Dear reader at the rest stop off the highway near Junction North,
This is quite exciting. I don’t know what you imagine of writers of newspaper editorials, but we do not often receive fan mail. I was intrigued to hear that someone enjoyed my article, but more intrigued to read your description of your experience in Karsa and of your current predicament at one of our country’s fine offramp travel plazas. You are quite a good writer yourself. Where and how did you learn the common language in a place like Karsa?
I appreciate you taking my words seriously. It was not a popular opinion when I published it four months ago, and if anything, it has become less popular as word has spread of more towns in the corridors—like yours—falling to the green menace. I’m not blind to it, but my mind is not yet changed. Like you, I wonder if I’ve made myself a choice I won’t later like. Like you, I wonder how long my self-assurances will last.
Now, where to go when you tire of the rest stop? There is the hostel, that proud tradition of wandering youth, if you don’t mind fighting for space for your rucksack in the aisles of a derelict church. There is the shelter, but you’ve expressed already your preference for edible food and sleepable beds. There are motels, but without getting into detail, I have heard bad things. I might suggest finding a city. One with not just buildings and roads to deter the land, as you hypothesize, but with people also, whom you did not mention as a consideration, and who would certainly provide you some help.
You did not ask for advice, but one last tip from one writer to another: it is customary to sign your work. It is strange (and, I worry, presumptuous) to write a reply letter without knowing who you’re replying to.
Best to you,
Dear Ravin Desai,
Today is my last day at the rest stop. I have been telling myself this every day when I wake up to make sure I leave.
I’ve broken into everything locked in this place since I last wrote. There is a town register in the administrator’s office. I looked up my last name and there is no one listed, not Aunt Cinde, not my father. I guess I never considered the possibility that Cinde was not my real aunt. Or that we weren’t registered at all, and no one knew we were here.
Behind the administrator’s desk there is an impractically large map of the country. The road I walked to get here goes through all five provinces. I mapped myself some options in red permanent marker. If I want to get to the capital, I would reverse course, head back the way I came, for six miles, then keep heading west for more miles than I feel like measuring with my finger and thumb. A lot of my routes wind up at the capital, because that’s where all the roads have come from.
Or, I could keep east. The sea is closer if I go east. My father always said that the sea was where the work was, or would be again someday, and that nothing good was west. So that’s about the limit of my clues for finding where he went to.
I understand I’m not supposed to find him anyway. I am supposed to be an adult. I know that when he left I was already fifteen, and that I took more time in growing up than most would be willing to invest. He has been gone three years and somewhere in there I have come of age, I think. The rules are unclear. At the least I have been living on my own.
Still—and I know this is a waste to say as you don’t know my father and have no reason to care—I don’t understand, really, why he had to go anywhere at all, or what reason there would be to leave a house already built and stocked with jars and cans. If I could have his answer to this, I might have more confidence now that the land is starting to advance on me again, now that the houses in the valley are replaced with splintered beams, covered in leaves and vines, and I have to decide whether to go or to stay. If he would have told me how you know when it’s time to leave, I might be surer of myself and of which route I should take.
You wrote me back and I didn’t expect that. I’ve looked at your letter every day when I wake up, not knowing what I’m supposed to do with it. If I write back you might reply, and waiting for your reply will keep me here. But today is my last day. If you write back, I may not get it, and neither of us would have a reply. I am beginning to think there are no good decisions, whichever one I do.
P.S. I just remembered that in a letter I am supposed to answer if you ask a question. So, I made my aunt teach me to read, and I learned common like anyone does, from the TV.
I am writing this in a bit of a panic. If I am being honest, I did not really expect to learn too much more about you, and I certainly did not expect you were young as you are. Now I have been floored by the number of hard decisions you’ve had to make. Here is an easy one. Just come to the capital. You shouldn’t have to go too far to find someone able to give you a ride, though it’s very endearing that you think you must walk your whole way to everywhere. If this must be your method, head straight west on your highway for 100 miles, then north on R2. Read the signs. Stay out of traffic. Wear white or yellow at night.
If I’m making you feel patronized, please know I know it, and that this is a terrible habit. I am seven years your senior and I have all I could want comparatively. It is an obnoxious position I am in, but I hope you will take me seriously when I say how stomach-sick I feel thinking of someone your age questioning whether to live in the back office of a rest stop or to walk her whole damn way to Gunung Harbor to find work in a fish guttery.
I am a terrible sentimentalist, and I believe I can fix injustice regardless of whether injustice wants to be corrected. I have written this letter fast as I can, I have enclosed money enough to bribe a reluctant chauffeur, I will drive it to the post office, I will have it expedited, and I choose to think you will still be there, that you will get my message, and that in a few days you will be here, in my city, and you will have a friend, and life can begin finally to be good to you.