A Mugging in Friendship Park

John Anderson’s Strange Welcome


I sat on the bench near the edge of the park, facing the city street. According to the sign at the bank, it was slightly after midnight. When I first arrived, I often took long walks at night because I could not sleep for all the excitement, but tonight it was depression and loneliness. I had thought coming to Homeland would end this sort of problem, but I was apparently wrong. Everywhere I go, I am tripped up by some subtle difference between home and Thorgelfayne. Panu says I am just suffering from culture shock.

It was cool and clammy tonight and a bit windy. It had been raining earlier in the evening, and apparently the clouds hadn’t quite wrung themselves dry. I watched the traffic lights buffeted by the wind, still changing red-yellow-blue for cars whose drivers were home asleep in bed. Like I should be.

I glanced at my watch. It glowed 20:10 in stark Halakanian numerals; thirty-two:sixteen, or a quarter past midnight. The time system here took a little getting used to. Just another one of those subtle differences, I thought, as I sat up straight to stretch my back.

The wind blew in alarming gusts and the clouds raced across the sky by the light of the moons. I was sitting under a tree, and occasionally the gusts would shower me with drops of left-over rain from the leaves. Even though two of the three moons were out tonight, the largest was not, so the Moonlight wasn’t particularly bright. I had arrived during a three-Moon, traditionally signifying good luck; how ironic.

On the surface, Thorgelfayne seemed to be so familiar—if you can imagine a hyper-modernized Sweden populated by wise Nigerians. But superficial similarities belie the real differences that make adjustment hard. Like thirty-two hours in a day (days don’t feel much longer here, so Homelander hours must just be smaller).

So I was sitting under a whatever kind of tree it was, and another sudden gust showered me with drops of water shaken from the leaves. I looked up at the broad wet leaves and recalled that its popular name is “umbrella tree.” because its leaves keep the ground underneath it fairly dry in a light rain. Like maples on Earth. Another brief gust spattered my eyeglasses with water just as I was looking up. Some umbrella tree, I thought, as I tried to shake the water from my glasses.

Now I am not only wet, I can’t see.

An attractive, well-dressed young woman walked up to me and pointed to a pin on her blouse—“Hapdorn Municipal Police, Badge 47.” Oh no, I thought, burying my face in the palm of my right hand, all I need now is a vagrancy charge!

But the officer was cheerful and sympathetic. I turned down her offer of money since I lived nearby and was not a passing stranger stranded by lack of funds. She got a handkerchief out of her purse and used it to dry a spot on the bench next to me. She sat, and we chatted for a while. (Or rather, I chatted and she listened.)

It all poured out. I was frustrated by not being able to catch everything in a conversation. I couldn’t seem to read fast enough in these funny letters that each stand for a syllable. Symbols on signs and expected behavior in shops and subways took painful thought. Only two other people in the whole Duchy speak English, I said, (forgetting momentarily the universities) so I’m losing my grasp on my native tongue as well! I even dream in Thorgelfaynese now. I have to keep my money straight, and learn hexadecimal multiplication tables. Even driving on the left side of the road is a strain! No big problems, but so many little ones—I’m just tired of all these subtle differences. I went on and on, and she listened.

After I exhausted my catalog of woes and got a grip on reality, she promised me reassuringly that my troubles would pass. I doubt it, I thought, as she hugged and kissed me good-bye. It didn’t even seem strange behavior for a police officer, so maybe there’s hope for me.

As the clack-clack of her high heels faded away, I turned my attention to the buildings across the street: Mountain Home Bank (twelve branches throughout the province), Fargnon’s Shoes, Wisps of Evening Women’s Clothiers, the Happy Lunch Pale, and some office building. A crumpled newspaper blew down the otherwise immaculate sidewalk, right past the trash can advertising a concert at the convention center. The traffic light changed from blue to yellow for non-existent traffic, and tossed in the gusty wind. Another sprinkle of rain drops, and a sudden chill from the wind.

I would really have enjoyed this night if I weren’t so down. A car drove by, splashing through a puddle. I finally noticed the bus stop, and smiled as I remembered the bus that led me to Bobo, to Homeland, and to Thorgelfayne.

Just then, somebody grabbed my neck from the right! My heart raced, and for an instant I was frozen in terror! My head was gently pulled to the right until I could see… a furry face, sad with empathy. A Hugmup. A Hugmup! He lifted his right paw, and placed his stubby right forefinger on my cheek, just below my eye. He traced downwards slowly, as if following the trail of a tear, and said, “Lonely.”

I was quite startled, because I did not know that Hugmups could talk. (I later found out that they rarely develop a vocabulary of more than a thousand words, and speak only in short sentences.)

I examined the Hugmup in amazement and growing joy. His fur was matted and he needed a bath. I heard his stomach growl. So I asked him, “Home?” He nodded.

I was delighted with my new-found friend! He rode on my shoulders like a child and chortled with happy glee. He twisted around to look at me in a way that made me the only significant object in his tiny universe. Who could not return such childlike affection?

As we paused at the curb, I saw the police officer who chatted with me earlier, and an ambulance! I asked her if someone was ill. As she dismissed the ambulance, she explained that someone had been ill, but is no longer.