At My Journey's End

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Original poster
Mama was in the zone. It was the kind of zone that only the endless droning of a bike engine and the eternal line of the interstate through the unbroken wilderness could bring. She wasn't thinking, she wasn't feeling. She barely even noticed the cigarette hanging between her lips anymore. If she was one of those yuppies, she'd call it zen, but for her it was just being.

Eventually, she began to see signs of the world coming back to life around her. A scrub brush, a desert tree, the rising of hills in the distance. Eventually, she'd find herself back in civilization, but not quite yet. She was still far enough away from the next town that she'd sleep in the desert for another night, which suited her just fine. She still had enough supplies to last her for another few days, and mentally began going through the supplies tied to the trailer behind her old trike. Now that her zone was broken, though, she yawned as if waking up from sleep, starting to notice the scenery again, now that it actually had something interesting to look at.

And she soon spotted something very interesting indeed.
Tamara clearly hadn't thought things through when she left home. She was packing a backpack that barely stayed on her slender shoulders, a couple of changes of clothes loaded into the bag and what money she had was stuffed in the pocket of her washed-out jeans. Her trainers were scuffed by this point, the soles wearing thin, dust and mud covering the usual white. She'd left her phone sitting in her room, and rather regretted that choice by now.

She'd made it out of the town without getting caught, something that she'd been rather proud of herself for, but had barely hit the halfway mark when she need to sleep started to nag at her. She'd never gone quite as long without eating, and though she was a fit enough girl, she'd not done journeys of this length before, never mind on foot. She'd ended up using the backback as a pillow and curled up at the side of the road. Dust had swept across her as she slept. Had she seen herself she would have been appalled at the sight.

A troubled expression was set on her sleeping face. The cheek that had been pressed against her backpack was red with lines from the material. She stirred a little at the sound of a bike drawing near, whimpering a little at the roaring of the engine. Her eyes opened slightly and she pushed herself up on one elbow.

"Wha..?" she asked tiredly.
Now that was a sight you didn't see every day. A young girl out in the desert.

"Must be from the town..." she mumbled to herself as she geared down and pulled up in front of the girl, careful not to toss more dirt over her.

Mama regarded the girl carefully. She only had a backpack, and didn't look like she was quite prepared for camping, or even hiking, out in the desert. The woman could only figure the girl was running away, or had been dumped out here. Removing her helmet, she hung it on the handlebar and ran her fingers through her shaggy dreadlocks. Adjusting her shades, she squinted at the girl again, inspecting her more carefully. Young, slender, pretty fit. Pretty nice clothes, even though they were a little worse for wear now.

"You're a long way from nowhere," she finally commented, her voice rough from the dust of the road and lack of use. "Where you headed, hun? What you doing all the way out here?"
She blinked the last bit of sleep from her eyes with another groan and shoved herself up. She rubbed her face, spreading dirt along her cheeks. She glanced apprehensively at Mama, her body awkwardly tensed up for a minute or so as she regarded her.
She doesn't look like she's likely to turn me back to my parents, and I certainly need some help tonight, don't I? Tamara relaxed visibly as she opened her mouth to speak.

"I'm not really headed anywhere in particular, just away from there..." She gestured back the way she'd come, hauling her backpack close to her. "You're not gonna make me go back, are you?" She clung to the pack, looking for all the world like a pleading child. The woman didn't look as though she would turn her away, but you could never be sure. Something in the back of her head was whispering to her that she should be more careful around strangers, but she pushed it back.
"Well, I ain't yer folks, so no, I can't make you go back, but you sure aren't dressed to be heading much anywhere else," she reasoned, eyeing her and the lone backpack. "One of the things about folks heading nowhere, they don't plan for nuthin' neither. Well, you hop on back here. I'm planning on setting' up camp soon, but this sure ain't the place for it," she said, motioning for her to climb onto the passenger part of the seat on the trike as she pulled her helmet on.

She had an extra helmet, but it was stowed along with the rest of her things on the small trailer. Tamara would just have to ride without one for now.

"The name's Denise, but most folks call me Mama," she said by way of introduction.
Tamara slid uncertainly into the passanger seat, trying to find where she was meant to hold on. Her hands found purchase behind her, hanging on tightly to the back of the seat; she hoped she was doing it right. All she'd seen of bikes was the occasional motorbike passing by the windows of her home, driven by leather-clad idiots that whooped as they drove. She watched as Mama pulled her helmet back on, wondering idly how the dreads survived inside it. The woman seemed friendly enough, and Tamara found herself trusting her.

"I know I wasn't really ready to leave but I didn't have much of a window. Even forgot my phone." Tamara chewed ruefully on her lip as she responded to Mama's remarks. "I figured I'd get far enough with a few changes of clothes and some money. That was dead wrong though..." She yawned and rolled her head, her neck clicking rather audibly, strands of her long hair falling into her face. The crash out at the side of the road hadn't done her much good.

"It's nice to meet you, Mama. I'm Tamara." The words she'd been conditioned into saying at every meeting still rolled off her tongue easily, followed by a warm smile. "Say, am I holding on the right way?" She worried with her hands at the back of the seat.
"You can just sit back like normal. It's a trike so it sort of leans like a car," she explained. The seat also had a small backrest for her to lean against. "If you're really feeling unsure, you can always hold on to me," she explained as the engine roared back to life. She pulled back out onto the road and fell silent as they continued on down the road. They wouldn't have been able to hear each other anyway.

The pair ride for an hour or so until the hills start to roll a bit more. Mama turned off the road, heading over a few bluffs until they were out of sight of the road and could have some privacy. She parked the bike and climbed off finally, taking a moment to stretch and yawn from a long day on the saddle. "Home sweet home. Here, help me unpack the trailer and we can set up camp here for tonight."

Without waiting for an answer, she headed to the open top trailer, covered by a strapped down tarp, and pulled down the rear door of it, starting to unpack the contents. There were bedrolls, blankets, bundles of sticks for firewood, fuel, water, food, a cooking kit, toiletries and other supplies. It was clear she knew what she was doing, had been doing it for awhile, and was used to doing it on her own.
Reassured by Mama's explanation, Tamara relaxed a little, her hands draped across her knees rather than white-knuckled on the back of the seat. She jumped a little at the initial roar of the engine, not fully expecting it. She soon felt comfortable enough though, the wind sending her hair streaming out behind her and turning her cheeks red. She held on tightly to the edges of the seat when they went over the bluffs, just in case.

The bike came to a stop and Tamara followed Mama off, rubbing at her behind. The ride hadn't been bad, but she wasn't used to the method of transport. She wandered after Mama, lifting things out of the trailer with a lightness of hand that suggested she was terrified to break anything. The majority of the camping gear was foreign to her in some shape or form, though she could figure out what most of the rest of the supplies were for.

"You always do this by yourself? Doesn't it get kinda tiring, Mama?" She sniffed at the top of a water container, not exactly registering that was what it was. "I'll need to learn what this stuff is for.. I vaguely remember seeing some of it before but I dunno." She trailed off, moving to pick another couple of things out of the trailer.
"Been doing it forever, so I'm used to it. If I get too tired of camping for awhile, or run low on supplies and cash, I head into a town for a while. I ain't too good at living around lots of people for so long," she explained, leaving her to finish unloading the trailer while she cleared a spot to set up a campfire.

After setting up a small pyramid of wood around some dry scrub brush she'd gathered, Mama got the fire started before she started setting up the grill above it. Leaving it to get hot, she turned to set up the bed rolls, set up the toilet seat downwind, and dig a water collector. It was a lot of work, but there was still plenty of daylight left so Mama didn't rush. It was a comfortable routine for her, and once everything was set up, she could relax for the rest of the day.

Eventually, everything was set up, and Mama dug into her food supplies and started dinner. She had some dried beef, root vegetables and rice that she prepared and dumped into a pot of water heating on the grill. A coffee pot was likewise filled with water and coffee to round things out. That done, she finally kicked back, relaxing against her trike.

"So, what's got you running away from your life?" she wondered, trying to figure this girl out.
Tamara giggled softly. She could understand the difficulty with living in largely populated areas. It was suffocating even to her at times and she was used to the bustle of the city. She worked relatively quickly to finish unloading the gear, not sure when most of it was needed and not wanting to be a hinderance. She watched distractedly as Mama set up the fire, orange flickers dancing merrily round the kindling.

She watched closely everything that was being set up around her. It seemed to be simple enough in theory, though it did look like a good amount of work. The process of setting up the camp came to a slow close and Mama seemed to settle down, leaving the food to cook through on the grill. Tamara was filing things into her head, attempting to learn from what she was seeing, when Mama spoke up once more.

"Well I guess you could say I'm not exactly seeing eye to eye with people." She smiled awkwardly, knowing her answer was pretty vague. "In the end, I'm going to be happier out of their hair." She was sitting crosslegged on the ground, tracing swirls and lines into the soft earth with an index finger, a nervous habit that struck her as rather better than nail biting. She waited a few short minutes, hoping that her rather inadequate attempt to dodge the question wouldn't be remarked upon.

"I must say, that smells real nice, Mama," she leant forward, sniffing gently as the smell of cooking wafted slowly round her. "I never learned how to cook, wish I had. There was never time to find out though." The smile this time was genuine, a little lopsided and threw to light a dimple in her right cheek.
"Happier, maybe, but happier doing what?" she challenged her. "And if you want to ever have any money left, you should probably take some time to learn, now that you've got a lot of it on your hands," she added, pulling out a hand-rolled cigarette and lighting it up. Reaching into one of her packs, she pulled out a slouchy, crushable Western-style hat and put it on for a little shade as she slouched further down the bike.

"Now, I ain't gonna spend all the time lecturing you on what you shoulda woulda coulda before coming all the way out here, but you should probably spend some time thinking about what you're gonna do now that you're out here. Not everyone's gonna be as nice as me, I'm just an old meddling softy at the end of the day, but I can get pretty grisly from time to time. You're gonna have to learn to do things on your own, especially if you're so intent on striking out on your own."

Mama left off talking after that, pulling her hat down over her eyes, presumably to take a quick nap while dinner continued to simmer above the fire. She occasionally flicked ash lazily from her cigarette, but other than that there was no movement. Once the cigarette was smoked down to a stub, she flicked it away into the dirt and then really did fall asleep.
Tamara squirmed awkwardly and remained deafeningly quiet as Mama challenged her reasoning. She didn't really want to talk about it, not liking the subject matter too much. She was still too close to home for this sort of thing, or at least in her head. She twirled her hair in her fingers as Mama tugged out a cigarette, not exactly eager to answer. The woman plonked a hat on and slouched still lower, seemingly not about to push the matter too much, but moving to another tack instead.

Tamara's head tilted slowly to one side as she considered Mama's words to her. It was true she had a lot to learn, she supposed. She made a mental note to follow closer when they next set up camp, assuming that her companion would keep her that long. She could already figure how roughly a fire worked, and the rest seemed as if it would take practise but not be overly difficult to do in the long run. Still, it was very true she needed to learn about cooking and the like. She watched the food simmer as Mama pulled that hat down further over her eyes.

Silence scuttled across their camp when the cigarette was done. Tamara held her breath for a while as Mama fell asleep, then returned to watching the slow simmer of the food. Minutes drifted past and she worried over the pot.

Tick, tick, tick. More time wandered by them slowly.

Bubbling took the place of simmering, the water licking up the edges of the pot. Tamara stared for a minute or two, then wandered across to Mama and set a gentle hand on her shoulder. "Mama..." She tapped softly. "Mama, I think the dinner's being funny, might be nearly done, it's starting to bubble up all over the place." She was hardly qualified to say when food was done, but the difference between a simmering pot and one that was starting to boil up was something even she could tell.
Other than a slight jump when she was touched, Mama didn't move too quickly to answer. Tilting her hat up enough to look, she just shrugged. "Move it from the middle of the grill," she answered simply. Moving her hat back from her face fully, she sat up, yawned and stretched, shaking her head to clear the sleep from it.

Unhurriedly, Mama unpacked a plate, a couple of bowls, cups and spoons, using one of those cups and hoisting the water jug onto her shoulder to pour herself a drink. "You thirsty?" she offered, holding the filled cup up at her. Without waiting for an answer, she set the cup down and filled the next one, drinking down the liquid with a satisfied sigh.

That done, Mama picked up a heavy skillet, spun it a bit by the handle as if testing the weight, then set it in the middle of the grill to heat up. Getting out some oil and some flour, she poured some of the oil onto the skillet and set it down next to her. Little by little, she mixed some flour and oil together in her hand into a flattish dumpling before carefully dropping it into the oiled pan and beginning to form another. In total she made about six, and used a long fork to turn them as they began to brown. She worked in a comfortable silence, never one to talk unnecessarily. When they were cooked, she set them onto the plate and headed over to the jug of water again. This time she poured the rest of it into a metal basin into which she poured some liquid soap and cleaned the flour from her hands.

"Okay, dinner's ready. You can dish yourself up. There oughta be a big spoon in the kit there," she said as she dried her hands, nodding to the box of kitchen tools next to the fire.