“How did you know it was my birthday?” asked Wander.
Sitting behind his desk at the front of the hostel, Rashid, the elderly proprietor, looked up from his computer and smiled. “Your passport,” he replied. “Twenty. A wonderful year. A time when many things may change.”
Wander smiled back. The past five years had been nothing but a time of change. Six months wandering South America, and another two years wandering Africa. Seven months in Ireland, a year in Russia. Indonesia in the morning, Australia at night. With no family or friends, birthdays were just another day to check off the calendar. Now, at the southwestern coast of Morocco, the warm waters of the eastern Atlantic brought salt in on the breeze. Maybe a birthday could be something to look forward to after all.
Wander leaned forward. “So, what should I do on my birthday?”
“Ahh, now that is a good question.” Rashid sat back in his chair. “Check your email and all those social thingies, then come back. I will tell you then.”
Wander sat at the hostel’s computer. In the monitor’s reflection, dim and faint, as if staring out from another world, was a face that could be any face—male or female, young or old—with any shape, any skin shade, any hairstyle, anything whatsoever. The face of any traveler who has ever hit the road from any place that marked their first step. Wander had an anyoneness, an anywhereness that made Wander everyone in particular. An identity of all possibilities, as if the universe had split into infinite multiverses and anyone could set off on Wander’s journey.
Logging on, Wander wondered how many other people in the world had access to the internet but didn’t have a Facespace account. Or a Twitlinkpinstatoob+. Opening the daypack, Wander took out a small flip phone. A traveler on a nearby couch looked up from her bright-screened, too-big-for-the-hand Apsamgoo iGalixel and smirked.
“Trust me.” Wander’s not-too-high, not-too-low voice competed with the beeps and boops coming from the traveler’s phone. “Last thing I need is a data plan or unlimited messaging.”
The traveler shrugged. Instead of looking back at her phone, she stared at Wander. A wavy, wobbly silence passed between the two travelers. Wander could see the question forming in the traveler’s eyes. Are you a girl or a guy? A man or a woman?
Wander grinned and leaned forward, smoldering eyes narrow. “You’ll never know.”
The traveler’s gaze darted back down to her phone. Wander chuckled and returned to the computer.
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