>ASCENDING

>“All you have to do,” said Abdi, rocking back and forth on his tireless long legs, “is start up a carpet cleaning business.”

The others looked at him strangely. Of all the weird things that had passed the African’s lips since they picked him up, this was probably the most weird.

Abdi’s eyes were endlessly curious globes. They seemed too big for his head. “No one knows when a carpet is clean and when it isn’t. You just need a truck and one of those hoses. Money for nothing.” He made a complex gesture with his long flat fingers, which may have meant something, or may have meant nothing at all.

Balwant, who sat in the passenger seat, turned all the way around just to get a better look at their new passenger. Abdi was weird, sure, but he was the most entertaining thing they had all seen in days. “Where did you say you were from again?”

“Somalia. Bu’aale.”

“Right. Cool.”

Demail, sitting next to Abdi on the bench seat, who seemed constantly in the middle of a silent complex drum solo, turned his voice outwards: “You’re going to love it up here man.” He placed a shaking hand on Abdi’s arm. “There’s this lake, with, like, sand and everything, right in the middle of the fucking mountains. Like, thin-oxygen sunbathing and shit.”

Abdi nodded his head, but narrowed his eyes.

“He speaks the truth,” said Karin from the driver’s seat. She fixed her eyes to the rear vision mirror which, of course, was angled to look straight to the back seat. “There is a lake, but there is no waves.”

“You’ll love it,” agreed Balwant. “It’s an adventure.”

Abdi shifted in his seat. “But you have all been there already?”

“Yeah.”

“Then why go again?”

Demail scratched a red patch at his throat. “What?”

Abdi turned to him. “Why have the same adventure twice?”

“Uh…”

“Once, back home, I’m walking down the coast and I get a toothache, so my tooth comes out, it’s pulled out red roots and all, by an old man in a beach shack. I didn’t care who pulled it out, I just needed it out. My face blows up like a balloon. That is a beach adventure. But it’s not one I’d like to have again. There are too many things to do in life to bother repeating adventures.”

Kari held fast to the steering wheel as the mountain road did its best to shake the chassis off her jeep. “It’s a little more … complicated,” she said. “We have a friend up there who we like to visit.”

“He stays up there in the mountains?” Abdi jabbed his finger out the window, pointing at the broken-glass jags of the mountain range. “By himself?”

“He runs the church,” said Balwant.

“How many people in his parish?” said Abdi, laughing. “How many people turn up on a Sunday morning? Eagles and mountain goats, praying?” Abdi had an oddly girlish giggle.

“You’d be surprised,” said Kari. “It’s quite a popular church.”

“And he’s got a helicopter,” added Balwant.

“But why is his church so popular,” said Abdi, “all the way up there?”

Demail flashed his hands into his army jacket with mongoose speed. He held his dirty fist under Abdi’s nose and opened it. A small strip of segmented blotter paper lay in his palm. There was a little drawing on each segment.

“What’s that?” said Abdi.

“Little Clintons,” grinned Demail. “See?”

“Clintons?”

“They’re all Hilary, man.”

“Like the president’s wife?” Abdi peered closer. His eyes adjusted, and there was indeed a crude picture of Hilary Clinton tattooed on each bit of paper. “And this is what your friend in the church makes?”

“Yeah, man. 900 square inches of Hilarys at a time. Pure as driven snow.” Demail wheezed out a series of coughs.

“Why would anyone drive up the side of a mountain to get little picture of Hilary Clinton?”

Demail tore off one of the tiny squares of paper. “Put it on your tongue,” he said, “and find out.”

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