The map learns to accommodate chaos.
Despite the growing holes near its tattered seams ripping out countless miles of Mexican real estate and despite the sharp red ink that marked our previous route smudging into blurred over-reach, the map still controls most of its detailed lines.
Not me though. My lines are falling apart.
Susana stumbles in with a tired smirk and reaches for a simple hello – which I return – but then continues on with a web of tiny giggles and goofy tales. I scrawl the days route on a slip of paper that I stuff inside my front pocket, then fasten my sunglasses.
“Almost ready?” I say while folding up the map.
“I – yeah.”
You see words were our forte. I use were to describe the past. They had spilled out organically ever since we met. They created a friendship that made a mockery of time. The length of time we'd known each other was short, only a few weeks, but the depth of our bond made it seem like we'd known each other forever. This had a lot to do with words.
You have to understand that on most days if this idea was brought up, it would digress into a long wandering conversation on time and eventually circle around to past lives. It would go something like this:
Me: “Why don't we begin with time and circle around to the notion of past lives.”
Susana: “Past lives?”
Me: “Yeah, you know. Like this whole notion of, uh... of people-recycling I guess?”
Susana: “People recycling?”
Me: “Yeah. Or reincarnation if you want.”
Susana: “Oh god, now you're beginning to sound like my old roommate. The New Age guy with the supermodel sister.”
Me: “Should I be doing yoga while asking you this?”
Susana raises her eyebrows.
Me: “...so do you believe in it?”
Me: “..why not?”
Susana: “I'm born. I live. I die. That's it!”
Me: “Maybe there is more to it...I mean, where were you before you were born?”
With a downcast gaze, Susana would raise her eyebrows.
Me: “So...why do you have dreads again?”
Susana: “They're 90s cynical dreads!”
We would both crack up then stick out our thumbs to catch a ride into the great unknown. Today, however, is different. Today is silent. Today, there is no speculation. Our dialogue – a word that loosely derives from the Greek words for flow (dia) and mind (logos) – has been dammed up and it will take some time before the water starts flowing again.
The sun is to blame, at least partially. I imagine it sucking out the life-blood of the words, dehydrating them into withering messes that roam the streets of Veracruz. Only the negative images are left, the absences that become shadows falling behind people as they walk silently down the road.
The shadows between Susana and I are getting larger as I make long strides forward despite the sun's cruel intentions. My strides are awkward I admit because I'm angry and anger doesn't fit my bones very comfortably. It doesn't feel like something I possess, but rather something that possesses me. An electricity that needs some outlet to plug into. Walking becomes my outlet.
There's something so primal about it. Scientists speak of “locomotion” and point out that the ability for simple organisms to sense their surroundings, to move toward food and away from danger, is a major evolutionary leap that gives birth to everything that comes after. They phrase it more scientifically of course, but I like simple things: Susana is danger and the road is food, so I keep on walking.
This movement becomes a dialogue. I rush forward, huffing and puffing, yet still full of energy like some fairy-tale wolf, and then turn around for a moment. A barely perceptible dot would start growing in size on the horizon and I'd pick up my pace. It's like we are two magnets attracting and repelling each other – one at North and one at South, worlds apart. It must seem comical to the crew of hard- hatted construction workers watching us go by while repairing potholes. Are they traveling together?
We are, albeit in our own separate ways. Both of us are heading for the outskirts of the city where, presumably, rides will be easier. Just before the narrow city streets expand into the tumultuous highway, I find a sliver of shade cast by a tired tree near the gated entrance of some government building. Inside, I imagine, are a host of fresh-pressed suits plotting ways to organize the city, to manage its chaos of sound, light, and yes, fury.
It's only now that the sticky globs of sweat taking over my back become apparent. But my mind is too aloof, staring off in the distance. I am envious of the cars. Of their sense of urgency. Their direction. Everything behind was but a distracting spectacle for the rear-view mirror. Full speed ahead.
Susana collapses next to me and pops open her 1.5 liters of water. Once her hurricane of heavy breaths slows down to synchronize with the languid passing winds, the silence, like the sweat, becomes apparent.
Silence has two extremes: that which emerges from a lack of things to say and that which emerges from an abundance of things to say. We are in the latter. Susana tries to chisel away that rock of silence with tiny questions; innocuous little spurts of breath that seek to chip away flakes from that unbearable impasse. I’m not ready though.
Eventually her breath slows down to a normal cycle. “Shall we?”
“You go ahead.” I say while staring off in the distance. “I'll catch up with you.” “Oh.” She stutters. “Ok.”
There was something in the tone of her voice when she choked out that hesitant reply that made it apparent that she feared being alone. That she was vulnerable just like I. Those short words and that brief pause was all it took to make me know that the great silence I’ve been silent about might start to crumble. Perhaps it was time to let her in.
Once she was a few hundred feet down the road, I left my post in the shade and stuck out my thumb. A truck pulls over and I shout out her name – Susana! Susana! – a few times before she turns around and starts jogging back. I help her lift her backpack over the hatch and tap the side of the truck.
Matt Isme is a freelance writer based in Hanoi with a love of notebook paper, good books and the unwritten lines of the open road.