Encounter At A Roadside Inn

He wakes up, slowly, eyes bleary and adjusting themselves in the near darkness. It’s early. Dark-sky early, but he hasn’t been much for sleeping in for some time now. His body’s primed to wake before the sunrise, and he decided not to fight it anymore.

He slowly sits up, body slumped in half-sleep mode. The motel room is illuminated only by the outside light light filtered through the Venetian blinds on the solitary window.He’s taken to sleeping nude over time. He figures there’ll be time enough for pajamas when he’s done his wandering, when his body and mind are sequestered away in some home with the others waiting for the last boat to the other side. Or by himself. He’d almost prefer the latter. He’s gotten used to it.

He makes his way to the bathroom. Stark fluorescent light flares up, illuminating the room and its occupant in sterile, thrumming white. His body is in better shape than it was before – regular exercise, better eating, less stress. He’s no bodybuilder but he’s got a tight and wiry grace to him now. He pulls silver tinged hair back from his brow – the cut is long, more salt than pepper. Facial hair is the same. Beard and mustache trimmed, but not too much. Just enough to be scruffy, but not enough to be unkempt. He gets a good look at the scars and dents in his armour, like he does every morning – the unfiltered journal of a life lived and the hits he’s taken along the way. He’s earned all of them, and feels no shame or regrets, either.

I don’t know how I ended up in this room, looking at this man as he gets ready for whatever the day holds for him. He doesn’t seem to be aware of me either. But I get glimpses of him – his life – and I have no idea why I know these things about a complete stranger.

We’re out of the room now, inside the motel diner. He’s the first one in. The waitress seems familiar with him, so he’s probably been here for a while. She brings him coffee – the best kind of trucker’s coffee – and he puts in sugar and cream. He drinks it and the way he closes his eyes as he sips tells me it tastes as good as it smells. I keep waiting for him to do something – read a newspaper, write notes, anything. But he sits and sips and stares out the window as he waits for his food, which I notice he didn’t order. Again, he’s been here for a while.

I don’t say anything to him, but only because I don’t think he would hear me anyways. I’m still trying to process the state of things. Dream? Hallucination? No idea. So I don’t interact. I sit, I look and I try to feel him out.

That part comes almost too easily.

Within seconds, I get … a feeling, I guess? I don’t know the details of his life or the events that brought him to this diner on this stretch of The Trans-Canada, but I feel what he has felt.

Loss. Love. Victories. Defeats. Moments where he stood his ground and others where he stepped out of the fray to tend to his wounds. There’s sadness, but also moments of joy. Accomplishments, where he stepped outside of fear and hesitation and took life by the throat. And the times he didn’t and the regrets that came with it. I don’t know how I know this, because I shouldn’t. But I do. It’s in the way his eyes narrow as he looks out the window at the now-empty highway and the sun slowly cresting over the horizon. It’s the way his breath catches in his throat, as if an involuntary sigh. It’s in the creases of his face, the lines around eyes that have seen their share, the crooked smile/smirk as he recalls something that made that smile happen a long time ago. There’s so many feelings and vibes coming off him, but the undercurrent, the baseline is contentment. At least, acceptance. It’s good enough, he seems to say, without a hint of sorrow. Good enough.

He’s done a lot. Lived a lot. Made mistakes and learned from some of them. He hasn’t done every thing he wanted to do, but he’s done enough of them. He’s been hurt, and sometimes he’s done the hurting. He’s loved and been loved. And now, for whatever reason, he’s on this road. Sleeping in motels when his personal engine light tells him it’s time to pull off and give it a rest. He travels light – the duffel bag in his room is necessities only. His is a spartan existence, and it seems to suit him. There are no wants in his life anymore, only needs.

His breakfast finished, last cup of coffee downed, he leaves a wad of bills on the tabletop. Doesn’t bother counting it, even though it’s more than enough to cover the bill. Time was he would have calculated it all – fairly, mind you – but life’s too short for accounting. Especially now.

We’re at his car now, and he’s thrown the duffel bag in the back seat. It’s a Mercury Marquis. Old. Big. Familiar. He gets in the driver’s seat and turns the ignition, giving it a bit to rev up. He looks out his side window, at the sunrise. And at me. The smile, familiar but modified by age and thick facial hair, and a raised eyebrow.

And like that, tires kick up gravel and he’s back on the road.

I still don’t know anything about him: Does he have a family? An actual place to call home? What does he do, if anything at all? Is he happy now? What brought him to this point in his life?

I don’t know. But I think I’m going to find out. Someday.

 

 

 

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PATCHWORK

Always looking out,

Grabbing and clutching at something,

Anything

To patch up the open spaces.

Cobbled together with scraps and other people’s “you”

Because you know of no other existence.

You can fill those holes with anger.

Or misery.

Or even the quiet insistence of compromise.

The body is flexible, soft

Eager and hungry and wanting to take whatever you feed it,

But the void remains,

unchecked, unsatisifed

and you push on.

All shambling gait and weary bone,

The weight of time and expectations, pushing on the space between your shoulders

It’s a dull pain, this, easing with familiarity,

But it keeps you static, keeps you still,

Moving without gaining ground.

The slowest of deaths,

One that comes at the hands of a tiny thousand regrets

Leaving you bleeding,

splayed across a pool of wet and crimson “what if?”