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The Hitchhiker

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Snow always brings it back to the front of his skull. That transparent winter noon, ages away. Snow wipes the dust off those memories and takes them off the shelf. Claude has never been too successful at keeping his mind tidy.

What comes first is that dying sun struggling with its rays through the clouds, spilling light over the playground and the boy’s boarding school. Saint-Julien school for boys [reformatory // correctional center]. The building was reaching back toward the sun. Its neo-romanesque walls thick and stern, seemingly providing safety. Standing dark red, red and dark victoriously over the melting white snow, the school looked proud and reserved like a professor would look at Claude over the rostrum or a preacher over the pulpit. You’d feel small and irrelevant staring up at it and the tiny windows placed along its whole length and height would merely wink at you with their curtains. You’d then turn your head with slightly flushed cheeks and ears and continue throwing your glances elsewhere.

And the playground, it was coated with the same shade of cold-day grimness. It was an achromatic painting of someone’s fading childhood. Colorful leaves hidden by soft layers of snow and mud. Colorful laughter quiet under the cries of the swings, the cries of the smaller kids, some cursing and then a sound glimpse of the traffic somewhere behind the protective Saint-Julian. Claude was listening to it all, observing his still fairly new situation and the faces still unknown to him. It was slightly unlike him to remain clam, on the bench by the side, slowly adjusting to the new home, having his favorite activity taken away from him. Along with his family or rather, the other way around; he’d had been taken here. What an overwhelming dissatisfaction, to have your wishes come true in the most distorted ways, felt like the world was mocking him. His expression was unreadable, blank, his fourteen year old mind bewildered. Nevertheless, his curiosity clung to him, always whispering into his ear, giggling.

Then a rougher voice flew into his ears. Someone spitting out: ”Fucking little dickhead." It wasn’t directed toward him, no. However, it was only meters away and he had to move his focus to see what’s happening. His eyes alert. Heartbeats feeling heavier in his chest.

Two figures at the current center of attention. Bigger and smaller, a persistent cliché of school fights. It wasn’t the world’s most difficult question to guess whose voice it had been. The bigger figure was a boy so obviously over Claude’s age. He had his fists clutched at the other boy’s shirt, dangerously close to his long, soft neck. As much as his face was cold, his eyes were shooting fire. The pair of bright, widened eyes, on the other hand, seemed frozen with fright, accompanied with the expression of crimson embarrassment and terror.

"Give me the money" the older one was practically growling through his teeth. Shaking his head in attempts to get his dark locks off his face, one of his hands sweeping away the smaller kid’s efforts to kick him wherever. ”You will lose your fingers, you little-"

Anticipation and cold air dancing withing Claude’s throat. He got up. Stopped when his feet made those few steps. Robotically.

When he opened his mouth, it felt as mechanical.

"Leave him alone" he yelled - he supposed, but his voice echoed in his ears moments later. It felt weak and unsure. What even lead him? To call it bravery or justice would be a joke. It was closer to stupidity and simply the need for a shoot of something old in a new way. He had eyes of other students aimed at him, perhaps of some professors, too. Will they shoot? He had his own eyes aimed at the burning set and his fist aimed at the cold, frowning face. (The small rat used the confusion as an opportunity to slip out).

He missed. Whatever. But soon they were both on the ground. All mud and snow, drops of red, a new emphasis on the fading childhood painting. A fine detail to fit the building’s dark red walls.

Claude’s first fight and crush tackled him down all at once. Punch to the flesh and the heart. François’ first hello.

Snow will melt soon.

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