For the past several centuries, I have become lackadaisical about maintaining my cover. Once it became clear that I had to move to a new place every few decades anyway, I stopped putting in the effort to produce convincing backstories, with appropriate support documentation. It was enough to move when friends became too aware that my skin wasn’t wrinkling like theirs.
It was easy to produce forged passports and use them to obtain additional documentation, since my face doesn’t change. If questioned about where I had been educated or last worked, it was simple, since I’m never looking for a ‘career’ position. If someone becomes too interested, I just pack up and move again. I’ve always been able to find a new place, and have lived in a few several times, curious about what has changed there in a few hundred years.
I should have expected that societies would eventually develop electronic data bases; and that instant communication would curtail my simple strategies; that it would become harder to fly beneath the radar. Recently I have had to resort to the life of a smuggler.
Then today something happened that I had managed to avoid until now. I recognized the face of a man who was staying in the local hotel in Soglio, a village in the Swiss Alps at the end of a road that winds up the steep edge of the Engadin Valley. Only now that he is watching from the nearby bulkhead—to where I sit leaning against a railing on the ferry that left Brindisi, Italy, earlier this evening, for the overnight sailing to Patras, Greece–does it come back to me that his face reminds me of someone I knew a very long time ago in Egypt. That must just be a passing resemblance, but now I feel myself trembling on the edge of the unknown.
I staked out this place on deck as soon as we set sail, and intend to spend the night nursing a magnum of Chianti, watching the stars until I doze off to the rhythm of the ship engines vibrating beneath me.
Then, I am suddenly caught unawares by a recognition that my itinerant life is terribly lonely. Returning his gaze, I pull the bottle of Chianti out of my backpack and raise it in his direction. He stands up, walks across the deck, pulls over a nearby deckchair, sits down, and smiles.
“I thought you’d never ask,” he says
I uncork the bottle, fill two glasses and after we toast, I say, “So, what brought you to Soglio, that little known treasure on the Swiss/Italian border?”
“Aren’t you really wondering why I’m following you across time and space?”
I feel a bit stunned by his words and take a measured sip of my Chianti. When I look up, he is looking at me thoughtfully. He continues, “Perhaps you’re also wondering whether I’m just a paparazzi curious about why you don’t age like everyone else . . . or something else . . .”
After several minutes, I manage, “Or . . .”
“Or whether I know something about why you are as you are.”
This had not even occurred to me. After all, how could this stranger know something that I myself don’t know about my unending life? Does he know that I was on Earth when the pyramids were built at Giza, that I was one of the slaves who watched in amazement when one of the overlords pointed a hand-held device at a cliff wall and carved out immense blocks of stone, lifting them onto a hovering platform?
He seemed to be reading my mind when he said, “That’s your earliest memory, isn’t it?”
I simply nod. When he doesn’t say anything more, I ask “Have you been following me for a long time?”
He shakes his head. “I’ve only been watching you for the past few months.”
My mouth is dry and my voice cracks. I’m not sure if I’m afraid at being discovered or relieved at being recognized. “What did you notice about me in just a few months?”
“When you were a Jeopardy champion you seemed to know so much that I wondered if the show was rigged. But when you finally lost on a final Jeopardy question about Ancient Egypt, I knew. I’m sure you remember that question and your answer. I must have been the only one watching who realized that your answer was that of someone who had seen the Sphinx being carved with your own eyes, not someone who has been fed false information about the age, and degree of scientific knowledge, developed in Ancient Egypt. I knew then that you are someone who can’t pretend, even for a quiz show, that our modern culture is the pinnacle of life on Planet Earth.”