Posts Tagged "the patrician"

The Patrician

by on Jan 1, 2013 in Short Fiction | 1 comment

Clea Majora walked through the hot streets of Nova Ostia, her sandalled feet lightly treading on the wide, baked, paving stones. She bought a honey cake from a pastry stall and nibbled it as she walked, using the vine leaf wrapper to catch the crumbs. At the wall, a couple of boys she knew from school were playing a covert game of soccer, and called for her to join them, but she waved and kept walking. It was too hot for games, and besides, she had her own plans for her lunch hour. Outside the stifling confines of the city, she kept walking until she came to her favourite gum tree. She unpinned her stola so that it folded underneath her when she sat down on the rough ground, and slid in the earbuds of her iPod. For a blissful forty minutes, she listened to music, and a podcast about movies she would never get to see. The rest of the world existed, out there, and she liked the reminder of that. Clea did not see the stranger until he was almost on top of her. She was startled when he tripped on a root nearby, and stared at her as she yanked out her earbuds. “I’m sorry!” he exclaimed. “No, I’m sorry!” Quickly, Clea fastened her stola back up so that it covered the front of the Gladiators Do It in the Arena T-shirt she had borrowed from her brother that morning. “I’m not supposed to be here,” she confessed. “Not during daylight. Are you a tourist?” “Yes,” said the stranger in a cultivated, I-was-not-born-speaking-English kind of accent. “I suppose that I am. Are we near Nova Ostia? I lost my way.” Tourists always came to the city by train or by coach, but were asked to walk the ten-minute hike up the sloped road so that they entered the city without the ease of modern transport. Clea recognised the factory-produced tourist toga and tunic as one from Roman Road Tours. This man must have wandered away from his group. “You shouldn’t wander off-road,” she said accusingly. “This is Australia, the bush can be dangerous.” She should tell him about drop bears. That would serve him right. She was resentful of losing the last fifteen minutes of her lunch hour. “Come on, I’ll take you.” He wore a hat, at least. Many tourists refused, wanting the full “authenticity” of the Roman experience, only to appear at the city gates bright red like crayfish. The city was built with shaded streets to keep the Australian sun away from bare arms and bald pates, but that ten-minute walk could do a lot of damage. The visitor wore a broad-brimmed woven straw hat, not a design Clea recognised from Roman Road Tours. His hands were blistered from their moments in the sun, but the rest of him was a paler, European colour. Clea dropped into the usual tourist spiel, about how a replica Roman city had come to be built in New South Wales, though it wasn’t really a replica, but a combination of several Roman towns. She added the part about real stone from Ostia and Herculaneum having been shipped over as part of the building process. “Yes,” said the visitor with a sigh. “I wish you hadn’t done that.” Still, he seemed interested enough, and stopped to peer at the triumphal arch that served as the city’s gateway. The soccer boys were gone, probably yelled at by one of the merchants. The worst crime in Nova Ostia was to be inauthentic where the punters might see. “Would you like to wait for your tour group?” Clea asked politely. “Or some refreshment, perhaps?” She would be late getting back to the thermopolium at this rate, and it would look better if she brought a customer with her. The stranger’s eyes were fixed upon the wall of the Temple of Vesta, and it was as if he had already forgotten she existed. “Thank you,” he said absently. “But I travel alone.” * * * * Clea dreamed of snakes, of women...

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