Third in a monthly series of excerpts from The Book of All Cities.
You can't ride the rails for long without hearing about Ahavah. Sitting around a fire in an empty lot near the train yard, some old codger will start raving about the city, and the old arguments will start. It don't exist, one guy will say. My brother lived there four years, another will retort. Where is it then? North of Nebraska. Eastern Louisiana. Montana. Mexico. Canada. Peru. The argument gets heated. Maybe there's a fight.
Why all this ruckus about Ahavah? Free food there; free love, too. The mayor's an ex-bum himself. The citizens welcome you and take you into their homes. There's sailing and skeet shooting and dancing into the night.
Some of your fellow travelers don't take Ahavah too seriously. Some others rant about it -- the same old cranks obsessed with Lee Harvey Oswald's trips to Cuba. Some figure there must be such a friendly town somewhere, even if you discount the stories of whores working for charity and a parliament of hobos. Just our luck nobody knows where!
But there are some -- mostly young ones, loners, self-reliant, the kind who could succeed in the world if things were just a little bit different from how they are -- who decide that, as they got nothing better to do, they'll look for Ahavah. You might be one of those.
You might spend a while teasing those wild stories out of the older guys. Finding a library that won't throw you out, cross-checking facts. Asking around.
Sooner or later you'll find the network of those who look for Ahavah. You'll start arranging to meet and trade tips. Leave messages at the mail drops. You'll see the hard evidence some have gathered over the years. Meet some of the older guys who organize the others. They'll assign you to some circuit: the Yukon, maybe. Get up there, look around as best you can. Get back to us.
Being homeless feels more and more like a cover story, a means to an end. Finding Ahavah stops being a solution to the problem of being a hobo. More and more, being a hobo is a way to help find Ahavah.
"When we find Ahavah," you say to each other, drinking Gallo in an abandoned house near the Canadian border and waiting for a seeker to show up. Laughter, politics, dreaming.
Eventually you're one of the old guys running the show, and as you get older you get less certain of your goal. You dispatch resources, look for new recruits, keep in touch with the networks abroad. You make sure those who need help get it. Sometimes there's a party, maybe even with skeet shooting. More and more, you wonder if this is already Ahavah.
Copyright © 2001 Benjamin Rosenbaum
Image © 2000 Lee Moyer.
Benjamin Rosenbaum lives in Basel, Switzerland, with his wife and baby daughter, where in addition to scribbling fiction and poetry, he programs in Java (well) and plays rugby (not very well). He attended the Clarion West Writers' Workshop in 2001 (the Sarong-Wearing Clarion). His work has appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction and Writer Online. His previous appearances in Strange Horizons can be found in our Archive. For more about him, see his Web site.