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Map Confusion

Thursday 11 April 2013 - Filed under Squibs

Nothing was getting through. English was not an option. The guy looked at me quizzically, a sympathetic smile forming on his mouth.

I said, “Well, maybe I’ll show you where I’m from, that will help.” So I pulled out a pen and a piece of paper, placing it on a flat part of the vehicle in front of us. I’m not an artist, nor a geographer, but I can at least give you a basic caricature of North America. East Coast, Florida, Gulf of Mexico, Isthmus, Baja California, Alaska, Hudson, Greenland. Done. I marked New York with a star.

He looked at it with a frown. Then turned it upside-down. Then sideways. He put it back down, rolling his head with what I can only guess was his version of a shake. I stared, confusion crawling in my stomach. “Okay, okay, maybe this will help,” I babbled, taking my pen and starting to add South America with a shaky hand. It wasn’t very good, Australia was more of a blob and I couldn’t remember exactly how the Middle East looked, but I got all the continents in their basic locations. I took a little to get India and Southeast Asia as detailed as possible, because that’s where I thought we were. I capped the pen with a flourish, gesturing at the map with hope.

He rolled his head again, but there was understanding in his eyes, of a sort. He unlimbered the satchel at his side and pulled out a folded notebook of sorts. He split it open lengthwise. One half was an electronic display with odd sliders and knobs, the other half was a collection of pages bound on the top side. The writing was unfamiliar in vertical lines. He licked his fingertip and flicked the top few pages aside, revealing what looked like all the world to be a Mercator-style map of the world.

Except it wasn’t. It was just about the only familiar visual style I’d seen: blues for the oceans, browns and greens for the land. Currents in wavy lines, borders in arbitrary colors. But there was nothing there. Nothing I could see that was true and familiar. Nothing at all.

I must have been somewhat wild-eyed at this point. I grabbed my homemade world and waved it in front of myself, eyes flicking from it to the map and back. “What do you mean, what is this? Where in the world are we? What are you talking about?” I spread my arms wide, crumpling my map in one hand and gesticulating around at the city surrounding up. “What is this place?”

He put his hand on my shoulder. I stopped, shuddering. He rolled his head again, and gently placed his finger on a spot near the apex of a triangular bay on the left side of a rambling, curling landmass. He said some words that I could barely follow, then repeated the last one. “Tecbrenai.” I spell it as I heard it, although the actual spelling is different and some of the sounds are subtly different.

He tapped the page again, and his eyes were very dark as he looked into mine and repeated, “Tecbrenai.”

2013-04-11  »  Edward Semblance