the living room was there rugs. We moved to the dining room which had a view of the Boumerdès’ skyline. Uniform white apartment buildings rested on a hill overlooking the sea. Their lights cast an orange glow on the city below. Many of the apartments in those buildings were given to people for free to keep them from being homeless. It was a great project of the government to ensure everyone housing.
Samara, her father and myself had Chinese tea. I began to explain that I wasn’t just traveling the world, but walking it. Samara nodded but there was no expression of comprehension so I repeated myself a few times.
“Walking. On foot. From Philadelphia to Uruguay. Two years by foot.” I gestured walking with two fingers. “We walked. I camp at night and walk forty kilometers during the day.”
“Wait. You walked?”
Finally it clicked.
“You walked?” Samara repeated.
“Smart man,” said her father, tapping the rim of his mug with a finger. “So you’re not married?”
“Good. Take this one here to America.”
“Papa!” Samara swatted the air near her father. “He’s only joking,” she said to me.
“All my children speak English,” he said.
“It’s a useful tool. I was lucky to be born speaking it.”
“I always told them to travel. It wasn’t possible to leave the country during the nineties.”
“Okay papa, we’re going to get something to eat.”
“I’ll make something.” He jumped out of his seat and looked at me. “What do you like? Eggs? We have eggs. I have a stew ready. Stew?”
“Papa, we’re going out to eat.”
“I can make something here.”
Samara retorted in Arabic and they went back and forth for a minute before her father acquiesced. “She’ll take you to a good restaurant on the water.”
Her father saw us out the door. I called for Savannah and she came bounding into view from somewhere in the house.
Outside there was still no sign of the police. It had been a half hour since we’d left the hotel and I know the hotel had called for them. Boumerdès police was especially slow in arriving to escort me. Most places I’d been in Algeria the police simply waited for me out front of the hotel. In Boumerdès I generally told the reception I wanted to go somewhere then returned to my room for thirty minutes until the police arrived.
We drove down to a row of shops across the beach. At the last shop we parked. It was a brightly lit restaurant with two stories.
“The owner is my friend,” said Samara. “He’ll let Savannah in. Just let me go in first and talk to him.”
A minute later Samara waved to me from behind the glass. I brought Savannah on the leash and we went upstairs where we were the only people. The floors were tile of course and the lights were an unflattering bleached white. The windows were floor to ceiling and from them we could see people walking the sidewalk and the dark Mediterranean beyond.
The menu was as expansive as a New Jersey diner. We both ordered crêpes; mine with brie, Samara’s with mushrooms. I ordered a strawberry milkshake as well.
Before the crêpes arrived Samara had her phone on the table to show me her photos. I was interested for a while but my interested quickly wained and I began to look out to the sea more often. It wasn’t due to Samara; she was interesting and she told interesting stories about each of her photos. She’d traveled Europe. She’d been in international pageants.
I was losing interest because the futility of my situation was finally sinking in.
It had been a long time coming.
After my two year walk down The Americas the itch for adventure which had pestered me since seventeen was satisfied. For ten years The World Walk had been my total focus, but with the most challenging leg of it behind me The World Walk no longer dominated as much of my desire. In the voided space the biological drive to find a long-term partner was given room to grow.
And grow it did.
Like the dream The World Walk once was, the desire to find a partner and build a family became a point of obsession. As I walked Europe I thought more of building a family than what the next country would be like. I spent hours a day imagining my wife’s family, what I’d do with my children, how they’d all get along with Savannah.
In San Sebastian, while circling in wait for a visa extension, my emboldened new drive took aim at very kind Colombian girl. She worked at the café where I studied Spanish. We flirted for hours at the café and got a drink together nearly every afternoon when she got off work. I had never been so enamored so quickly. I thought of her so often I could do little else. We spent more and more time together. She was ditching her friends to be with me. We went to the beach, the mountains.
Then her best friend confessed his love for her. His feelings were unrequited but that sobered her to me. She didn’t want anything with anybody, she said. Besides, I was leaving once the visa came in, she said.
She was right. I was leaving. I was always leaving. That was the good thing about The World Walk, that was the bad thing about The World Walk.
In San Sebastian I wanted love but years before, when I decided to walk around the world, I’d purposefully walled myself off from it.
So when I looked at Samara who was interesting and beautiful I only saw the limit of my relationships.
Eventually, we finished dinner. Samara paid then we sat in the car.
The police were across the street, parked in a white and green SUV.
“How’d they find us?”
We were much more comfortable together than when we’d first met. The worst of the formality had fallen away.
“It would be something, wouldn’t it?” Samara said. “Imagine. Ms. Algeria kidnapping the American walking around the world. Algeria would explode.”
“Man, we could get a lot of followers with that headline.”
She drove Savannah and I back to the hotel. It was only nine but it felt much later because it had been dark for so long. We stood beside her car. The hotel workers smoked cigarettes on the hotel steps. The police from my escort joined them.
“It’s a shame you’re leaving tomorrow.” Samara said. “I could show you a lot of interesting places. What time are you leaving?”
“Maybe I’ll be awake to see you off.”
“What time do you wake up?”
We both laughed.
“Well, thanks for dinner. It was nice to escape the police for a little while.”
We hugged then Samara drove off and I went up to my room.
In the room Savannah curled on her bed while I packed. I had a podcast on in the background. I looked at the cash I’d withdrawn from Western Union earlier in the day. I had it in a ziplock. There was a wad of it. The hotel had signs for MasterCard and Visa but they accepted neither. Algeria ran on cash.
I took out the money and counted it. I sat down and I counted again and did some math.
If I stayed another night, how much would that leave me?