It was nearing midnight on a hot velvety evening in August. The sky was the colour of a wild blue iris. From time to time purple black clouds masked the orange moon.
It was now too late for me to find a hotel. And anyway, I couldn’t afford one. I’d been driving for several hours and I needed to stop for a sleep. Ahead lay a motorway service station. With a bit of luck I’d find a place to park my car and there I would spend the night.
Away from the bright unforgiving lights of the motorway café I saw an area where the trucks had aligned themselves. And nearby was a lonely place for cars. I parked the car next to a large white camper van. The number plates said that it was from Denmark. In front of me was a just-discernible picnic area. The pine trees looked stately and forbidding in the dim light. When the lightning began to flash I felt a strange shiver of fear. Far to the west I could see the electric storm and I could hear the distant thunder. I began to sort out how I was going to sleep. The back seat of my car was just big enough for me: I could curl up and rest my head upon my arms.
I took a last look across towards the picnic area; the moon had now disappeared behind a heavy veil of cloud. And yet I saw a tiny point of light moving slowly amidst the sparse undergrowth; it weaved its way around the trunks of the tall trees. Then the lightning flashed and I glimpsed the outline of a person. I realised that the tiny point of light was a torch. Someone was searching for something. I watched – and then I saw that the torchlight had outlined a bench – a concrete bench. The person hovered around the bench and then they removed their rucksack. I could just about make out what was happening: a traveller was looking for a place to sleep.
I felt a moment of intense nostalgia. I remembered the times that I had hitchhiked around Europe and had slept on concrete or iron or wooden benches. I remembered that time on the shores of the beautiful lake at Annecy when life was so much simpler and when I had slept beneath the glittering stars. Those days back then seemed safer and far less crazy.
Then I started to worry about the traveller: maybe the thunderstorm was going to move closer; Maybe they weren’t safe at all; maybe a psycho was lurking in the darkness …
I had a good night’s sleep. Once or twice I woke up and, each time I looked out of the window, more and more cars had come to join me. It made me feel more secure.
At daybreak I decided to get a stove out of the boot of the car and make some coffee. As I was making the coffee I could see the midnight rambler still wrapped in a sleeping bag; and, all the while they lay on the narrow grey concrete bench. I began to sip my coffee. As I did, the traveller stirred and began to get ready for the day. To my surprise I noticed that the midnight rambler was a girl. She was maybe about 20 years old. I watched her as she adjusted her clothing and packed up her sleeping bag. She wore faded burnt orange trousers and the rest of her clothes told me that she’d been on the road for a long time. She rolled herself a cigarette for breakfast.
Then she began to set off for the road. As she passed me I invited her to drink a cup of coffee. She accepted. We sat in silence whilst she drank her coffee. Not a word was spoken. After she had drunk her coffee she rolled another cigarette. Then she adjusted the cardboard signs upon which were written, in huge letters, the names of towns up along the way. The last of her signs read: ‘To the end of the world’.