Highway Chapter 6
This man was unlike any I had ever seen before. To me, it seemed as if there would be no way to fathom his existence at all. Here was quite possibly the first adult to treat me as if I was a human being, and not something to be feared and despised.
At first, I thought him not real. A figment of my imagination, perhaps, or a hallucination caused by the heat outside. But then more time I spent next to him, the more I began to feel that he was, in fact, very real.
He had ordered me a coca-cola, and it now sat in front of me. The glass bottle with red and white labeling was what I was looking at now, trying to avoid looking directly at the man. He was talking about “the truth” as he had called it earlier.
“Hey, Veronica” he said, jolting me out of my thoughts, “Are you okay?”
My heart raced. How did he know my name? Did I tell him? I must have. Did he tell me his name and I didn’t hear? I turned my gaze to a point just over his shoulder to appear to be looking at him, and fixed an expression of innocence on my face.
“Of course I’m okay,” I replied snarkily, “What makes you think I’m not?”
He paused, and for a moment I thought I had offended him. But then he only continued on with his tale.
For obvious reasons, my default voice had become tough and defensive, an aggressive tone to make everyone back off and stay away from my barriers. I thought it best to listen to the rest of the story he had to tell.
“Although it’s very hard to explain, it’s almost like having what you could call and ‘inner peace’” he explained. “Monks sometimes find their way onto the path, and some singers and writers or artists have also discovered the new world.”
He went on, keeping his eyes fixed upon mine. His gaze was not strong however, and I was not threatened.
“Some people find it on their own, but it seems that the time it takes is significantly less if someone who has already found it helps along the way.” he said. “It is something different, to be sure, but it is definitely the most important and wonderful thing that has happened in my life.”
I stared at him, dumbfounded. What the hell was he even talking about. Spiritual enlightenment? “Inner peace?” Was this guy some kind of deranged hippie? I should’ve known when I saw him that he was crazy. And yet he was so strange in such a marvelous way. I didn’t know what to do anymore, so I did only what I know best.
“What the hell are you talking about? Have you lost your mind?” I growled at him, the corner of my lip turning up in a snarl.
I expected him to get mad. To shout, to scream, to stomp around. To tell me that I was irrational and annoying. I expected any or all of these things, but none came. He didn’t do anything at all. He just sat there, in that mahogany chair lit up by the sunlight, casting shadows over his face.
The silence filled the room again, as it had before, the only sound coming from his long, calm breathes, and my short infuriated ones. A moment passed, but it seemed like an hour, the time flowing like lava as we stood. An awkward stalemate, one created by myself. And then, as quick as lighting, he was up from that chair.
He stood, towering over me. Then, with excruciating and deliberate slowness, he leaned over. His knees bent and head tilted, he was now in a position that it would have been impossible to not look into his eyes without turning around. I found that, once again, those eyes were overwhelming. And again, I found myself drowning in them.
Lost in the sea of emotions, I felt as if I had become a part of the waves. I could see the world from his point of view, with an immense knowledge and sense of wonder. I could see myself reflected back at me, my hair radiating the light streaming in from the windows. And for a moment, all was still. But then he spoke, and I was ripped away and forced back into my own consciousness.
“All that I say it the truth, and you know very well that it is,” his voice was soft and gentle, yet it held authority. “I know that you are ready for the truth. I also know that you are scared. You are scared because I am different, and so are you. After seeing this town, I can only begin to imagine the past you have had to endure.”
He paused and then continued.
“I can see your pain, and although I am unaware of its origins, I still understand.”
As I moved to object to this statement, he cut me off.
“Something to tell you that I am not lying. You have, for most of your life, had a feeling that you can’t describe. Something is missing, something crucial to life. It is an aching yearning inside of your stomach, one that increases when you are in an environment other than the city. And it is intensified right now, as we speak, and has been ever since I started talking to you. Is this not true?”
How? How could he know something that had been my darkest secret? I had never spoken of this to anyone, not even to myself late at night. My mouth hung agape in surprise and wonder, and my brain began to fog up. So many thoughts were racing inside of my head, and I was beginning to develop a headache. How did he know? Why did he know? What made this man so special? This all had become too much for me.
He was still standing there, his eyes boring into mine. He was so close, too close. Not physically, for he was still the same distance as before. Emotionally though, he had busted off the walls of my barriers. When his eyes connected to mine, I felt them break down.
I felt the anger rise inside of me, welling up like a geyser inside the pit of my stomach. Nobody has ever done such a thing. How dare this man act as if he knew me! He was wrong, he must be, just some stranger gone crazy who happened to know about the feeling. I knew I was becoming delusional, but I couldn’t stop. I was losing my walls by the second, and I knew that I couldn’t keep this up much longer.
The fury inside erupted, and I used that to my advantage. I threw the walls back into place, violently shoving them back where they belonged. I sprang back to life, recovering from my shock. My voice was cold and bitter as I shouted at him.
“I don’t know what you mean. I’m getting out of here, you crazed and delusional man! I don’t even know why I stuck around in the first place.No, you get out of here and don’t ever talk to me again. You’re a lunatic!”
I couldn’t stop the words. They all came out, falling like rain, and landing drop by drop. I stood there, breathing labored. Again, he stood there, and did nothing. There was no response. I waited for yelling, or disappointment, or anger. I received none. I waited for anything. But I had caught the one reaction.
His body did nothing, but there was a flicker in his eyes. One of sadness I couldn’t comprehend, swimming in those eyes. It seemed almost as if there was a downpour of rain trapped inside of his eyes. But then, like a flash, it was gone, buried in the depths of the sea. A calm look resumed its place on his face, and he was at a standstill. I had already seen what had passed.
I had hurt him, I knew, but it was not like I how I had hurt others. I waited for the satisfaction to come, as it had when I had forced away the townspeople that hurt me, but it didn’t come. All I felt was tired. I hunched over, my hands on my knees as I attempted to recover. All I could see was the sadness.
Against my will, I began to feel myself cry. The tears came, unbidden, and soon they streaked down my face. For the first time in so many years, I was crying again. The sound of my uncontrollable weeping had filled the air, and I struggled to breathe. I had hurt him, and yet it had hurt me. Why did it bother me that he had been sad? Why should I care? I couldn’t fathom why I was crying. It was something driven by an unknown force, and I couldn’t stop it. If I cared, why did I say that to him in the first place? Once again, the barriers I had put up had caused me to reject another person. Goosebumps rose up on my arms, and my face began to feel warm. I wouldn’t even look up at him.
He moved towards me, perhaps hoping to say something. But as he sounded out the first word, I sprang away. Dodging the attempt to catch my sleeve I ran for the exit. Slamming my body against the door, it gave and I was free from the building. I heard him call from behind,
His voice filled with concern only made me cry harder. I ran farther than I needed to, until I couldn’t run anymore.
My world had become blurry, and I could feel the hot tears sliding down my face. All I could feel was my pain. And again, as with many times before, I could taste that distinct flavor again. That wretched taste of saline.