"You know.. if your plan was to kill me now's the time to do it," I said. It had gotten late, and very dark. We were sitting in the car on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. "Not yet" said the hitchhiker, and laughed. We didn't know where we were and were making up our minds about whether to continue down the road we were on or whether to turn around.
It had been a long and boring drive along the south of France after the short-lived excitement of one of the tires of the truck in front of me exploding near Cannes. I had spent a great part of that stretch regretting having hesitated until it was too late when I spotted the young man with the backpack at the rest-stop, and had remained stuck with only myself again. So when I then noticed an attractive young woman the next time I stopped for gas who was obviously looking for a ride it was with what might have appeared as a disconcerting degree of zeal that I rushed back to the car, but my heart was set on being the first to offer to take her along.
However, just as I hastily pulled away from the nozzle I had to immediately slam my breaks again because it just so happened that the same young man I had seen at the previous rest-stop was standing right in front of me. He appeared to recognize me and gave me a big ol' smile.
Even in the heat of the moment it was clear to me that the sudden sinking feeling I had at the prospect of taking him along instead of the young woman was too inappropriate to give even the slightest hint of, so I channeled all of the mad energy I had just pent up into making the smile I would return to him as benign as possible, and scrolled down my window.
"Hi, didn't I see you earlier?", he asked. "Yeah, sorry. I hesitated and then it was too late. Where are you going?" "West." Well, great. "Well, hop in." So he did and off we went. The young woman disappeared in the rear-view mirror.
My unwarranted disappointment quickly dissipated in the course of the ensuing conversation. He had hitchhiked here all the way from Istanbul in a week, which I considered an impressive feat, and he looked to be in about as good health as anyone could possibly hope to be (he was practically glowing).
Sitting next to this adventurer, I became acutely aware of what a pasty, ghostly, bony state I had descended into in the months prior and what a different life I might have led, had things been different. He had an array of day-laborer jobs at his disposal during the winter that financed his travels from spring until autumn, which was the way he had been living for 4 years, and if he had been getting tired of this arrangement he certainly showed no sign of it.
He sympathized with my story and after he finished explaining to me what his final destination was he articulated a thought that had come to me in that very moment as well: "You know, I think you would really like it there. You should come too".
It was a bit of a detour for me to go to Toulouse but given that there was no reason to hurry to a Madrid in which I was not expected, it seemed like a worthwhile one to me. I wasn't sure what I was looking for anyway. Mostly, I just had to get out of the mindset I had been wallowing in, and the thought of joining a big group of people occupying a large marshy field in protest against ... something* *my French vocabulary wasn't exactly primed to politics seemed to be a reasonable enough means to getting that done. Especially if, as he assured me was the case, the event was only attended by cool people.
I can't begin to describe how small my world had gotten, and what an overwhelming relief it was to be made the promise of there being something other than what clearly wasn't enough.
Where we were headed wasn't in Toulouse exactly, it was in the countryside in the north of the city. "I know where to exit the motorway but I don't know where to go after that," he said. At some point he lost the signal on his phone and had trouble placing us on the map. So we pulled off of the highway when he told me to and we just went on going straight for a while. I didn't mind.
We were listening to a Bob Dylan compilation CD, and as far as I was concerned we had no indication that we were going the right way. Regardless, we had to hurry to get into a shopping center that was just off the main road to buy some supplies for the night at this fabled occupied field because they were just about closing. By the time we were off the parking lot, on the road again, and came to the first round-about after the shop, it must have been pretty dark already. This all happened in October, after all.
"Take me disappearing through the smoke rings of my mind, down the foggy ruins of time, far past the frozen leaves, the haunted, frightened trees, out to the windy beach, far from the twisted reach of crazy sorrow," said Bob Dylan.
The thing about this round-about was that the sign illustrating its exits had some half-hearted (to say the least) graffiti on it, done with black spray paint. In fact, the paint obscured one of the exits on the sign. "Take that one", said the hitchhiker.
- "Do you", I hesitated, "think the graffiti is a sign for us.. ?"
- "I don't know"
- "Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free, silhouetted by the sea, circled by the circus sands, with all memory and fate driven deep beneath the waves, let me forget about today until tomorrow."
We got to the second round-about, same thing: black spray paint on an exit. We took it, and afterwards we must have had 4 more round-abouts like that before there were no more left that seemed to be coming up. He thought he saw something, pointed it out to me, I missed it, and so at the next opportunity, we stopped.
"You know.. if your plan was to kill me now's the time to do it," I said and immediately regretted saying it. Not because he then killed me - he didn't (he was called Jérôme by the way) - but because as soon as I articulated it, it became hard to remember the reason I must have had to be so certain that he wasn't going to kill me, which ultimately had an effect on my mood. "No, I won't kill you. ... Not yet." I still kind of appreciated his response though.
We were surrounded by woods.
"Ok, I say we turn around and have a look at what that thing was." So I turned the car around, and maybe 500 meters back we got a better look at what we had missed: two tall lit lanterns standing just off the side of the street, marking the beginning of a barely maintained dirt road. "Yes. That must be it," said Jérôme. We pulled off the street.