Ulaanbaatar

Rhia had searched everywhere for hidden treasure and was poorer for it. She kept expecting that the next event, the next spot, the next stranger who made eye contact would be full of the most wonderful treasure: answers. It was easy to keep her spirits up because she was buoyed by the idea of just being alive. She had discerned from the bounding language and stiff caricatures on restaurants and street signs that she was somewhere along the fissure where Eastern Europe meets Asia.

The only thing worse than being monolingual right now was being geographically challenged. In her mind, all she could recall was a clean purple outline in the shape of dropped spaghetti sauce that said Russia with a hundred soaked puzzle pieces beneath or maybe two puzzle pieces, other countries…the big one was China.

The stress and panic of waking alongside the road in an unfamiliar sliver metropolis had reduced her mind to that of a Muppet. Like a bouncing character, controlled by invisible strings and an internal hand, she ignored the stiffness of her joints, the fetid unwashed scent of her hair, and the clamoring hunger of her belly. She repeated over and over, I just need to make a call. Just a single call.

Rhia couldn’t ask for help. She saw kind faces with slight smiles but whenever she heard the language, or languages rather, her stomach dropped and she looked to the sidewalk hoping for quarters. Do they have change here? She was shaking, unsure of how long she had been awake, wandering, and only then realizing that she was in a sort of giant shirt. It was like a murmur or a sack. She glanced down at her shaking hands. What the fuck had happened? Hadn’t she been in Cozumel? Where were her friends? They were talking about a booze cruise or had they taken one?

She started as a vibrant red and green currency landed in her palm. She glanced up as a young woman, maybe similar in age to Rhia herself, handed her the bill and said something in – was that Mandarin? Japanese? – before moving on down the avenue. A serene bearded man meditated on the bill in her palm.

She held the bill between her two pressed palms, gently, maybe a bit hysterical worried both that it would float away or disintegrate if held too tightly. Rhia looked into windows of corporate buildings with black capped security guards behind tall desks. She paused for a moment surprised that she had not thought about finding the police. Her gratitude for being alive began to sour in the realization that something had happened. Something terrible.

She pushed the revolving door and gagged slightly on her own smell in the temporary encasement before she pushed through. The security guard rose to his feet saying something in a language more like Russian perhaps, and Rhia held out the money muttering over and over, “Call. Call the police. Call the police, please. Call.”

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