Itinerary

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic
A request from Kim Hamilton's newest travel client - to visit the four corners of the world - will end up leading them both to fateful destinations.

Submitted: August 19, 2019

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Submitted: August 19, 2019

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“I want to visit the four corners of the earth.”

Those were the first words Abner Bosworth said to me before the wind almost blew him away that blustery morning in November.  

Abner had phoned fifteen minutes earlier, wanting to know if he could come over right away to book a trip. Despite not being presentable yet, the hint of urgency in his voice swayed me into agreeing to his request, that and the fact that the Caller ID read STONE COUNTY MEMORIAL HOSPITAL.  He could be a physician or a surgeon, and they always booked high dollar vacations. I provided him with directions to my home-office and then sprinted for the bathroom to freshen up before he arrived.

When the doorbell rang a little while later, I glanced in the mirror at my half-dry hair and rumpled pullover. I made a sour face at my barely acceptable reflection and went to greet my prospective client.

 There, on my front step stood Abner Bosworth, one hand keeping a white-knuckled grip on the handrail and the other desperately trying to keep a woolen walking hat on his head. The whipping winds were wreaking havoc on everything, including this tiny old man who didn’t weigh over 130 pounds. I quickly ushered him in and closed the door on the fall weather attempting to follow him inside.

Using the word frail to describe Mr. Bosworth would be an understatement.  I’m five feet five, and although we were the same height, I still had to look down at him because of the curvature of his spine. Age spots covered the wrinkled, leathery skin on his hands and face. Removing his hat revealed a partially bald head with a light ring of closely cropped white hair that matched his bushy eyebrows.

Although Mr. Bosworth looked old, the twinkle in his eyes made me challenge my preconceptions about the elderly. I have always believed the adage that the eyes are windows to the soul, and although the years had taken a toll on Mr. Bosworth’s body, I could tell his mind was still sharp and eager. It was endearing to watch how he fought off apprehension by using his fingers on the brim of his hat to rotate it counter-clockwise.

As he came in, he immediately pulled out a piece of paper from his pocket and handed it to me.

“I want to visit the four corners of the earth,” he said in a commanding voice, which like his eyes, contrasted with his feeble appearance.

I revisited my previous assumption that Abner might be in the medical field when he had handed me a blank prescription drug form, but when I flipped the paper over I found a list of four exotic locations neatly hand-written. These were not the destinations that elderly men would usually scribble on the back of scrap paper.

“Well, come in and have a seat. I’ll see what I can do,” I told him, setting aside my skepticism. “I’m Kim Hamilton, Mr. Bosworth.”

“Young Lady, please do me a favor and call me Abner,” he requested politely as he slipped into the chair in front of my desk. “Mr. Bosworth just reminds me how old I am.”

Something about Abner put me at ease. I’m forty-five years old, but when he called me Young Lady,” I felt like a young woman again.  Maybe it was his silver eyebrows that needed a severe trimming, much like my father used to have.

“’Abner’ it is, then.”

As I rounded my desk and sat down, I looked again at the paper Abner had given me: Antarctica; Thailand; Kenya; and Alaska. These were locations from opposite points on the globe. I’ve read many debates about the true meaning of “four corners of the earth” in scripture, but this was the first time I had ever had a client interpret it literally.  It made me wonder why.

Abner started fidgeting with the hat on his lap. “Before we get started, do you mind if I ask you a question?” he asked.

“Not at all. What would you like to know?”

“I got your name from an acquaintance of mine, and she told me that if I were to bring you pictures I take during my trip, you would make . . . a video . . .  with them. Is that possible?”

I beamed at his request. I had been selling travel for over thirty years but had only been in business for myself the last five. One way I’d attempted to make the relationship with my clients more personal was to put my hobby of making DVD slideshows to use. The slideshows, which set me apart from my competition, were a surprise hit.

“Absolutely,” I told him. “It would be my pleasure.”

“Great.”

“Now about these destinations,” I asked, bringing the conversation back to business, "I'm curious.  Is there some special significance to them other than their points on the globe?"

Abner's bushy brows furrowed slightly. "No."

"Oh, okay.  Then is this going to be one long trip or four separate junkets?”

“I think I’d better tackle them one at a time, but I want to go to Antarctica first.”

Pulling my notebook in front of me and flipping to a blank page, I started asking the essential questions. “Okay, we’ll just work on that one today then. What dates do you have in mind to travel?”

“As soon as possible.”

“Oh. Mr. Bosworth,” I paused, remembering, “I mean, Abner,’ that would be expensive. I can probably put together a package for half the cost if you’d be willing to wait six months.”

“No, no, I can’t wait that long,” he said, shaking his head. “And don’t worry about the money. It’s not a problem.”

Either Christmas was coming early this year, or I had seriously misinterpreted the twinkle in this man’s eyes. I hoped he wouldn’t be one of those clients who made me jump through hoops to put together a travel package and then acted surprised when I couldn’t make it cost $500. I looked at his unassuming appearance and remembered the battered Chevy pickup I’d seen parked in my driveway when he arrived. If he had money, he sure didn’t flaunt it.

 “Do you have a passport?”

A worried expression crossed his face. “No. Do I need one?”

“For the places you want to travel to, certainly.”

“How long will it take to get one?”

“Maybe two weeks, if we expedite it.”

“You must tell me how to do that, then.”

“That’s fine. I can do that when you pay for the trip. You’ll also need immunizations if you intend to go to Africa.”

“I’m not afraid of shots.”

“Great. Now, will you be traveling with anybody else?”

After a brief pause, he answered, “Yes – and no.”

I glanced up from my notepad to find Abner looking in my general direction, but his thousand-mile stare convinced me he was deep in his own thoughts.

“I’m afraid I don’t understand, Abner.”

He blinked, and then I could tell he was back with me again. But now his eyes were different. The twinkle had faded, clouded by something else. To me, he now appeared more pensive and sorrowful.

“No, I’ll be traveling alone,” he said, his voice lower and more constricted, his hand briefly running his underneath his nose.  Clearing his throat, he pointed to a spot behind me. “You have quite a handsome family there.”

I turned around and realized he was pointing to a photograph sitting atop the filing cabinet. “That picture is several years old,” I said. “Both my children are in college now, and I lost my husband in an automobile accident three years ago.”

“I’m so very sorry,” he said. The sincerity in his eyes was apparent. “I lost my wife about the same time.”

“I'm sorry, did she pass away suddenly?”

Instead of answering me, Abner shifted his weight in the chair, appearing uncomfortable.

“I’m sorry for getting personal. Can we get back to my trip?” he replied softly.

“Certainly,” I said, realizing I had unwittingly struck a nerve in the frail old man. We spent the next ninety minutes plotting out the details of his trip, but the seed of curiosity had already found fertile pasture in me. Were the exotic destinations he selected somehow related to his deceased wife?

Usually, I try to converse with clients about their expectations to guide me in offering choices that fit their plans and their budgets. Abner, however, kept insisting money wasn’t a problem and was very specific about what he wanted. My skepticism kept wanting to return, prompted by his insistence on booking immediately, seemingly inexhaustible funds, and a profound brooding nature.  They were all signs of a client who enjoyed playing 'what if' games and never followed through.

Also, there was very little excitement in his voice as we talked about the sights he would see in Antarctica, and I found that strange. It was almost as if he was treating the excursion like a business trip. A business trip to Antarctica?

I had the unshakable feeling he wanted me to talk him out of going, yet he kept hurrying things along, cutting me off when he was ready to move onto the next topic—almost as if he had to get the trip booked before I could protest.

When we finished, I walked him to the door and told him I would call the next day with a final price quote and itinerary. That’s when he looked into my eyes, took my hand in both of his, and squeezed tightly.

"Thank you for being so patient with me," he said softly.

After he left, I watched from the doorway as he struggled against the wind on the way back to his pickup, forcing myself not to run after him and offer to help. I didn’t think he would have appreciated that.

As he drove away, I wondered if I'd ever see him again. Was my skepticism warranted?

The phone rang only seconds after I closed the door.

“Hello?”

“Was that a client I saw parked in your driveway, Kim?” my next-door neighbor asked. Ginger was two years older than me and treated me more like one of her children than a neighbor.

“It was, and an odd one at that. But he was the cutest little-old-man, and if he buys the travel package we discussed, it’ll be a nice bonus.”

“That’s great. You had me worried when you said things were a little slow lately. Speaking of which, have you given any more thought to what I asked you at church on Sunday?”

“What was that?” I feigned ignorance but knew I was just postponing the inevitable.

“I asked what you thought about Rob Tanner. He just moved to town and joined our Bible class, remember? He’s divorced and has a thirteen-year-old daughter.”

I sighed, making sure Ginger could hear me. “Ginger, honey, I’m really not interested in seeing anybody. I’m perfectly happy with my life the way it is. I wish you could accept that.”

There was a slight pause before Ginger answered, with much less enthusiasm. “I just worry about you over there by yourself.”

“I know, and I really appreciate that, but I’m a big girl, and I like things this way. Now, I better get off the phone so I can book this man his trip of a lifetime.”

“Okay, talk to you soon.”

***

The next day, I called the number Abner Bosworth had given me.

“Hello?”

“Mr. Bosworth, this is Kim Hamilton with Flyaway Travel.”

“You promised to call me Abner, not ‘Mr. Bosworth.’”

“I’m sorry, Abner. I have the information I promised you yesterday.”

“Okay.”

I paused a moment before I dropped the bomb.

“I locked in all the dates and destinations for Antarctica that we discussed. The package will run you $24,375.”

Without hesitation, he asked, “When do I need to pay you?”

“You realize that is just for the Antarctic trip?  The others will be about the same, maybe even more.”

A deep sigh from the other end of the line told me Abner put up with quite a few people who assumed that old age made him hard of hearing or confused.  “Yes, I understand. When do I need to pay you?”

“Since we’re within thirty days of the travel date, I need the entire balance within the week.”

“Can I come by this afternoon and give you a check?”

His response shocked me. My scam radar was kicking in big time, so I hesitated before continuing. My years of experience were telling me to proceed cautiously.

“Abner, since I’ve never done business with you before, and this is such a large amount, I will need a certified check.”

“Is two o’clock okay?” was his terse reply.

“That’ll be just fine,” I said, struggling to keep the surprise from my voice. “See you then.”

At two o’clock, Abner showed up just as he promised and handed me a certified check for the amount I had quoted. I had probably been staring at it for longer than I should of when he spoke.

“Isn’t that what you asked for?”

“Oh, yes… it is.”

“I prefer to get things done quickly,” he said as he strolled over to the chair he had occupied previously and waited for me to join him.

“And I appreciate that,” I replied as I made my way back to my desk. I then explained how to get his passport and told him it would be a week before all his travel documents came in.  After a short while, I couldn’t contain my curiosity any longer.

“I hope you don’t mind me asking, but what is it you do for a living?”

“I’m retired.”

“And why the sudden interest to travel?”

“It’s just time. Where do you think I should go next?” Abner deflected my question with his own.

“I’ll start looking into that for you.”

After Abner had departed, my inquisitive nature was far from satisfied. I needed to find out his story, and I knew just who to ask. I picked up the phone and dialed Ginger.

There were two things about my next-door neighbor that practically guaranteed she would know what I needed to hear.  First, not only had she lived in our quaint southern town her entire life, but so did her parents and their parents before them. The second was the fact that she was an incurable gossip.  One of the great things about living in a small community was that everybody knows everybody else, but I had discovered early on that Ginger operated on a whole other level.

Ginger answered on the second ring and I cut straight to the chase, asking her if she had heard of Abner Bosworth.

“Sure, I remember him,” she said without hesitation. “He lives alone on the outskirts of town and owns huge tracts of farmland. His wife passed away a couple years ago, I think.  Both were born and raised here in Independence County.  They used to be regulars at my old church.”

“They kept mostly to themselves,” she continued on, “and had no children.  Ever since his wife died, he’s been a recluse.”

***

Four days later, when Abner returned to pick up his documents, he still didn’t display much enthusiasm for his upcoming trip. Either he was challenging to read, or he really wasn’t looking forward to it. I laid out the itinerary for the next leg of his global trek, a private cruise along Thailand’s Chao Phraya River and a visit to the Grand Palace in Bangkok, complete with its most venerated symbol, the Emerald Buddha. Although he was attentive to everything I showed him and appreciative that I worked so hard to get him a reasonable price on the package, his eyes still showed no excitement.

***

Three days before Abner’s departure to Antarctica, he called me with a long list of questions—everything from what he should and shouldn’t pack to how much he should tip.

“How many rolls of films should I bring?” he asked.

“Film? You still have a camera that uses film?”

“Isn’t that okay?”

“Oh, Abner. For a trip of this magnitude you really should take photos with a digital camera.  I wouldn’t trust those memories to film. That way you could also give me the memory chip when you get back for me to make your video.”

I spent forever on the phone with him answering his questions and convincing him to invest in a digital camera. After he finally relented and promised to run to the discount store to pick one up, I walked him through his itinerary once more. At that point, I couldn’t contain myself any longer. Before he could hang up, I said, “Abner, I get the impression that you’re not looking forward to this trip. I’ve put together an amazing experience for you, so please tell me you will have a good time while you’re there.”

After a long pause, he gave me a smile with little warmth behind it and said, “I’ll try.”

Then, following a shorter pause, “May I ask you a personal question?”

“Sure,” I answered without thinking.

“Did you re-marry after your husband died?”

His question caught me off guard. “No . . . I didn’t.”

“You never met the right person?”

I usually refrained from opening the door between a professional relationship and a personal one with my clients, but I felt comfortable talking to Abner about it.

“Honestly, I never had a desire to look. I’m content living on my own, and I have my two grown children who visit me often.”

Another silence told me he was pondering my answer. He replied, “I see.”  And with that, he hung up.

***

I worried about Abner for the entire fourteen days he was gone.

The day after his scheduled return, he called me.

“I’m back, and I have my pictures,” he said. I could hear something different in his voice. It sounded like . . . enthusiasm.

My heart soared. I was probably more excited than he was. “Did you have a good time?”

“I had a wonderful time; absolutely amazing. Words can’t describe it. I can’t thank you enough for everything you did for me.”

“When are you going to bring me your photos and tell me everything about your trip?”

“I have to come into town to run some errands, can I come over then, if you’re not too busy?”

“I’ll be waiting for you.”

***

That afternoon, Abner brought me the memory card from his camera and after I plugged it into my computer, we looked at his photos of Antarctica together, talking at length about his incredible journey. I didn't make much of it then, preferring not to stifle Abner's enthusiastic narration, but there was something strange about a few of his pictures, especially the ones where he made himself the focal point. I couldn't put my finger on what bothered me, maybe it was the odd way they were staged, but I didn't let it ruin his presentation.

As soon as we finished, he wanted me to show him his itinerary for Thailand again. I could see he was a different man. No longer was some unknown force pushing him unwillingly toward a sad and bleak destination. Now, it was attracting him.  

***

Three weeks later, he went to Bangkok, Thailand. Four weeks after that, he went on a safari in Africa, taking in Kenya’s major game reserves and a traditional dance performed by Masai warriors. His final trip saw him trekking north to follow the trail of the Iditarod sled dog race to Nome, Alaska.

After each expedition, he would bring his memory card and share his exploits with me. There was wonderment in his face that no photo could adequately communicate. His eyes danced, and the expressive way in which he used his hands to illustrate his adventures mesmerized me.

And with each batch of photos, I continued to notice the same peculiar framing sprinkled in amongst the others, but ignored it.

The last time I met with Abner, I showed him the slide show I had made of his trips. I stood behind him as he watched and bit my nails as the images floated across the screen. In one, the trees seemed to flatten against the sky on the wide-open African plains. Another captured the vivid orange robes of the Buddhist monks against the murky Chao Phraya River in Thailand. My favorite was a shot of Abner and some fellow travelers taking a dip in a natural Antarctic hot spring, with penguins observing their antics in the background.

Abner didn’t say a word through the entire twenty-eight minutes it took to get through the compilation. When it was over, he just sat there, unmoving.

I didn’t know what to say or do. Was the show not what he’d expected? Had I used the wrong photos or chosen the wrong music?

Finally, he rose from his seat so slowly that all his energy seemed drained from him. He walked over and hugged me, giving me such a lingering embrace that at one point I thought I might actually be keeping him upright.

“Thank you so much, Mrs. Hamilton,” he said. “You’ll never know how much this means to me.” It was a wonderful compliment that left me totally confused.

As he was leaving with his DVD, I tried to lighten his somber mood. “When are you planning to take your next trip? I have some ideas for you when you’re ready.”

He looked at me and smiled, his eyes twinkling more brightly than ever. “I need to take one more trip, but I’m not sure if you can help me with this one. I’ll keep you in mind, though.” He smiled and was gone.

***

One morning about a month later, I answered the door to find a young man in a dark gray three-piece suit standing on my doorstep. He was holding a manila envelope in his hand.

“Mrs. Hamilton?”

“That’s me.”

“My name is Charles Fuller, and I’m an attorney with Goldsmith and Winkle. Abner Bosworth was a client of ours. He requested we deliver this envelope to you after his passing.”

“His passing? Abner’s dead?”  My arms suddenly felt ten-times heavier, and my shoulders drooped.

“Yes, ma’am, he died two days ago.” Mr. Fuller held out the manila envelope. As I took it, he started to walk away, calling over his shoulder, “Everything inside is self-explanatory.”

Moving in slow-motion, I opened the envelope and removed a single letter. I read it slowly, most of it through tears that wouldn't stop flowing until I was long finished.

***

For the next few days, I walked around in a funk. I had only known Abner for a short time, but his death had shaken me to the core. His strange behavior when we first met, the hospital ID when he called, the destinations written on the back of a prescription form, it all made sense now.

My mood improved when I walked in the front door of Abner’s church and came face to face with a large LCD screen displaying my slideshow of his travels. I stood in the alcove and watched the photographs parade across the screen, remembering the stories Abner had told me behind each one. After reading Abner’s letter the peculiar framing and staging that had bothered me before now made perfect sense, and I smiled through my tears as I realized what he had been doing.

After a while, I sat down in a pew near the back of the sanctuary. A simple closed casket rested in front of the altar. I was a little saddened but not surprised by how empty the room seemed. Those who attended the funeral were elderly except for one man seated in the back like me. He was in his early forties with curly blond hair, dressed in a blue suit jacket with a tan polo shirt underneath. He seemed vaguely familiar to me.

Unexpectedly, the man rose from his seat and approached me. “Excuse me, aren’t you Kim Hamilton?” he asked.

“Yes, I am. I’m sorry, do we know each other?”

The man smiled and lowered himself into the seat beside me. His smile was friendly, and there was a small gap between his front teeth. The sparkle in his hazel eyes captured my attention and wouldn’t let go.

“I’m Rob Tanner,” he said. “We go to the same church. I just joined a few months ago.”

“Oh, yes. I’m sorry I didn’t recognize you. I’m a little out of sorts today.”

“I can understand,” he said. “How did you know Abner?” He spoke softly, but I heard every word.

“He was a friend. How ’bout you?”

“He sold me the land I’m building my house on. He was an extraordinary person.”

I nodded and looked down at my hands clasped on my lap, returning to my own thoughts.

After a while, I raised my eyes, staring for a moment at Abner’s casket before breaking the silence. “Can I ask you a question, Rob?”

His endearing smile returned. “Certainly.”

“How do you feel about traveling?”

Before he could answer the Chaplin stepped to the podium and began addressing the gathering.

"Welcome one and all. It's such a glorious day to today to celebrate the life of and say our last goodbyes to our good friend Abner Bosworth. Before we begin, I want to take a moment to read to you a letter given to one of Abner's acquaintances. It's a letter he wrote just ahead of his passing, and I asked her if I could read it for you today because I believe it illustrates a side of Abner few of us witnessed.”

 

Dear Mrs. Hamilton,

Please forgive me for the letter. Though I’m not much of a writer, I've always found it easier to express my emotions in the written word.  I just hope I can do my thoughts justice.

By now, you know that I have taken my final journey, although I suspect not the kind you would have thought. What you don’t know is how much you had to do with my destination.

My wife, Belle, and I tied the knot forty-six glorious years ago. We were happy together and never needed children or the company of others to enrich our lives. Both of us were content with our simple lives, but Belle had this one wish. It was a wish that never came true. She always wanted to travel and see the world. I’d been away from home once, and that was enough for me. After doing my duty for our country by serving in Korea, I never wanted to leave home again. The world just never seemed to hold that sense of wonderment for me after that, but I kept promising Belle that someday we would take the trips she secretly planned for us both.

On her deathbed, she told me she regretted not being able to see more of the world, but she still hoped I would venture away from home to see the wonders she had missed and that I would hold on to those memories to describe to her when I joined her in heaven. Through my tears, I promised her I would do as she wished and make it all up to her.

But still, I resisted and put it off, promising myself next year I would make good on my vow—until my doctor told me about the brain tumor. When he said I had six months to a year to live, all I could think about was my promise to Belle. I couldn’t let her down again, which led to me contacting you.

There was a world globe in the doctor’s waiting room, and that’s how I picked my destinations. I called you from the doctor's office that day to make our appointment and then drove to the library to get more details about the locations. I didn’t want to sound like an idiot when I talked to you.

I was too ashamed to tell you the reason for my trips, that my selfishness had kept Belle from living her dreams. I can’t tell you how many times I almost backed out of that first one. Without your help and gentle encouragement, I’m not sure if I could have forced myself to go. But once I did, I learned how much of a fool I had been all those years.

My dear Belle opened my eyes by teaching me some things in this life need doing. Not to do them is to waste our lives. I didn’t want to leave my home because I didn't feel the world held anything else for me. Boy, was I wrong. Everyone who has the opportunity should experience the sights, sounds, and different cultures of the world. To do anything less would be like a perfectly healthy man living his life in a wheelchair.

Kim, I see you in the same boat as I was, but on a different lake. By not looking for companionship, you deny yourself happiness. You’re such a kind and warm person. Don’t do what I almost did and miss out. Sometimes being content isn’t the best thing.

The beautiful video you made for me will play at my funeral, which I hope you will attend. Belle was with me the entire time, experiencing it with me. I’ll take those same images with me when I meet my beloved. Thanks to you, I have the memories she waited so patiently for.

Without knowing it, you helped fill in the final spot on my itinerary.

 

Thank you and goodbye,

Abner T. Bosworth

 

P.S. I’m not sure if I can send you pictures this time, but if I’m allowed, look for them in your dreams.


© Copyright 2019 DL Hammons. All rights reserved.

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