she awoke with a start to her alarm. it was set to ensure her presence in the morning routine. the thought of accidentally sleeping through it made her feel anxious. after all, this was her job. never sure of the exact time she was needed, she descended the steep wooden staircase to discover complete silence. not a creature was stirring. perhaps she had overestimated her responsibilities. she could have used the extra sleep she had just mistakenly left behind.
she contemplated how to spend this unplanned free time. she was in a new place so she decided some exploring would be had. a run. that would do it - exploration and exercise all in one. she proceeded back up the creaky stairs to change into the necessary attire. she quickly scribbled a note explaining her whereabouts. it was a beautiful morning, complete with roosters crowing and sun shining. it was early april; the morning air offered a temperature ideal for jogging. although the narrow cobblestone streets proved to be a challenging surface forcing her to appreciate the paved paths her feet were used to. the roads were completely still, not a soul in sight. didn't farmers have to be up early to tend to their fields? despite feeling totally alone, she felt entirely safe; the chaos of the city seemed so far from this place.
the fact that each country road was identical to the next crossed her mind for a fleeting moment but her confidence in her sense of direction quieted such queries almost instantly. her mind instead settled on the long stretches of land surrounding her on either side of the road.
the first sighting of another life: an old man on a bicycle. a very pleasant sight indeed. once he passed her, he was forgotten until suddenly, as she turned down the next road, she noticed him stopped in the distance. he was off his bicycle now and beside him stood a second bicycle, although there was no owner in sight. this particular road was lined with tall trees and ran through two vast pieces of farmland. it therefore harbored no sign of human occupancy, aside from the man and herself. as she drew closer, she could see that he appeared confused, or was it perhaps concern that the lines on his face were shaped to convey?
she usually finds it mildly irritating to be interrupted while running; however, this situation left no room for irritation. instead curiosity and wonder overcame her. for whom did this second bicycle belong to and where was its owner? why did this man appear so unsettled? as she approached him, she removed the headphones from her ears and asked him if everything was alright. he began some sort of explanation that involved physical gestures like pointing. unfortunately, the man spoke in dutch, another reminder that she remains an outsider.
it became clear that the man knew less than a word of english; this made comprehension of the circumstances exceptionally difficult for her. reading his emotions in the absence of verbal assistance proved rather puzzling. it was hard to tell whether he was upset, worried, afraid or just plainly confused, or perhaps some combination of each.
suddenly, the man reached out one of his hands to reveal the contents he so carefully held. to her bewilderment she found herself staring at an array of full fingernails, weathered and gray. naturally, worst case scenarios sprang to her mind. what could this possibly mean? she wanted so badly to understand what the man so clearly wanted to share. but after a few solid minutes of attempting to break down their impossible barrier, there came a point where there was nothing left to do or say. without verbal communication there would be no way for her to offer any help. the man seemed to reach this realization at the same moment she did. following this, he mounted his bicycle and began cycling back in the direction he came from. unfortunately this motion was not indicative of the end of his trip, but instead, of his effort to seek help.
still breathing heavily from the first portion of her run, she decided to continue despite the sudden feeling of uneasiness that now occupied her mind. she turned right at the end of the road, with the hope of making a loop back to the farmhouse. but instead of taking a right at the next road, she chose to go straight as she wasn't ready to stop yet. this decision would soon become a regret, for it initiated a route that would lead to confusion. she found herself nearing what she thought was home only to discover that she was entirely wrong. she stopped and looked to her left, then she looked to her right; both views were unnervingly similar.
she had never felt so lost.