James was sweating. He shivered and scratched all over as he keened in the taxi. This was not an extravagance he was used to and certainly not one that he would be getting used to any time soon. There was no point in luxuries if you had no means to enjoy them and he wanted to learn how to enjoy all the necessary struggles. Most people in his position would have had the foresight to plan the journey via public transport and save what little cash was available but he was more in the business of trying to save himself at this point.
His thoughts bounced around incessantly and he could find no relief. He was a fool for taking all four Valium he thought. Why couldn’t he have just left one? He consoled himself with the prospect of rum but it was no cure for the itch.
When the taxi pulled up he thanked the driver under his breath and walked slowly toward the airport. It was busy. James watched a plastic bag doing summersaults in the wind while smoking a cigarette he had bummed off a man wearing a hard hat and high-vis jacket. Neither of them made any attempt at conversation. He did not like the man.
James made it through security quickly and in a daze, now with nothing but rum on his mind. The woman pitied him as he stepped up, dismayed, to be searched. He had left a pile of change in his pockets and he felt stupid. Once security was through he bought a bottle of Captain Morgan’s spiced rum and drank half of it shamelessly from the bottle as he checked the departures board. The 5.00pm to Toulouse would leave in half an hour.
He could not sleep on the plane and by the time he landed he was belligerent and half way to hung-over. James received the same look of pity he had seen from the woman at security as he went through passport control. When he stepped outside the battered white campervan was already there waiting for him.
“James!” Patrick threw his arms wide open and embraced the bewildered foreigner. He was a tall man with a beard who looked fifty but was actually only thirty-nine. James did not reciprocate the gesture and found himself on the receiving end of a very one sided hug. “Meet Aimee”
“It’s so nice to meet you” she beamed jumping straight into Patrick’s place for another unreciprocated hug.
“Hey” James replied sheepishly pushing lank hair away from his pale and unshaven face. Patrick fixed Aimee with a loving look and then glanced over at James with a demeanour of understanding.
“Let’s get going man” he said, picking up James’ bag and throwing it into the van with far greater ease than he was anticipating.
“Shit, you brought nothing!” he cried with a slightly impressed expression.
The three clambered into the van and speed away. It was loud and ploughed along the motorway like a workhorse being raced.
“Looks like you could use a spliff” observed Patrick, not taking his eye off the road as he lit one up and passed it to James, who was already curled up in the back at Aimee’s feet and only partially came out of the foetal position to receive it.
“Thank you so much man” he said weakly, grinning for the first time in he knew not how long. “Where are we headed?”
“We thought we’d let you decide” smiled Aimee, who was leaning down to stroke his hair. He didn’t know how to react to the strange warmth that he felt at that point.
“How do you mean? Where are we going roughly?” he asked
“It’s all up to you. We can go anywhere you like, just name a place and we’ll get you there.” Patrick called over his shoulder.
“How far are we talking?” Asked James who had now sat up and was happily puffing away, swaying a little from side to side.
“The further the better” Patrick replied without taking his eyes from the road.
“What like India?” laughed James
“You want to go to India?” Aimee chimed in, humming dreamily and swigging from the bottle of red.
James laughed at his idea. “No I was just joking. I mean one day but you can’t just drive to India”. He was by now more than a little drunk and found himself getting quite excited by all this ridiculous talk. “Where do you guys want to go? Lara was always going on about how much you loved Spain, Patrick.”
“We’ll get you to India via Spain” Aimee said with an heir of matter of fact authority.
“Oh shit, you weren’t joking?!” – James was now wide awake. He exchanged the joint for Aimee’s bottle.
“Of course not,” She said “I always wanted to go to India so why not?!” James looked over at Patrick who was nodding back at him with a grin. He barely managed a chuckle in reply before laying back in a happily overwhelmed and inebriated daze.
When he awoke the van was still and night had fallen. He could tell he was alone and did not move for a while as he attempted to piece together recent events. The pounding in his skull became overwhelming and he could not form a coherent story. What did that matter anyway, the ball was in motion and there was nothing left to do but celebrate what felt like a new chance at life.
That squalid flat seemed so far away and he thought maybe somehow he might return one day to find it changed. Not anytime soon though. He never knew a mattress on the floor of a van could feel so much like home. James rubbed his eyes and swung open the door to find Patrick and Aimee stood by a fire, wine in hand, beckoning him.
Patrick was glad to see that James appeared a little less broken and passed him the bottle as he approached.
“Where are we?” asked James
It was dark and there were no stars. The mild luminescence was provided solely by the modest fire. It appeared they were at the edge of a field.
“Not sure” said Patrick “I think we drove south, keep your eyes peeled tomorrow. This area is beautiful”.
Aimee was stood close to the fire with her hands out,
“Really beautiful” she said staring into the flames.
“Nice” whispered James, smiling as he passed the bottle. It felt like a very long time since he had had a conversation, or at least one that came easily to him but something tonight felt different.
He paused. “So India it is.”
“Sure is” smiled Aimee, “can you drive”?
“Perfect”, she smiled back at him.
The night passed with talk of things to come. No-one made any mention of the past and James felt that it was forgotten until he later lay drunk on his mattress, wondering what would have been. Seeing Patrick and Aimee warmed him but it left behind the sickening feeling for all that was lost. Lara was right, this needed to happen. But it should have been with her.
Intrusive thoughts kept him up that night as they did in the beginning. She would be proud of him and that hurt. He thought she never had been…
When you waste everything, you are left with nothing and wasting nothing is the easiest thing in the world. He didn’t want this to be an easy journey because every other easy ride had led him to become what he hated; nothing.
She always said he had potential, but he could never quite tell just how she knew.
James rose early in the morning. Despite just a couple of hour’s broken sleep he felt good. Patrick and Aimee were fast asleep. He spotted the keys on the dashboard and picked them up thoughtfully, feeling grateful and compelled to make a positive contribution towards the journey in some way. Now it was light he could see that they had pulled into an open field not far away from the road. He wondered whose land it was. You couldn’t just pull up in someone’s garden in London and light a fire to drink by.
James started the engine and pulled away in a single loud and clumsy motion.
“Oh shit not again!” Patrick screamed lurching half naked towards the driver’s seat.
“There are people in here you fuck! Stop this shit!” James was even more alarmed than Patrick and yanked at the handbrake, bringing the van to a grinding halt.
“Dude it’s me!” Shouted James, with his hands up in the air.
Aimee was screaming. He had not anticipated this. There was a moment of intense silent confusion before Patrick burst into hysterics. James would remember that moment for years to come.
“I love it!” exclaimed Patrick.
“Jesus Christ!” cried Amie through a feral grin. “Come on, let’s get on the road”.
After several attempts, James started the engine, took a few deep breaths and they were off again into the rising sun.