A Puritan of Hitchhiking

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Smoke, drawn hungrily and then slowly released into atmosphere, fills the field of vision like a thick little cloud. The tip of a half finished cigarette, slowly being engulfed by smoke, comes into focus, like a small, fiery mountain. With lazy pleasure, the smoker listens to it’s crackling and then, with no hurry, lets his gaze lose focus and allow background of vision to emerge. Cigarette is erect between his fingers, while the scenery unfolds all around it: naked cliffs, grim under the clouded sky, and the road meandering steeply through them towards the highway, all down to a small roadside ledge on which he stands. It is a winter afternoon, the south wind is not particularly strong, but it’s there. One more smoke drawn and the gaze in other direction paint for his eyes an image of what he already feels in his bones: the sea stretching deep beneath him is lead grey and lazily restless, full of that heaviness which only south wind can burden it with. In this slow turning of his gaze, therefore, he is presented to the Holy Trinity of Dalmatia in the winter: the sea burdened by south wind, naked stone and grey asphalt. He sighs and slowly sits himself on a low wall dividing the road and steep precipice, crosses his legs and, again, raises the cigarette before his eyes. One should not think that sigh and certain heaviness of posture are being expressions of melancholy. He is only a little tired. South wind weighs heavily on everybody but for years now it doesn’t depress him anymore, nor does the uniform greyness, filling his vision and accurately drawing the picture of what his bones and nerves unmistakably feel. He is simply tired after two hours of futile hitchhiking. All hitchhikers, when down on their luck, after some time start doing strange things. He chose to stare at the cigarette tip. And he doesn’t care whether the drivers storming down the highway would pay any attention to the man sitting at the edge of the precipice, contemplating the world over cigarette tip. He should be so lucky. The drivers going down the highway won’t pick him up anyway. He is relying on those stumbling down the back road emerging from the cliffs, from whence he came himself. They have to pause at the crossroads, look to the left and right, and then they have time to spot him and think about picking him up.

Looks like a seasoned hitchhiker, this Man-that-stares-at-cigarette-tip. Maybe he is some kind of Balkans Indian reading the future from the burning cigarette tip? Man-that-stares-at-cigarette-tip, that sounds like proper Indian name. But no, it’s not about that. If Western movies are to be relied upon, the Indians stared at bonfires. And the things they saw where not meant for white-skins to discern, while this Hitcher is pale above average. No, his hitchhiking wisdom originates from years of experience, from the years, one should add, far behind him now. He hasn’t hitchhiked for almost a decade now. But, as is the case with all true wisdom, the art of hitchhiking didn’t fade away during this long pause. He honed his craft in the days when young people still didn’t consider having a car as something self evident, and when most of them didn’t even consider it desirable. The car was something for adults, hitchhiking was something for non-adults. This always seemed to him as a just hierarchy. Now, looking back, he started to realize it’s educational aspects. Hitchhiking develops patience and flexibility; patience, namely, because it is no rare occurrence to spend the night by the road, and flexibility because drivers almost never pick you up out of the goodness of their hearts, but because of the need for conversation. And those conversations are so varied, and so shallow, that hitcher is obliged to change few worldviews, one or two dialects, and sometimes even devise an alternative identity for himself. The driver is always right, that’s the unwritten rule of the puritans of hitchhiking, and puritan this Hitcher was from his early youth. Whole of his adolescence he spent hitchhiking between the cities in 150 miles radius, always looking for the place where he could feel better than where he was at the given moment. Needles to say, everywhere he felt the same, but immature man doesn’t give much thought to justifying his motives, so this fact never prevented him from buzzing to and fro, running from himself. No one should forbid this to a young man. They all catch up eventually, anyway.

So appropriate that this Hitcher contemplates his early youth, because that’s precisely where he’s heading. The reason why he is brooding on the windswept ledge over the sea for two hours is that he is on the way to town where he grew up. He made this decision quickly, seemingly with no reason. For one should not think that account for every decision he makes can be promptly given, especially to oneself. Who could do something like that? Especially if the reason is vague or perhaps even inexistent. Such things never bothered the Hitcher, as he was always tolerant about his own disorientation. He felt it as some small, mildly annoying, alien object, the pebble in a shoe he doesn’t bother to take off. He let it push him to wander around and, strangely enough, it always did bring him somewhere. Some dark corner suddenly became illuminated, while the other fell in the dark. If pressed to spell out a particular reason this guy in his mid-thirties hitchhikes down the Adriatic speedway on a murky winter afternoon, let’s say he got a call from an old friend. However, that was almost a year ago. Only yesterday he remembered the indefinite: “When you’re coming over bro?” and discarded his year old reply: “I’m short on dough, man … I really would like to come, but …” So nobody expects him at his destination. And he has no particular need to meet anyone anyway. He will have to find the place to stay though, because there’s no way he could go back the same day. He knew from experience what a bad hike the highway is and he is not a kid anymore; he’s not inclined to catch the only bus available and spend his sparse money supply on bus ticket. He was even less inclined to discuss weather, sports or politics with bored police patrolmen he’ll surely encounter if the night catches him on the road. Yet there was something else. Time changed everything so it changed hitchhiking too. When Hitcher was a kid and wartime dragged itself about, his most usual ride were black-clad HOS soldiers, most of them teenagers like him or little older, and they used to get pretty unpleasant if hitcher would tell them something they don’t want to hear. You could never be sure what that something was. He knew about cases when they threw the hitcher out of the vehicle at speed because he said something annoying. But, strangely enough, he never heard that anybody really got seriously hurt. And what was his experience? More than once he held someone’s Kalasnikov on his lap, sitting squeezed between two bulky soldiers, while the driver devoured the curves at high speed, and the guy riding shotgun would talk about combat they experienced before their two-weeks vacation, or about some fuss they had with local civilians. They would question him about local brothels and quickly figured out that he is just passing through, and they would invite him to join them on their drinking, whoring and bar demolishing trip so he would devise excuses how to decline without offending them, etc., etc. However, not once did anything really dangerous happen. All that crazy speeding, cars full of weapons, the men inseminated with the chrysalis of PTSD waiting to hatch and devour them in just few years ahead, all of them in fact trying to exorcise the weeks of dirt, fear and violence out of their souls presented no danger to him, excited no fear. Perhaps it was the blind courage of youth, it’s immortality of a sort that cannot conceive anything threatening to itself? No, it wasn’t that. The facts spoke against it. No hitcher was afraid then, those were not the years of fear. And there really was no big danger. He knew that, because he knew himself. Namely, he wasn’t particularly scared even now. But he knew he was in danger because the others were endangered by him. He knew he could take a human life if he wanted to. That possibility to break the “Thy shall not kill!” commandment was a legacy of the new age in which he was living out last days of his youth. Namely, he was a member of the social group we sometimes call “normal people”. Their chief weakness is stupid conviction that they are the only, or at least the largest, breed of humans in this world. It was caused by the fact that until fairly recently in history the media, books, movies, cathedras and other mediators of human thought spoke in their tongue so they grew up in false belief that it is the only tongue there is. Most of them still believe it, but Hitcher knew better. They are a tiny minority of human race and they popped up to the surface partly by accident and partly because their voice tended to be articulated and to pose norms. Thence, “normal”. But there are other voices. No doubt about that.

The thought stretched his lips in crooked half-smile and he flipped the cigarette into the wind. He followed it’s jerky flight and didn’t move to avoid it circling back right in his face. He laughed loudly. He wanted to howl with the wind. He wanted to flip the normality out in the wind too. But, no. The wolves bred like rabbits in last few years, let them howl. He cast a glance towards the crossroads. A car was coming down the speedway, but there was no one on the back road. He turned his gaze down the highway, towards his destination, while car stormed into focus. He followed it’s run down the curvy road towards horizon hidden from view by mountain. He really has to go back to where he began. He got lost. They say, when you get lost, go back to where you came from. Accordingly, he’ll do a little “erase and rewind” act. He’ll go to his small town, smell the familiar odour of sea and sewage and visit all the familiar places, earthly anchors of his memories he knew where still the same as he left them. Nothing ever changes in such small Croatian towns, which is real horror for adolescent, but for a mature man really a little blessing. Not that he needed the places, smells or vistas to rewind. But they were joy. They disclosed the abyssal beauty of life, any life. They justified everything. He loved those fragments of the world, small and unseemly, even repulsive, far more than virgin beauty of nature or majesty of monuments. He loved that little town too. He wasn’t born there and it inflicted much pain on his early youth, kept him imprisoned by it’s heavy inertia. That little Dalmatian habitat with shallow roots and no traditions to speak of, carried with it something of that freedom possessed only by things people neglect. Nobody had anything to brag about there, no history, no great family names. Nobody in his right mind would go and live there, if he wouldn’t have to. That’s what he liked about it. And that’s why he eagerly hit the road.

The car stormed out of sight, then another and still another. He didn’t bother putting out his thumb, he knew they won’t stop. Highway forced their speed. It was never a good hike, even at the peak of tourist season. Add to it that nowadays people began to ask themselves is it prudent to give a ride to stranger, and for hitcher this road becomes only good as a place to admire the view from.

Gleams of setting sun pierced the clouds here and there and their wide beams eased the grey heaviness of sea. Glance to the south, down the highway, swayed Hitcher in dreamy, melancholic mood. Maybe he should go back. Memories won’t go anywhere, if he applies just a little concentration he’ll be swimming in them in no time, where ever he was. But he was half way there and it was meaningless to go back. Few cars were rolling down the back road so he flashed his thumb. As the first car reached him, he tried to look the driver right in the eyes, although it was obvious that he pays him no attention. In his mind he chanted …

…. there’s a killer … on … the …road….

… he withdrew his thumb when he saw that next car was transporting the whole family. Children’s faces peeked over the parent’s shoulders and he, his mind filling with inner laughter, gave them a crooked stare …

.. let your children play …

… his gaze followed the passing car and, noticing children’s frightened look, he flashed his teeth at them. He laughed loudly as the car stormed into the distance. God, how come some people think that hitchhiking is boring?! They’re really no fun …

…if you give this man a ride … sweet family will die …
…killer on the road …. heeeeyyyy…..

Quickly, he moved aside and turned around as he felt the other car stopping behind him. It moved forward a bit and finally stopped, with the motor still running. Hitcher ran towards it and opened the door, stuck his head in and said,

‘Hi.’
‘Get in.’, was the laconic answer.

The Hitcher quickly folded himself in the seat and, as driver kicked in the first gear, strapped the belt and, with makeshift smile, gave his benefactor a look. Man was in the late thirties with curly hair and – as Hitcher noticed when driver transferred his gaze from the road to his eyes – solemn blue eyes for which you can’t be sure whether they display intelligence or emptiness. They were completely impenetrable. Intriguing, he thought to himself. Maybe he won’t be obliged to conversation, or it may even happen that interesting conversion will occur.

‘Where’re you heading?’, said the Driver while the car gained speed down the snake like curves of the old Dalmatian highway.
‘Down to Twin Peaks. You can drop me where it suits you.’
‘Twin Peaks? Why not. I’ll drop you in Twin Peaks.’
‘God is great!’
‘And I am good hearted.’
‘True, true … verily, you’ll get your reward.’’

The ride was fast, but not so fast to get Hitcher worried. The car devoured the road, sharp curves stuck between naked slopes and rocky precipices above the coast line. Man was a good driver. Namely, Hitcher didn’t give it a good look, but he noticed that the car was something of an old timer, an old Ford or something of that sort. He recalled such cars from the movies he watched as a kid, the square, robust tin cans from American road movies from the seventies, which hit the TV in his country only in early eighties. He knew how difficult it was to push such an old car so fast, while keeping the passengers comfortable. The driver stormed down the road as surely as he was casual, sunk deep into his seat, with a somewhat distant gaze, as if he was driving down some other road, some wide and straight highway. Hitcher was looking through window at the sea and little settlements on the coastline deep beneath them. The darkness was falling and greyness of sea and the barren rock deepened and sank slowly into the blackness. Grey on grey. Soon, when darkness closes it’s clutches, everything will gain weight, the loom and the atmosphere and the feeling of life. He rejoiced therefore the speed as if they were in flight from the thick dough of night which will soon meld the darkness of sky and the land of Dalmatia.

‘You are originally from Twin Peaks?’, asked the Driver, keeping his eyes on the road.
‘In a way. I lived there for ten years.’
‘That’s a middle of nowhere, a wolves fuck-o-drome. It must have been hard on you.’
‘Not really.’
‘What?’
‘Wolves fuck-o-drome. Those are settlements in the hinterlands. But it was hard, that much you’re right.’
‘So where’d you live now?’ He gave him a quick look.
‘In the hinterlands.’
Driver grinned, ‘I see I am in the presence of an expert. How then, with all due scrutiny, would you christen the Twin Peaks?’
‘The place where not even the wolves get laid.’

They both laughed. Hitcher felt he likes this Driver in a strange, somewhat uneasy way. This kind of laid back conversation can be conducted only by the people having something in common, and that something must be a rare thing, because they felt it immediately. However, he was not entirely pleasant company, this helpful Driver. Something in him signalled caution. The Hitcher found that fact peculiar. For whenever he stumbled upon somebody he felt close to, the caution would drop by itself. This time no such thing occurred. Perhaps it was because of those strangely empty eyes. It was not an emptiness of dimmed wit. It was a kind of ambivalence. They were bright and wide, completely opened, yet you couldn’t read anything from them. It was as if they mirrored what they see with no interest and as if the will behind them was completely alien and unknowable. Thence uneasiness, perhaps? There was something unpredictable about this man. When he said he’ll take him all the way, he didn’t mention where exactly is he going to. The Hitcher had an impression that he was heading somewhere else and in a moment decided to take him all the way down to Twin Peaks. Nobody is that helpful. Why would he do something like that?

‘You pick strange places to live in.’, the Driver continued the conversation.
‘I don’t pick them. I was born into one, the life threw me into other and then, after few similar places, unloaded me back where I came from.’
‘Man should not be where he doesn’t belong.’
‘How’d you know I don’t belong?’

The Driver said nothing. He probably knew he was right. Hitcher really didn’t belong. But some of those towns he loved, and he valued the wolves fuck-o-dromes and their discrete charms. After all, weren’t they the epitome of urbanity in the land which was in itself a backwoods? They fuse all it’s pros and cons. Laid back, desolate freedom and stupidity of poor and desolate. No need to make a long list. For every plus, there’s a minus, only some minuses are bigger than others, while all the pluses are equally small.

‘Fate … fate …’, murmured the Driver.
‘I didn’t mean fate.’
‘What’d I care what you meant?’
‘Well, when I said I had no choice. I didn’t mean …’
‘As I told you’, interrupted the Driver, ‘I really don’t consider what you think’. This verbal gesture, although humourless, was completely deprived of any violence.
‘Oh, fine. It’s for the better.’
‘The fate is expensive … as all good things in life … not everybody has one, doesn’t it?’
‘Yes. Not everybody has one.’
‘This thing, when life kicks you around, it’s not fate.’
‘I know it’s not.’
‘So why you let it kick you around?’
‘You said you don’t care what I think.’
‘Because we think the same about the same thing.’
They both laughed. After the short pause, with deep sigh, Hitcher answered,
‘I don’t give in easy, but life is stronger than me.’
‘That’s no excuse.’
‘I have no excuses. That was an answer.’
‘Oh, yes. True, that was an answer. But it could be a good excuse.’ the Driver concluded and gave Hitcher a solemn look.
‘Only it’s not.’
‘Should I believe you …’, murmured the Driver fixing his gaze on the road.
‘Not my problem.’
‘Oh, it could be.’

They were rolling in the first bigger town on their path. Hitcher knew that, when they pass it, there will be a long stretch of straight road. He smiled as the memory of a long gone night emerged slowly before his eyes, the night he spent in custody of local police. How beautiful it was now when it became a memory, that anxious night. He never felt so good while hitchhiking as when cops kicked him out at dawn to drag himself home. What would he give now just to be able to enjoy the early morning sun as he enjoyed it’s warm gleams over the mountains on that day. Now the town looked gloomy in the greyness of winter. They passed through the centre and continued towards the city limits.

‘Long time since I’ve been here.’
‘The town got pretty built up recently.’
‘Yes, so I see. The prosperity is so unevenly distributed in our parts. All other settlements look worse now. They eroded.’
‘Look at it from the bright side. You memories are growing old with you.’
‘I wouldn’t agree. They are in me.’
‘Yes they are. But they are also around you. However … I get it. It is dumb to pile things up, to get too tied up. Only, sometime it’s nice to see a familiar sight. And it does grow old.’
‘Yes, it’s nice.’, answered the Hitcher half immersed in thought, fully conscious that they are talking about the reason why he took this trip. He was not in the least surprised.
‘What’s your profession?’, asked the Driver.
‘Nothing anymore.’
‘Then once there was something. You were somebody.’
‘Yes I was. And it was important to me. It still is. But now I know, when you take things into perspective, I don’t have to be anything in particular in order to be.’
‘True. You don’t have to, that’s a valuable insight.’, said the Driver with a grin.
‘If we would translate the “profession”, I could say I’m a man who is going back. I mean, that’s what I’m into, anyway.’
‘The-man-who-is-going-back. Sounds good. It should be translated in some Indian tongue so it sounds like Titi-kaka or Waka-tanka.’
‘Waka-tanka would be fine. It means The-one-that-is-watching in some Latin American Indian dialect.’
‘Really?’
‘Really. An old, used up sailor and junkie from Twin Peaks told me that once. It’s the god of one of the tribes living close to lake Titi-kaka. They had excellent cocaine, so he used to hang out with them and learned something about their religion. You guessed the words of real language.’
‘You don’t say …’
‘On my mother.’
‘Oh, I believe you. You are no liar.’
‘But tell me, since we are so talkative all of a sudden …’
‘Spill it out.’
‘What’s with the Smith &Wesson?’

Hitcher recognized the type of bulky pistol, comfortably stuck between the gear and driver’s seat. In fact he noticed it the moment he got in the car and only now realized that he gave it absolutely no thought. Was he so submerged in his memories of the days when weapons were so common in every car that it didn’t unsettle him? But no, he was unsettled. That was the source of strange uneasiness mixed with sympathy he felt for the Driver. That’s it. That explains his strange eyes. However, he didn’t regret the question. The gun was there for him to see, therefore it will play it’s role in this drama, no matter what he chooses to say or not to say. He knew also, that he hasn’t made any wrong moves yet. Whatever the Drivers motives were, he was obviously interested in his story and that was encouraging. We’ll see. This could prove an interesting road trip. And it could very well be his last.
The Driver gave the gun a casual glance and said:

‘What do you think?’
‘Not my problem.’
The Driver laughed and Hitcher joined him.

They hit the straight road and Driver kicked in some speed. The night clutched together the darkness of sky and the sea. The lights were littered here and there indicating the line where island met the sea, and fishing boats ignoring the heavy south wind. Clouds were drawn but it didn’t seem like it will rain. Hitcher frowned. Good thing this guy is taking him all the way, because it would really be a drag to hike in the rain. How many nights like this he spent in Twin Peaks and how dark and hopeless they were. Well, come to think of it, it’s time to announce his arrival to somebody. He took out the cell phone from his pocket and started typing the message to a friend. The Driver paid him no heed. After some time, the Hitcher continued the conversation,

‘How I pity the kids of today …’
‘Why?’
‘They took from them something we had.’
‘They took a lot of things from them. What exactly do you mean?’
‘I am talking about time.’
‘Yes … that’s a mean theft. A sinister crime.’
‘I recalled something …’
‘So I see.’
‘… and I realized that even the ugly is beautiful.’
‘How you figured that one out?’
‘I waited long enough, the time did it’s thing.’
‘Oh, the good old reliable time … such a classical phenomena … for classical people.’
‘Way the things are going, they gonna criminalize it. Like they criminalized smoking in public places.’
‘I think that’s something above the human ability to screw things up.’
‘Wish you were right. But nothing can surprise me anymore.’
‘So I see. You are not one to be easily surprised.’
‘And you?’
‘Me? No, not in the least. But you are well advised to give it a try. It is in your best interest, after all.’
‘What are my chances?’
‘Wrong question.’
‘I know. Sorry.’
‘Wrong gesture.’
‘I wasn’t serious.’
The Driver gave him a short look. The Hitcher was lost in thought, eyes fixed to something in the darkness beyond the reach of car’s lights. There was no fear on his face.’
‘Obviously not.’, said the Driver and turned his eyes on the road.

They hit the curves again. There was no heavy traffic. Adriatic highway gets overwhelmed only in summer, but even then you can gain on reasonable speed. The small coastline settlements were well lighted, but there was not a soul to be seen. So typical for these parts, the Hitcher contemplated. Well lit desert. Settle the people in, implement electricity, carve the roads and pour out the asphalt, plant the billboards and still you changed nothing. Desert remains desert. Thank God. Hitcher always regretted he doesn’t live in some American backwoods where everything is empty and where straight roads stretch infinitely in all directions. He really loved such places he’s never been to. But – thanks be to Time, hallowed be It’s Name – just recently he realised what exactly is the thing that makes him so attracted to deserted, open spaces, and that such thing exists here, too. He wasn’t able to pinpoint it in words, because the thing defied definition, but he wasn’t particularly eager to petrify it in words, anyway. But if pushed, he would say that it is some kind of premonition, a kind of certainty. Every certainty mellows the sorrow of life and this one, as it seemed to him, dissolved it completely. It told him that all these things passing before his eyes will be there when he’s gone. When other pair of eyes will be looking for the trace of beauty in the heavy darkness of sky and sea, it will find it. And precisely the fact that it won’t be his eyes mellowed him and let him understand just what abundance of beauty is woven in the darkness, what abundance of life broke itself against these salty rocks and left part of itself to be slowly but surely drank by the sea. To demand a particular meaning in all that was really an insult. One should stick to the facts on occasion. And crucial fact of this heavy, hard world stuck between the sea and naked bones of the earth was that the end is always near.
Appropriate thought for a given moment. The end of his journey was near, only thirty kilometres far. And maybe it all ends earlier. He felt the cell phone vibrate inside his pocket, he took it out and read the friend’s message. Great, the accommodation was settled. That is, if it prove to be necessary, anyway.

‘I hate cell phones’
‘Please, spare me …’
‘Okay, okay … but it just struck me for a moment …’
‘What? Somebody’s been harassing you?’
‘No, this was a friend. But I am always irritated when I grab this thing. Every cell phone signal irritates me. I installed Sweet Home Alabama as a ringtone and ended up hating the song. I am really die hard enemy of mobile communications.’
‘One against the many.’
‘Yes, one against the many. Story of my life.’
‘Surrender.’
‘Did that a long time ago. I am telling you about it just for kick of it.’
‘Surrender … that changes things.’
‘True … true. Nobody can touch you then.’
‘And who exactly harassed you, and now he can’t?’
‘No one in particular and no one directly. And that is a problem today. You got the itch you can’t scratch. You don’t know what exactly itches.’
‘And you surrendered and found out?’
‘No. I surrendered and found out that I don’t know anything anymore. Well, not really nothing but I’m getting there.’
‘You are leaving, then?’
‘Yes I do. I’m leaving every day.’
‘Noble choice.’
‘A noble decline … a real humane decline. My private little untergang.’
‘Does it bear some message to those who remain behind?’
‘No. Perhaps it just leaves it behind, carved in the rock or tree trunk. You know, arrow pierced heart, some names, perhaps a date … nothing more. The frame remains, however. Who needs anything more than that?’
‘Nobody. The one who wants to know will understand. You made a good choice.’
‘You really think so?’
‘I know so.’
‘See how man can make some decision despite everything.’
‘Yes. Life can throw you to and fro, but something like that … it’s in your hands.’

They rode out on the dark, desolate portion of the road again. The pine trees looming over towards the road were crooked and twisted from eternal hits of fierce north wind. The Driver was speeding, unfettered by caution now they left human settlements. In the patch of car lights, the white line emerged from the darkness only to sink back into it. There was no one on the road before them. Hitcher threw a quick glance into rear mirror. Only the darkness stirred behind them. This could be the last moment. But Driver sped on. Hitcher gave him a quick glance. His eyes were fixed on the road and in their blueness, rendered into pale shade of grey by the darkness, there was absolutely nothing.

‘So many people pass through here, and yet the place is deserted.’, said the Driver.
‘Nobody bothers to stop.’
‘It’s not that. The place is always deserted only at the right moment. This moment, for instance.’
‘For what is this the right moment?’
‘To see where this road really leads.’
The darkness was impenetrable. Only the half circle of car lights gave some glimpse into the world outside the speeding car. As far as he was concerned, realized the Hitcher, they could’ve been anywhere. Or nowhere.
‘Oh, you mean that.’, he replied and lit the cigarette which was between his fingers for some time now. ‘You think you gonna scare me?’
‘I hope not.’
‘Don’t worry, you won’t. But, you know, I am not alone…’
‘What’d you mean, you are not alone?’
‘There are people depending on me. That’s only thing that worries me. So don’t think I’m scared when I am really only worried.’
‘Yes … yes. But maybe you should be alone … you being so prone to strange thoughts of the sort I like best. Because, you know, whoever thinks those thoughts, eventually hitches the ride with me.’, said the Driver looking straight into Hitcher’s eyes. Save for the light smile accompanying these words, his face was expressionless.
‘I wasn’t looking for you.’, said the Hitcher feeling his uneasiness growing into chill. But it was not real fear yet. Just chill.
‘Maybe I was looking for you. What difference does it make? You found me.’
‘And … what now?’
‘Nothing, we’re cruising.’

A darkness gave a small repose when beneath them the lights of settlements started to emerge again. They stormed silently through these deserted patches of light. The Hitcher was tense. He was not scared, only angry at himself and ashamed. ‘I wasn’t looking for you’, he said. And what was this trip into past but a search for the Driver with impenetrable blue eyes? He knew that Driver was not easily offended kind of guy, but he felt an urge to apologize. He knew, however, that Driver didn’t like excuses, much like himself. He hoped therefore that his silence speaks for itself. He wasn’t hoping to save his skin. He wasn’t contemplating salvation, because it was out of his hands. The Hitcher was, as he already said to Driver, the one that is departing. Such men have by the very act of renouncing the certainty of continuing down the road most people take, already taken the seat in his car. The future is not certain, much like the past. Darkness, pleasant, tranquil, so persistently peaceful darkness, engulfs the world they traverse, making it always new and strange, even when it comes to things long gone. There is only one price. The seat no one wants to take. Such people have no right to regrets. To be precise, no one really has a right to regrets, but people like Hitcher renounced it consciously. Therefore, he was not in fear. He was only imbibed by the chill of immediateness his thought of life and death materialized itself.
For half an hour they spoke not a word. The Hitcher was lost in thought. The past was near at hand. He watched the familiar landscapes passing them on both sides of the road. Little towns, the mountain, sea and heavy darkness of the night, swept by the south wind. How mysterious the world appeared when long time ago he passed through here, never knowing where he’s really going to. He knew so little. He only wanted to run somewhere where there will be no such heaviness. But it wasn’t really that, as he figured now. There was nothing wrong with this place, he wasn’t running from it. Now he figured it out. He was running to a place where there was no him. The darkness and heavy, moist-smeared, atmosphere of southwind swept land were not ugly anymore, now when he wasn’t there anymore, now when he became the passerby. The-one-that-is-watching, Vaka-tanka. He didn’t make up the story. Driver really guessed the name of some, God knows which, deity of some, God knows which, tribe. Perhaps the sailor himself made the story up and fooled them both. But Hitcher didn’t think so. Whenever he was about to start some work or, much more often, when he raised the bottle, old junkie and alcoholic would address his god. Who knows is he still alive? He hasn’t heard anything about him for years. He probably is. Innumerable times that guy survived lethal combination of heavy labour and heavy opiates. When marooned in Twin Peaks, he would quickly break all humanly acceptable limits of self destruction, doing things that would permanently damage any average man. But then, after a few months, he would sail out and clean up his act completely, ready to start it all over. If he is still sailing – if he is still on the run – then he is alive and well. If not, his brain is probably jelly, but he’s not dead yet. Unfortunately, he is probably marooned. The man is an old fashioned sailor, a wanderer. Capable, stubborn, resilient but at the same time, unreliable, unstable and irresponsible. Sailors are not like that anymore, the sea became a highway. Such men with their inconceivable motives are banished from it’s surface, denied of final comfort to be finally devoured by it’s depths. Hitcher would like to meet him once again, although he knew what bothersome discussion with a derelict of a man would inevitably ensue. Still, he would really love to tell him how he figured out how exactly he got the things wrong, how it is easier to escape than anybody thinks and that his wanderings and self destruction were superfluous. He would tell him that he chose a right God (and that’s no small feat), only he should have been more attentive. He would add that it’s not a rebuttal (he already sees him frown in alcoholic deliria, occasionally interrupting his narration) because nothing is lost when man deals with gods, especially such undemanding one. For, if he failed, somebody else hit the target and in the end we’ll all meet again, both failures and others, in some pleasant darkness, deprived of judgments. He would tell him, there’s nothing wrong in passing by, any passing by. Then, after a thoughtful pause, he would add that there’s nothing wrong in remaining where you are, too. Finally, the only possible conclusion would be that there’s nothing bad in anything. Then he would flash his half-smile and apologize for tautology of his conclusion (all men, indiscriminately, fear tautology, that’s why they fear philosophers, who developed it into art form) and he would refrain of adding anything else.

‘We are approaching Twin Peaks.’, said the Driver, shattering his meditation.
‘Thank God.’
‘Huh? You didn’t fancy the ride?’
‘On the contrary, it was entirely to my liking. I’m only being pious.’
They were speeding through series of sharp curves, while the sea was invisible deep down bellow. The lights of the city were hidden by hills, but their reflection lit up the horizon. Red aurora marked the place where it stood.
‘You never told me what’s with the Smith & Wesson’, said the Hitcher.
‘You said it’s not your problem.’, smiled the Driver.
‘And then we both laughed …’
‘Yes. But you were right. It’s really not your problem.’
‘Good for me.’
‘But bad for somebody else.’
‘Somebody in particular?’
‘No, no’, the Driver gave him a quick glance, ‘On the contrary. Nobody in particular.’
‘Oh, I get it. There are many of those.’
‘Yes. But I’ve got time.’
‘Do we know each other, you and me?’
‘Maybe. I meet lot of people. Or, better still, a lot of people meet me.’
‘Well, we had a good understanding. And you reminded me of somebody.’
‘Who?’
‘He was really a movie hero, also a Driver. I can’t remember his name. Some Polish name. Or Russian. He drove across America and everybody was chasing him just because he didn’t want to stop.’
‘And it was never explained why he didn’t want to stop?’
‘There was no need to explain. It was obvious. He wanted to stay free. He didn’t want to become one of them.’
‘Did they get him?’
‘No. He was too fast for them.’
‘How he ended up?’
‘He didn’t end up. He vanished.’
‘What’d you mean, vanished? Just like that?’
‘Just like that. He left. Well, he really crashed into roadblock and vanished in the fire. But that’s an American movie, they like pyrotechnics. Even when they depict simple vanishing.’
‘The guy sounds like your kind of ride.’
‘This was a good ride, too.’
‘Many before you didn’t like it all that much.’
‘As well as many who’ll you pick up latter.’
Light smile, barely visible in the dark, passed the Drivers lips.
‘That depends on them.’

They reached the city limits. Driver made a sharp turn to the side road leading to Twin Peaks. Hitcher laid back into the seat, feasting his eyes on familiar sights. Former military harbour stretching along and bellow the road was full of waste, pieces of machinery that laid there for years, even from the time of now inexistent nation it used to belong to. Derelict boats and trucks were scattered around vacant warehouses, the same warehouses he used to pass by when he was a kid going for a swim to nearby lake. He always used to argue with the guard, who would in the end always let him pass, even few days before the harbour, in the brief military clash, exchanged the owners. Probably the poor recruit from who knows what part of Yugoslavia felt just how little of the atmosphere of war, violence and changing of the ownership the kid cared about. Maybe he felt that this strange individual, walking half a mile by the seashore for a swim in the lake, is going to sit down, crossing his legs in quasi-lotus position, under the abeles beside the still waters barely accessible through overgrowth of reeds, open the ragged little book, and start reading some badly translated sayings of Buddha, occasionally pausing to listen to the wind and to watch, over the reeds, the slightly stirring waters. So, consequently, he should’ve felt that kid doesn’t know much about what is happening. And that maybe, in his still immature mind, he felt that it’s better not to know, because there really is nothing to know. He really knew so little then, this budding young hitcher and passerby. And then he learned a whole lot, tried his hand in whole lot of everything, and in the end forgot so very, very much. But now, returning to where he came from, he felt he knew as little as when he was a kid. Only thing he really wanted now was to be that little Buddha again, observing the gently stirring waters of the lakes over the reeds, while rubbing the worn out covers of book resting on his lap. Dreaming of world now gone, the world he craved to embrace, oblivious to a fact that he will never ever be so near it like then, on those last days of his early youth and one historical epoch. Hitcher smiled and slowly blinked as if to capture the image behind the eyelids. He felt at peace, filled with gentle certainty of the return, the real remaining in his own proper place. There is no greater gift than to be able to leave and then to return. And by aid of such a terrifying driver, by fighting for the right to live another day, the right he apparently won. Next hitchhiker probably won’t find the right words and make just the right pauses between them. But, who cares? No need to pity anyone. Driver is Hitcher’s best friend. He is a mean to an ultimate end of any trip. And someone who does not pay him due respect deserves to find out what the Smith & Wesson is for. Only puritans of hitchhiking reach the end of the journey in one piece, that’s something amateurs will never understand. There’s no room for excuses, impatience, doubts, giving up or regret. No room for pity. In the end only one reaches the end. And that’s the one who realised that Driver is his best friend and that, whichever road he takes, he will in the end take him home.

They found themselves on the crossroads. Driver slowed down and finally stopped. A little further by the southeast bound road, connecting to speedway after a mile or two, someone hitchhiked. The Hitcher could not discern anything more than silhouette in the dark. Who knows whether it was a man or woman, young or old? The other road went down to the sea and the centre of the town.

‘Where should I drop you?’, asked the Driver.
‘Here, right here.’, replied the Hitcher.
‘I can take you further down.’
‘No need. Look! You got new customer.’
Driver gave casual glance to silhouette in the dark.
‘You really think you’re doing him a favour?’

The Hitcher laughed while wrestling out of safety belt. He opened the door, got out, leaned on the car, and turned his gaze once more directly in the blue eyes that gave no hints.

‘Thank you.’
‘You’re welcome.’
‘I won’t forget this hike.’
‘It is in your best interest not to.’
‘However, I think I’ll take a bus ride home.’
‘No hurry. I am often on the road. Look for me if you like.’
‘Maybe I will. Or you’ll look for me. Either way, we’ll meet again. No doubt about it.’

They both smiled looking each other in the eyes and, for the first time, Hitcher got impression that in the blue nothingness he can discern a trace of warmth. He waved the driver in short gesture – he touched his forehead and sharply swung the hand downward as if cutting something with the sword, turned around and walked slowly down the street, towards  town. He heard the car slowly moving towards the silhouette of other hitcher, the sound of door opening, mutter of words, closing of door and engine moving into gear and accelerating. He listened while walking, the sound vanishing into distance, until it was gone. The street was dark, stuck between the rows of unkempt buildings. Nothing has changed. The city centre was well lit and kept, while periphery was as dark and unkempt as it ever was. All of this made him happy, because he knew he was home, in one of his towns. Crooked, with clumsily struck foundations (they were all drunk, them builders and architects … gotta be), but as dear to his heart as any of his towns. He’ll walk down to the centre where he’ll meet some familiar face soon enough, have a drink, inform his host about his arrival. No need to hurry. Perhaps he’ll give a few words to that little Buddha he once was, few words of encouragement and support. Kid deserves it. And sure as hell needs it. There is only a precious few left of the likes of him. Now, as he walks down the streets of Twin Peaks he sees him laying the book of Buddha’s sayings on the grass and, carefully, not to step on something sharp with his bare feet, slowly stepping in the water through small clearing in the reeds. He watches him swim a distance and then turning on his back, carried afloat with outstretched limbs, gaze fixed to cloudless sky, while the wind of late summer gently stirs the water and hums in the abeles. Only now he knows what exactly is he looking for in the sky, why so inquisitive a gaze. He wants to know why is he so content, why the water is so pleasantly neither warm nor cold, the sky so clear and lazily smiling. Only now he knows the answer, too. But he won’t tell him. In the end there is nothing he could tell him. There so no need to tell him anything. Just, it’s so nice to see him again so lost adrift between the waters and skies.

The Puritan of Hitchhiking allowed himself a short half smile while he strode further down the street, hands in pockets. No thought was given to Driver. He just joyously sucked up ever stronger smell of the sea.

The road connecting to highway is empty. The Driver stormed further into darkness long ago. He is now one of those lights moving fast to the southeast. He is the premonition in the heart of the passerby. Premonition that there is at least one among those lights tearing the darkness that carries the mystery to be revealed before the life crushes us down. But, in order to find it, you need to be a Puritan of Hitchhiking, the one that knows all the right answers to Driver’s short questions. The one that can be courteous without being shallow. Because it’s a Driver that can’t be bargained with, the one who cannot be fooled. Surely, it is in the best interest of every hitcher to be ready when he meets him and to confess honestly that he was in fact looking for him all along. Let him not lie to him about some new, better places he is going to, about the job he seeks or holds, past he runs from, children he feeds, the wife he misses, the boss he hates, the luck he has or has not, about what must or must not be done. Above all, he should not offer him excuses. If the Driver asks him why is he on the road and what is he looking for, let him reply that he is looking for that which he forgot he already possessed. And maybe, just maybe, he will circumscribe that rigid, but correct, rule that the gun mentioned in the beginning must fire untill the end of the story.

Branko Malić

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