Reflection on the Road
His freezing fingers fumbled through his coat pockets as he frantically searched for his keys. Finally, after what felt like several minutes, he discovered a hole in one of his pockets: and lo and behold, inside the lining were the keys to his car with more mileage than he cared to admit. A plethora of memories came crashing through him as he made his way towards the city lines. He had not left the city since he was a boy, and yet he was able to remember every corner of every street he thought he had long forgotten. It was Sunday morning, so early that it was barely light outside. Still, he was able to spot the figure of a man, standing on the side of the road. The man was waving at the car, pleading for it to stop. He stretched his arm all the way to the passenger side and cranked the window down.
“Can you give me a lift?” asked the stranger, immediately after he had rolled the window down.
The man was old, anyway. Malevolent he seemed not, just a person genuinely in need
of a ride. The Driver made a quick judgment call and shouted: "Where are you heading?"
"Wherever you are, to be frank. I'll just tell you when to drop me off. I really have no set destination, but I'm sure I'll think of one on the way."
This seemed odd to him, sure, but not in an alarming manner. For he himself was on his way to nowhere in particular – he understood that sometimes one just needs a change in scenery.
"I'm heading west, I hope that's okay."
The two men drove in silence for a good while. The street became wider, or at least that's what it seemed like, and the outskirts of the city were now merely a glimpse in the rearview mirror. The lives, the fears, the hopes and dreams of every single person living in the city were now merged into one small, smudged portrait. The Hitchhiker let out a barely audible sigh, which was just loud enough for the Driver to hear.
"I'm fine," answered the Hitchhiker, who seemed almost baffled that the Driver was able to hear him. "You know," continued the Hitchhiker. "I do have a story to tell you. If you don't mind, of course."
The Driver was relieved; he did not know how long the drive was going to be and he really had nothing to say. He lifted his shoulders in silence, as a sign for the Hitchhiker to carry on with his story. The Hitchhiker looked out the window and began,
“I was traveling the world, trying to find something that I had perhaps lost. Something called me towards Egypt, and there I saw this village that was hugging the River Nile. It was a small village with the kindest people I had ever met and have yet to meet. Just like in your typical small community, everybody knew each other – but there was this one man. Everybody kept saying he had gone mad after the death of his wife. He never spoke to anyone and no one spoke to him; what he did, and he did this every day, was carry water from the Nile to … somewhere. When he came back, it was already dark, and he was completely dry from the desert heat. One day, my curiosity got the best of me and I decided to follow him. Once again, like every other day, he went to the river with a large bowl, filled it with water and carefully walked away from the river, making sure that he wouldn’t spill a drop. He walked slowly, for hours on end, until he reached this hill. At the root of the hill was a pile of rocks. The man kneeled down and poured some water from the bowl onto the ground, and then he drew into the wet sand. He drew until the land was dry, and then he did the same thing over and over again. The man hadn’t noticed me before, but when he reached for the bowl, he stared me right in the eye, and what I saw I could not accurately describe. What I saw, was myself, dirt on my fingertips, standing there looking at the man. Have you ever looked into the eyes of another man and seen yourself, clearer than ever?”
The Hitchhiker glanced at the confused driver and continued, “You know, the one thing that separates us from the rest of the animals is our need to create, that’s what I saw. And not in the way ants build colonies, but we have this, in a way, almost primal urge to express ourselves through creation. Just think about it, we have discovered art as old as human. We need to create. It is the only thing keeping us alive.”
The Driver was growing agitated with the Hitchhiker. He did not know why he was telling this clearly fictitious story to him, so he felt the need to challenge the man.
“So, we can’t survive if we can’t create?” wondered the driver.
“To live and to survive are two completely different things”, said the Hitchhiker, looking through the window, clearly detached from the conversation.
“What? We live to create, is that it? Then you are saying that the meaning of life is to create?”
“I said no such thing.”
He did think the old man a bit strange: did he want a ride just so he could tell stories and talk nonsense? But he said nothing. What could he even say? Whether the story was true or not, the way he had told it made him feel self-conscious about his own life. The world was changing so fast he felt like he was falling behind. He thought about the streets he had recognized and how nothing but the surface remained the same. The people living there were different and all the restaurants were now owned by someone else, the children who used to run through the streets had grown up and left the city. Sure, it looked the same, but the stories were now entirely something else. He had no direction in his life, and he had never felt any kind of purpose before – he was starting to grow anxious. It did not help that the Driver could feel the Hitchhiker observing him, and before he knew it, he was already starting another story,
"This happened long before you were even born, I’m sure. I was working at this small resource center in the middle of nowhere, studying the amphibians that lived in the surrounding wetlands. It took some time to get used to the life at the center: the days were fine, but the nights were something else… most amphibians are nocturnal, you know. So, I would stay up, looking at the stars, just listening to the sound of nature. The center was a place of solitude, it was a place for me to connect with my thoughts and the nature that surrounded me. For a long time, it was just me and the little creatures of the bog. But one day another researcher came into the center. He was lean but tall, and he had eyes so vibrant you could look into them and see the ocean. I’m going to warn you. What I’m going to tell you next, you are not going to believe. But trust me, you will one day understand.
You see, the man, calm on the outside, had something burning within him. You couldn’t see it at first, but when you looked deeper, the ocean inside him was raging uncontrollably. It was only a matter of time until he would be consumed by anger. And so, one night I was sitting outside waiting for the nightly opera, but something seemed different. It was too quiet for my liking, and then I heard steps, coming from within the center towards the door. It was the man, but this time he looked different. And right in front of my eyes, I saw how he transformed. His skin ripped apart and from the inside, spawned something strange. Spider-like limbs burst through, oozing with strange liquid. He fell down on his knees and let out a haunting shriek. His spine was pushing out of his back, and soon the rest of his bones were escaping his body, forming a shell around him. He screamed in agony as his former shape abandoned him. A stringer frantically floated above him as he reached towards me and drove me against a wall. The stinger now seemed to have a mind of its own, and it was searching for the perfect opportunity to pierce my flesh. I looked into his eyes and couldn’t recognize them. The color was gone and now all there was, was this abyss type emptiness where you looked into the darkness and it continued for eternities.
“Is there anything of you left? This is not who you are,” I tried to shout,
but my voice had been weakened by fear.
“I couldn’t help it. It’s in my nature, I didn’t have a choice,” he snarled.
“See, that’s where you are wrong. We always have a choice,” I said, or at least what I wanted to say, because I was already predicting the movement of his stinger, and without getting a chance to finish my sentence, I felt something cold strike through my sternum. I felt the venom, spreading through my veins like a virus and soon I was paralyzed, unable to move. And with every breath I took, I felt them getting heavier. Breathe in… breathe out… breathe in… breathe out… breathe… and then I felt it, the final wisp of air vacated my lungs and left me hollow.”
The ice on the road reminded the Driver of his mortality. The icy asphalt reflected the sunlight into his eyes and interfered with his vision. The sun was up, but he hadn’t even noticed the sunrise. There were no other cars on the road, and no one had driven past them since they left the immediate vicinity of the city. Just when he was about to say something, the Hitchhiker began to speak,
“I’m aware that I have been talking for a long time now, there’s just something else that I wanted to tell you. I woke up this morning with this uncontrollable desire to leave. I didn’t know where, I didn’t know why I just needed to … go away. I have lived a life filled with pretense and I thought that if I could leave the city behind, I could finally surrender to the universe and let it guide me towards my purpose. I was wrong of course, and you, too, will soon enough see why. Oh, and I don’t know if I told you this already, but I was supposed to take the car today, however, I think I lost my keys. You see, there is this hole in my coat pocket, and I’m afraid they might have fallen through. Anyway, you can stop worrying now. I’ve seen how it ends. It is always the same. I think we’ve gone far enough. Pull over.”
The Driver looked through the passenger side window, but all he saw was the coastline and the perpetual waves, racing to flaunt their devotion to the moon. It was still cold outside – he could not think of a reason why the Hitchhiker would want to stop here, but nevertheless, he complied. The Driver reached over to the glove compartment and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. He leaned on his car and observed how the Hitchhiker had gotten out without saying a word and was now walking towards the coast. There was nothing he could say, so he just stood there, cigarette in hand, watching as the old man contentedly strolled towards the sea. He saw how the waves grew taller and hungrier as the Hitchhiker walked closer and closer to the sea. When he reached the water, a towering wave swallowed him whole, and in an instant, returned back to the sea. Just like that, the Hitchhiker was gone, and the ocean returned to its peaceful slumber. The Driver flicked his cigarette, got into his car, and continued his drive along the coastline. He felt the meaninglessness of his life, gushing through him as he struggled to keep his eyes on the road. But he wasn’t scared anymore; he felt the sudden need to bask in his blissful lack of significance, and in the realization that the end is more than enough. Because after all, no matter what happens, no matter how different everything seems now, the children still sing, the lovers still sway, and nothing ever changes.