I’m hopelessly lost, Robert thought as he realised he was walking in circles. I’m sure I’ve come by here before. This place is a labyrinth, all these streets and alleys and souvenir shops look the same. I should never have ventured into this maze.
“Where are you from, my friend?” one of the countless souvenir salesmen said, invariably trying to attract his attention and make a sale.
“England,” he said.
“I have just what you’re looking for,” the man replied, showing him a cheapish-looking fake jewel, its garishly coloured surface glinting in the neon lights. “This is just perfect for you. A talisman that will assist you at crucial moments in your life. I can offer it for a very good price, my friend.”
Robert shrugged and walked on. He was growing sick and tired of all these salesmen peddling their wares, addressing everyone in sight and offering good prices for their trinkets and gadgets. He glanced at his watch and realised he had to find the exit of the bazaar as quickly as possible. He wouldn’t like to miss the bus, and his wife was undoubtedly growing worried.
He turned left and tried to find the central street that led to the exit, but after a few minutes he arrived at the place where he had just come from. The salesman flashed him the talisman again and asked him what he was willing to pay for it.
Robert ignored him, walked on and this time turned right, yet missed the central street again. A few minutes later he was back where he had started.
The salesman held up the talisman again.
“Please help me,” Robert said, “I keep running in circles and I need to get out of here fast.”
“You don’t seem to understand,” the man replied. “It’s the force of the talisman that draws you back here. It won’t give up until you buy it.”
Robert sighed. “All right. Will you help me if I buy it?”
“Certainly,” the man replied and gave him a set of directions that Robert did his best to memorise.
“Thank you very much,” Robert said.
“This talisman will assist you,” the salesman claimed, offering him the trinket again.
“Well all right then,” Robert said, and bought the souvenir for ‘a very good price’.
“Good luck,” the man said to Robert as he left with his so-called talisman, and followed the directions he had been given. To his relief, these led him to the exit indeed.
I made it just in time, he thought, glancing at his watch. Thanks to that man. Or perhaps the talisman, he added mockingly.
He hurried to the terrace where his wife was waiting for him. She rose to her feet when she noticed him, her face lined with concern.
“Robert, what took you so long? We’ll be late for the bus. We can’t miss it. We’re not going back to our hotel. This is an organised tour, remember? We’re leaving town.”
“I know, I know, but I got lost in the bazaar. It’s a maze, with hundreds of streets and alleys and tourists filling every square inch. I’m so sorry, darling.”
Moments later they boarded the tour bus and presently were on their way to the next stop on their two week sightseeing trip. Still, there was something bothering his wife.
“Robert,” she said, “while you were off to that bazaar I spotted this lovely coat in the shop next to the terrace. I wanted to buy it, but I didn’t have enough local currency or a credit card on me. I was desperately waiting for you to return.”
“You said it wasn’t a good idea for a woman in a foreign country like this to be alone with a lot of cash and a credit card on her.”
“That’s true, but how could I know it would take you so long to come back? You were barely in time for the bus. If only you had showed up earlier, we would have had the opportunity to visit that shop and buy the coat. Now you blew it.”
“Was it expensive?”
“Yes, but well worth the money.”
“I see. I’m so sorry darling.”
His wife fell silent, stared out of the window, clearly disgruntled.
In a sense I’m lucky, Robert realised. By getting lost in the bazaar, I saved a lot of money. He reached into his pocket and his fingers touched the talisman. Hadn’t the salesman told him this gadget would assist him at crucial moments in his life? In a sense that was exactly what had happened. So maybe that guy hadn’t been joking after all.
He decided to hold onto the talisman. He wasn’t superstitious, but you never knew.
Frank Roger was born in 1957 in Ghent, Belgium. His first story appeared in 1975. Since then his stories have appeared in an increasing number of languages in all sorts of magazines, anthologies and other venues, and since 2000, story collections have been published, also in various languages. Apart from fiction, he also produces collages and graphic work in a surrealist and satirical tradition. By now he has more than 650 short story publications (including a few short novels) to his credit in 28 languages. Critics describe his work as a blend of genres and styles: fantasy, satire, surrealism, science fiction and black humour.