Lost and Found
By the sixth leg of the game, we have accumulated the following objects: a ski pole, a bishop from a crystal chess set, a sheet of rice paper, a trilobite fossil, an aviator's helmet, and a live parrot. Our backpacks are overflowing. I drop the chess piece into a sock to keep it from bumping against anything and chipping. I fold the rice paper into a guidebook. The helmet I put on my head. I hand the ski pole to Cassie. "Ready?" I ask, picking up the parrot's cage.
"Like I have a choice," she says. Our cameraman, Brendan, grins. I know he thinks Cassie makes for great footage. "Okay, then," I say. "We're off."
We leave our hotel room and walk down the hall, Brendan walking backward so he can film us; our sound guy trails behind. In the elevator, the parrot squawks.
"We should give this guy a name," I say to Cassie, holding up the cage.
"How about Drumstick?" Brendan smiles behind his camera. He's loving this.
"How about Milton?" I try. "He looks kind of like a Milton, don't you think?"
"Fine, Mom," Cassie says, staring up at the lighted numbers. "Whatever."
The doors open onto the lobby, and we step out. There are only seven teams left, and the other six are already here. I pretty much hate them all by this point. Wendy and Jillian, the middle-aged flight attendants from Milwaukee, are sitting on a sofa, feeding little bits of bread to their parrot, while Carl and Jeff, the funny brothers from Boston, sit next to them, poring over a guidebook. Justin and Abby, whom a few people have dubbed Team Brimstone (or, occasionally, Team Shut-Up-Already) because they won't stop talking about how the power of the Lord rescued them from homosexuality and delivered them into the loving grace of Christian marriage, are praying. Juliet and Dallas, the former child stars, who are standing (not coincidentally, I think) next to a large mirror, are staring at them with naked malice. Riley and Trent, the young millionaire inventors (they're wild cards - brilliant, but not so good with the everyday stuff, and everyone wonders what they're doing here anyway, since they don't need the money), smile at Cassie as we walk past, but she turns away from them and goes to sit next to Wendy. Wendy says something to her, and Cassie actually smiles and reaches out to touch the feathers on their parrot's head.
The only seat left is next to Betsy and Jason, the former high school sweethearts who have recently been reunited after twenty years apart. They seem to be having a fight; they're sitting beside each other, but his arms are crossed, and their commitment to not looking at each other is very strong. I sit down next to Betsy, balancing Milton's cage on my lap.
"Morning," Betsy says, turning her whole body away from Jason. "Did your parrot keep you guys up all night, too?"
"No, we just put a towel over his cage and he went right to sleep." "Lucky," she says. "We tried that, but it didn't work. Ours was freaking out all night. I think we got a defective one."
"A defective parrot. I wonder if there's any provision for that in the rules."
"Yeah, maybe they'll let us trade it in. Otherwise, I'm gonna put it in Barbara's room tonight."
There are two camerapeople filming this conversation. One of the producers, Eli, steps to the middle of the room and claps his hands. "Quiet, everyone," he says. "Here comes Barbara." The front door opens and the host of the show, Barbara Fox, walks in with an entourage of makeup artists and even more camerapeople. She's small and rigid with short blond hair and a frosty smile. She's one of the most unnatural people I've ever met. I don't know how she got a job on TV. We're not allowed to approach her. "Good morning, everybody," she says, turning her glassy smile to each of us in turn.
"Good morning," we say like schoolchildren, except less in unison. Her crew sets her up in front of a large mural of the Sphinx. Filming begins. "I'm Barbara Fox," she says, "and I'm standing in a hotel in Aswan, the southernmost city in Egypt, with the seven remaining teams in a scavenger hunt that will cover all the corners of the earth. Ladies and gentlemen, this . . ." - dramatic pause here, and a strange little roll of her head - "is Lost and Found."
Copyright © 2006 by Carolyn Parkhurst. All rights reserved. Reproduced with permission of the publisher.
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