On the road
The air rushes in through the wide-open windows. It tousles his hair, blasts his eardrums, dries out rivulets of sweat, and batters the seats, the headrests, and the dashboard. The sun visor twitches with its assaults. Serge, his hands clutching the steering wheel, concentrates on the faded lines that mark the way back. If he closes his eyes, he will never reach his goal. He knows he should stop to sleep, if only for a few minutes, but he’s nearly there, just fifteen minutes, and in this heatwave, sleeping on the side of the road... The radio is spewing out a song with appalling lyrics. We don’t care if you drink coffee in the morning, nobody cares about your life, you loser! With an enraged index finger, he scours for another station, chooses to listen to the news, and turns up the volume so that the reader’s voice overwhelms the hysterical lacerations of the wind. A war in some faraway land... Ridiculous... Whyever do people fight? How can they have the strength? He wants to sleep, just a little.
He slows down in front of the red light. The second-to-last one... When he stops, the heat becomes unbearable. The air thickens, the synthetic leather burns his skin, his teeth melt. How did people cope before air conditioning was invented? In those hottest hours, they shut themselves away in their homes. He lets himself close his eyes. Just for a moment... The sound of a horn wakes him up with a start. The light has gone green. Serge presses down on the gas pedal and crosses the intersection at the amber light.
The familiar landscape passes by, soporific. Out of luck, the congestion intensifies and a traffic jam forms before the final red light. The urge to sleep transforms into a dull pain, a numbness of the limbs, a liquefying of the will. Yet he struggles on, pinches himself, screams at the very top of his lungs, puts on a music station, and yells along with the insipid melody. Sweat stings his eyes, soaks his shirt, and invades his nostrils with its pungent and persistent odor. He runs his tongue over his cracked lips. When he gets back home, before peeling off his filthy clothes and getting into the shower, he’ll pour himself a tall glass of ice-cold water. He always had a bottle in the refrigerator.
He finally crossed the damn intersection. One more tiny effort... He wasn’t working the next day... If he woke up in the middle of the night, he could doze throughout the day. All those hours wasted dwelling on the complaints from his boss... Anyone can make a mistake! Even that self-important jerk. Hypocrite! Pre-termination hearing... Just a formality to get rid of him. They coaxed you with an improbable hope, but everything was written out in advance. He’d be out of a job in a week or two.
Shit! He missed the exit! The way to his village taunts him on the other side of the road. He swings to the left impulsively. A guy slams on his brakes and is rear-ended. Serge hits the safety barrier and comes to a stop. A truck’s coming down at full speed on his right. It honks its horn incessantly, the long scream of a beached whale. Do beached whales scream? Serge presses down on the gas pedal, the car smashes through the barrier and jumps out. The truck turns, narrowly avoids him, crosses into the opposite lanes, and collides with the stopped vehicles.
Serge drives over to the way into the village, turns down Well Lane, so quiet, in the shade of old oaks, parks, shuts off the engine, gets out of the car without even a glance at the smashed hood, enters the house, rushes into the kitchen, pours himself a glass of water and gulps it down.