Mostly, we drove.
Sometimes we walked. But mostly we drove.
Those long endless January nights where everything is dark and all the people are gloomy and it’s wet and cold and you don’t even get to enjoy the snow because global warming’s screwed that up for everyone and all anyone talks about is how bloody cold it is and do you think it’s getting lighter yet, and you just can’t bear those conversations for even a minute more and just have to get the hell out of there.
The hazy sepia streets where all the terraced houses looks the same and the pubs punctuate the one-way system and it takes forever to even walk down your street and there are like a hundred recycling bins in your way and the skip next door hasn’t been moved and your student neighbours won’t shut up with their party.
We drove just to get away from all that noise, the no-good riot that had infected the city and got right deep down into everyone’s brains, like the winter vomiting bug that went around and everyone seemed to get, or the seasonal affective disorder everyone kept saying we had, but the pills weren’t making us feel any better and it’s impossible to see anyone for therapy and messing around with light boxes just isn’t a productive use of your time and you think that hiding under your blanket listening to last year’s must-hear albums with a cup of hot chocolate (because you’ve given up coffee for January as a misguided health kick you know you’re going to instantly forget about come February anyway) is the most sensible plan ever, trying not to cry but knowing that you couldn’t even if you wanted to because you haven’t cried in ages, as though your teary eyed moments standing by the cupboard in the kitchen don’t really count.
Away from the hustle and the bustle and the busy bodies all moving and heaving and trying to get into the best shape they can be, as if we can change who we are by changing ourselves, when we all know we’re stuck like this forever, trapped inside ourselves and unable to escape.
The escape we make is just as much a joke as anything else then, an absurd ruse we play on ourselves despite of ourselves, a goddam waste of time, but we have to do it anyway or we might just go properly insane, like that time you thought it would be a good idea to see how far you could cycle in the middle of your university days and getting lost in those endless eastern fields and having to call for a pickup and now realising that was really the first time you’d ever reached out and called someone for help because usually you hate talking on the phone at all, let alone asking someone for help and asking for help is a sign of weakness and you’re anything but weak.
It’s impossible to get away though, you always end up somewhere and somewhere is never usually better than where you were and at most you can get away from everything for a little bit but then you realise there’s nothing there and you just want to go back because somewhere with nothing is boring even is somewhere with everything is worse.
He screamed with insane passion as he slammed his foot down onto the accelerator, and I dug my nails into the knees I was holding close to my chest, taking comfort in the knowledge that the door was locked up tight and couldn’t be pushed down even further even though really that was just another kind of danger, a confinement, and I grew increasingly aware that I wouldn’t be leaving the car of my own volition any time soon. He wouldn’t say where we were going exactly, just that it would be great, and I didn’t like to argue with him, it was too much effort and it’s not like I had a better suggestion, so I just sighed, resigned to my fate, as streetlights shone through the rain through the windows. There was music playing, really quite unsuited to the frantic pace we were setting, it was something folky, maybe an obscure alternative rock band, only just my cup of tea but bearable and distracting enough to allay my fear that we didn’t really have any kind of destination in mind at all. A tight turn took us off a sliproad and onto the motorway proper, the heaving ocean of people in lines in cars and I wondered whether it was significant that I had never learnt to drive myself, mostly because I hadn’t found the time (or sometimes for “the environment” or “the money” depending on who I was speaking too), but I realised that it didn’t really matter anyway - I was here, in travel, and couldn’t think of a time that not driving had left me stranded anywhere, there’s always a bus or a train to wait for or just plain old walking where you need to get to, or that’s how I justified it to myself maybe. We talked idly about work and things as we’d only recently become close and hadn’t quite crossed the boundary into friendship proper, not that it was awkward or anything, but more like we didn’t know how to broach those subjects that best best friends know how to do, but we chatted happily and made each other laugh a lot, which really did make the time go quickly, I didn’t even realise it’d been two hours until I checked my watch after one of the songs ended. We drove right through the night without really stopping because traffic isn’t stopping really and it was clear that we’d made a lot of ground, though it should be said we hadn’t really gone anywhere and were more or less exactly back where we had started, which was partly a relief - I really didn’t want a long journey back - but simultaneously kind of annoying, our big trip had been nothing more than a ruse, a waste of time, a journey deliberately stripped of any purpose, but looking back I’d enjoyed it quite a lot despite fearing for my life and putting on my usual miserable routine. He asked if I fancied another trip sometime so I replied that really it hadn’t been a trip at all, right, since we hadn’t gone anywhere and of course he said of course we had and it was the journey not the destination that mattered and all of that and I called him pretentious and said I was going home, but we did that trip again a few more times and we always pretended it was a real thing. I never once paid for petrol.
He flicked the indicator and it blinked right, even though we were turning left.
I shuffled my knees up along the glove compartment. I’ve always found that’s the comfiest way to sit in a car.
“What are you doing? How about indicating the right way?”
“I like to live dangerously” he said, grinning wildly.
“Well, I like to live alive. So...”
I leant over to flick the indicator up properly. He suddenly swerved the car to the right, as if that would put it out of my reach.
“What the hell are you doing? Don’t touch my stuff!”
“I just wanted to-”
“That’s not cool man. Would you touch another man’s junk while he’s having a piss?”
“It’s not the same.”
“It’s the same principle and you know it. Just… stay over there, ok?”
I couldn’t be bothered to argue. It was a dark january night anyway. As I swept condensation off my window with the ragged sleeve of my jumper, I envied all those other mammals who got to enjoy the luxury of hibernation.
“Let’s just make it home in one piece, please. These little nighttime excursions are pointless enough already.”
I don’t think he was upset by that. But it was hard to tell. Instead he just asked “say you knew you were going to die, like to the exact second. What would your last words be?”
“Bit of a dark subject, dude.”
“No, it’s worth thinking about. The last sounds you will ever produce. You’ve got to make them count.”
“I dunno man. Maybe like ‘So long and thanks for all the fish’ or something?”
He scoffed. “That’s so old. You need to be original about it. Try again.”
I thought hard. “I think I’d probably want to declare my love for everyone I’d ever loved but never told.”
He laughed out loud. “Gaaaaayyy. Plus like they’re gonna hear it. You suck at this game.”
“Fine,” I said. “What would your last words be?”
He’d clearly thought about this before. “Easy: ‘I will kill again.’”
“I will kill again?”
“What’s that supposed to mean? You’ve never killed anyone.”
“Exactly. But it leaves that doubt in people’s minds. Hang on, what if he really had killed someone and we never found out? What if that was his deathbed confession, knowing he’d got away with it?”
“What about the again bit?”
“That’s the best bit. It implies that you’ll return again from the grave and continue your murder spree. It’s completely badass.”
“That’s really stupid” I said. Although thinking about it now, I can only agree that it was kind of badass, actually.
“Well, it’s what I’m going for.”
“It’s only any good if you know when you’re gonna die though” I pointed out.
“Yeah… that’s the tough part I guess.”
The car veered eerily towards the central divider. I made double sure that my seatbelt was properly fastened.