It was dusk. The sounds of European forest in the height of summer filled my ears. Great verdant green surrounded me, impenetrable foliage with stretching vine and obscured secrets. The air drifted in a whispering breeze, warm, vibrating. The road was straight both ways, to the left, from where I had come, and to my right, where I was going. I knew little else apart from that.
My compass pointed me Southeast but I had no map and spoke no French. One day earlier a borrowed cell phone had been my navigator but it now lay forgotten under the passenger seat of a seventy-year-old Frenchman from the North, never to be seen again. In a spasm of frantic energy I had taken a few trains the wrong way and wound up in a city far, far away from where I expected, though I can't say I knew what to expect anyway. The compass pointed me to the Southeast corner of the city where I thumbed rides using the simple description of my destination "Sud-est." A large number of local pickups brought me further and further out into the countryside. I was headed Southeast for certain, I could tell that, but was otherwise clueless about my location.
Few cars traveled down the road as the light began to fade. I stuck my thumb out for each one, my face turned up in a hopeful smile, my baggy hiking zip offs dirty from the road, my green longsleeved undershirt ripped at the hem where it brushed against my belt-buckle. Cars passed and I remained.
Every car appears in view with infinite potential, hope for a ride, hope for new friends, hope for a restoration of confidence in humanity, until they pass, suddenly the vessel of a cold, heartless troll.
A stroke of luck. A purple BMW Z3 slowed down and pulled off the road. I ran over, reggae music growing louder as I reached the window. I looked inside. A small middle-aged French woman turned down the music and looked up at me. She asked me something in French, I gave my customary first response to anything a driver might ask me, "Sud-est," she gave some sort of positive response and smiled. I put my pack in the car and we shot down the road.
As she spoke little English and I spoke no French, nothing but the rush of wind through the open windows filled the space. The Frenchwoman returned the music to its original volume and sped on at ninety miles per hour. There was no one else to see it, that little purple convertible blaring reggae, shooting down an empty road running straight and narrow between the green blur of the forest, but I will hold that little memory as a sacred beauty that makes me smile.