1 - At A Crossroads
At A Crossroads
When a car breaks down, it’s already frustrating. When time is running out, it becomes even more so. But when the vehicle stops running just a few meters before reaching its destination, it’s not just anger, it’s pure rage. And the peak of annoyance arrives when you need to reach the summit of a mountain in hopes of starting the descent despite the motor malfunction. The climax, or rather, the fulmination, is then reached, or not. Stuck on a steep hill. Neutral. Handbrake. Expletives!
Unbuckling the seatbelt, slamming the door violently, I unlock the hood and almost burn my hands trying to lift it. The smoke emanating from it is thick and nauseating. My nose, my eyes, and any hope of being on time for my appointment are stolen by these opaque clouds. The morning sun begins to break through the clouds increasingly. Back inside of the car, I clean my hands, soiled with grease, with the wipes I found in the glove compartment. The day promises to be hot. Overheating seems to be in fashion. I’m wary of trends. I make my way to the trunk, sit on its edge, and then pull out a sun hat to put on immediately. I take a bite of an apple I found in my suitcase. Back to calm, by force of circumstances, I contemplate the different options available to me to get out of this mess as quickly as possible.
My cell phone shows no signal. Calling my insurance, a tow truck, a taxi, a friend, a family member, a horse, or getting a damn pair of roller skates delivered is out of the question. Deep breath. Relaxation. I could still walk the few hundred meters that separate me from the top of this hill in the hope of getting even a hint of a phone signal. The uphill slope is steep, and my stomach is tense. I’m starting my twenty-seventh week of pregnancy. I’m not made of foam or cardboard, pregnancy is not a disease or a handicap, but I admit it: I’m feeling lazy, my feet are already blistered from my sandals, I’m bloated from water retention in my long, beautiful maternity dress, and my hemorrhoids are bothering me just thinking about the effort that awaits me. I won’t have any other choice, though. I could always wait for a car to pass by and help me in some way. But, as I’ve already said, time is running out, I have an appointment. Waiting is not an option. I exchange my sandals for the pair of sneakers I have in my belongings. That’s one less obstacle. I lock my car with the key after placing a visible piece of paper on the dashboard with the words “broken down.” The bottom of my long dress suddenly tears, caught in the car door. I don’t care. One foot in front of the other, handbag slung over my shoulder, I pull my only piece of luggage on wheels and begin the ascent with my extra pounds. Let’s go, baby!
Spread out on the road, hands on my belly, I scorch. There is no shade left. The presence of the foliage of a few trees by the roadside, like silent spectators behind their safety barriers, is no longer enough to shield me from sunrays, which is now high in the sky. No car has passed by. Neither in one direction nor the other. It seems that encounters, especially at the summit, are so rare that they become illusory. With a sideways gesture, I painfully get up. I admire the boundless, powerful landscape. I go to retrieve my suitcase and handbag left on the side of the road. Where, at first glance, the carcass of an old rusty bike didn’t catch my eye. Every creature in the world, even mechanical ones, dies alone, it seems. And if the sky were to suddenly open up, there would be no more laws, no more rules, there would only be me and my memories, the choices I’ve made, and the people I’ve touched. If the world were to end, there would only be you and me, and no one else. Just us, and downhill from this steep road, a tunnel. Ideal for finding some shade. I toss my apple core into the distance. Silence. After a short but intense brisk walk to the entrance of the tunnel, where I enjoy the cool breeze and darkness it offers to refresh myself, I think I hear the rumble of an engine, see headlights. I wait, euphoric. Everything disappears immediately. The rumble I heard was just a trick played on my hearing by the breeze and the light of life-saving lamps, a gleaming mirage making fun of my sight. It was, in fact, just the reflection offered by the exit of the building towards which I, determined, advanced. I have less and less choice; my phone is out of battery. If help doesn’t come to me, I’ll go to it, wherever it is. Whoever it is. For you. For me. For us and our appointment. And I couldn’t have said it better!
Emerging from that refreshing tunnel and descending from that steep hill with its sharp curves, I frantically juggle from one step to the next to hold back an urgent need to urinate. It’s not your fault, the efforts you’ve made force me to press against my bladder for a while. Really! I briefly enter the fields and other crops I’ve crossed, just for a moment, to relieve myself and scare away a stray dog with black and white fur, whose speed prevents me from identifying its breed, but whose unexpected appearance scares me definitively. It’s simple: if I weren’t already peeing, I would have ended up doing it directly in my pants! I reach a crossroads where a man is sitting on a huge trunk in the center, a guitar case leaning against it. Finally, a human being! A worn boater hat, tilted to the side, partially hides his face. The visible part is friendly. He wears a sweat-stained cotton shirt, and a pair of suspenders holds up his too-short, dusty velvet pants. No socks in his worn-out shoes. A hand-rolled cigarette at the corner of his lips, he waves a hand invitingly for a conversation. I approach quickly and greet him in turn, immediately explaining the predicament I’m in. He listens, smokes his cigarette, nods. He explains that he has neither a phone nor a car and that the nearest town is more than twenty miles away from here. However, he assures me that by following this road, which he indicates with one of his long, slender fingers, I can reach a farm less than a mile from here. The owner should be able to help me. Straight ahead, there’s no other route, anyway. He apologizes for not being able to escort me. Like me, he’s also waiting for someone. Under the scorching sun, he suddenly removes his hat to say goodbye. I then see a face split into two distinct and contradictory expressions. His hidden face appears tortured by a madness laboriously contained. I leave the intersection, not forgetting to thank him. A name is embroidered on the case of his instrument: Robert Johnson.