He felt as though he had been born with a suitcase in his hands and to him life had always been a journey. Not in some hippie philosophical way but in tangible miles and so he had kept moving, one foot in front of the other. He drove a motorbike that he had bought a few towns back when his car; red, old and knackered had given up. The exhaust had puffed its last mouthful of smoke and the engine stopped. He had pushed the car for two miles before he came across a small roadside garage. An old motorbike had been lent against a wall, forgotten until now. The greedy mechanics had happily swapped his car for the bike. His car destined to be stripped and sold for parts. One of the mechanics had smiled at him.
“Girls prefer a motorbike, forget the car. You’d never get a girl in that.”
He shot through green country lanes with no direction other than forwards in mind. This part of the States looked exactly like England but there was so much more space. He had left home as soon as possible and he had hitched, robbed, and driven his way around the world. This moment now was what it all was for. He left his past behind and his future just around the bend. He felt free of time and obligation.
He hit the freeway around Maine and stepped on the gas. The grey road flashed past underfoot, the yellow lines blurring into one. The roar of the engine felt masculine and satisfying, he looked down at the speedometer but the dial was not moving. He had no idea how fast he was going and to him this was fitting.
It was raining and late when he had pulled into the roadside diner. He parked the bike and went inside. The lights were bright and outside now looked cold and dark. Lonely car lights blurred past, smeared with rain. The man looked around and saw a broken jukebox in the corner and old bearded belching truckers with wandering hands leaning on the counter. Amongst them, waitresses, weary at the late hour, traipsed. He beckoned one over.
She smiled at the man. His scruffy jeans and oil-smeared shirt suited him well. His dusty leather jacked smacked of the open road. She noticed his bike helmet, keeping his hands company on the table. She loved the thrill of a motorbike, the freedom, the past falling away behind her. She was a sucker for the romantic ideal.
“What can I get for you?”
“We don’t serve alcohol here.”
“Just bring me the coffee then.”
She liked the way he looked at her. He liked the way she smiled. She turned to leave.
“What’s your name?”
She paused before she gave it up.
He nodded and then turned his head to face the window. She went to make his coffee but she kept her eyes on him. This was a quiet dinner with the same type of old men drinking coffee there every night. This man was different and it seemed as if he knew something. Some secret that Sarah hadn’t even realised she was looking for. Men like him don’t come around often she thought.
He watched the cars shoot past outside and his feet started to feel itchy. It was a curse all of this travelling he realised. He wanted roots but he had no idea where to begin. He had been on the road for too long and he wondered if he would ever wash out the taste of dust from his mouth.
A mug of coffee slid onto the table and he looked up at Sarah. She was objectively pretty he decided, not just contextually. He smiled at her.
“Thank you Sarah.”
“Sorry about the alcohol.”
He pulled a small hip flash from inside his jacket pocket and poured some whiskey into his coffee. He offered the flask to Sarah.
“I’m working. I can’t.”
“Maybe after work? I finish in twenty minutes.”
Sarah left him sitting there. She hoped his maybe would lead to something.
He sat there and slurped his coffee. He was aware that Sarah was watching him but he never looked across. He wasn’t sure if he wanted company; he was ready to go. He spilled some change onto the table and stood up. He pulled his coat on and slunk outside.
He stood under a neon sign that advertised rooms with TVs. He smoked a cigarette and waited, his bike standing quietly beside him. He waited for her and the rain drummed a consistent tap tap on his leather jacket. It beat in time to a Dylan song.
He was sat in a bar in New York City and an old man took the stage. He strummed a battered guitar and marred the lyrics. But he sang from his heart and a moment within the song resonated. It was a simple phrase but one that came back to him as he stood in the rain.
‘But deep inside my heart, I know I can’t escape.’
He watched Sarah through the diner window. She waved goodbye to her colleagues and ignored the half-hearted catcalls as she made her way to the door. She stepped out into the rain.
She looked up and there he was. Standing there, cigarette dangling crookedly, motorcycle waiting.
“How about that drink?”
He handed her his hip flask. Sarah took a long swig and washed away the taste of work.
“Want to go for a ride?”
Sarah grinned and bounded towards the bike. He handed her the helmet and got on the bike. She slipped on behind him and her small arms barely encircled his waist. He revved the engine and they skidded out of the car park onto the road.
“I never got your name.”
He didn’t answer.
The rain splashed around them as they drove across slick black roads. The late night lighting of street lamps, shop fronts, and passing cars bled past. Sarah had no idea where they were going but she was happy to be going somewhere.
He wasn’t a very good driver, but he had a pretty girl wrapped around him so he felt the need to impress. He drove much faster than he felt comfortable with and his head felt incredibly vulnerable, Sarah had the helmet. He knew he was moving quickly but he had no way of gauging how quickly. He saw a railway crossing up ahead. The barrier lights were flashing. A train was coming.
Sarah saw the train in the distance. She felt the bike speed up.
“We’ve got time,” he called, twisting the accelerator with tense fingers. He felt the bike backfire. The back tire nearly kicked out. He shot towards the crossing and felt the train rather than saw it approaching. He heard Sarah start to scream.
Sarah saw colours and shapes but she wasn’t sure what they were. The train was full of light and the road was dark. They blended into some sort of nightmarish wash and Sarah felt his body tense.
“We’re not going to make it.”
He hit the railway crossing just before the train did. For a brief second he actually thought they were going to be fine. But then the train ploughed into them and they were flying, clear of the bike, arms and legs entwined.
Sarah felt as though she was a child again, spinning on a merry go round. Round and round she went and she could hear music playing. Some sort of bastardised fair ground music that went slow and fast. She wondered why shy had got on his bike and thought of the irony that all she had wanted was a new experience.
“Aww Mama can this really be the end.”
He felt a sort of luckiness. He had always thought he would die alone but now, here he was, taking someone with him. He had spent his life by himself and now, selfishly, he was taking hers. It didn’t bother him. He was fed up of being alone.
And for a moment he heard that old man singing Dylan again. It’s strange the things you remember.
‘Mona tried to tell me, to stay away from the train line.’