Qualified Entry: Fiction Category
By: Katie Gelbart
The whirring, buzzing, throbbing pulse of a million cars driving by in a sprawling city full of smog and rain. You know one will stop for you, thumb out, waiting on the side of the vast highway: it’s the magic of the road. One kind, solitary man pulls up, lowers his window and lets you into a smoke-filled car. The radio’s blaring out alien sounds, an alluring cacophony, indecipherable songs hit foreign ears and the consonance of the unknown voices and the wind whistling by cause the corners of your mouth to turn upwards. A wide grin, the thrill of freedom in an unchartered, unexplored, unfamiliar land. Rucksack slung in the back, stuffed full, this sack is your life, your possessions, in the hands of a stranger. Faith in everything, there’s no other option on the road, everything and nothing depends on the truth behind the amiable smile and the benevolence of the native behind the wheel, car screeching round corners, leaving the rumble-clack tickity-tack city behind.
Peace is a feeling inside and out, where harmony and unity collide in a sensual explosion and the rattling windows of a fragile creaky house as a train goes by no longer disturb you because you and everything else are one and there is no other, you are the other too. You remember I once told you the tale of the man on the hill who saw everything and said nothing and you asked me why he didn’t speak and I smiled at you in my knowing way and I said nothing and at the time you didn’t understand and you wanted me to explain but I couldn’t and it doesn’t matter because you’ve fathomed it now. The cool breeze of calm strokes your cheek as fear disappears and is replaced by a profound sense of equilibrium, an awareness of the fragile balance of life and everything alive and you look to the floor and see a thousand ants working together to build a nest and you think of the circle of life and you realise it’s complete and you don’t need words to say it because your face is like a book opened on a page marked peace.
You are dropped off at the side of the road. Once again you are alone and there are no more strangers to depend on because now it’s just you and it feels good to know that your life is in your hands and you are strong and solid and independent and you don’t need anything else. The small tent in the shade of a tree is warm and inviting, it is your home and you live there in your blankets and you love it because along the road every place you stop is home. The woods are a cool canopy in this curious land as you gather food and chop and cook and drink tea from a hot flask and sigh to yourself and stir the cauldron and again the corners of your mouth turn upwards into a smile. Solitude need not be a challenge nor a thought for it too can be a feeling and it too can be named peace. A lone voyager approaches you and with a nod of assent you serve tea and you light your cigarette and let your gaze wander off between the tall trees and not a word is said between you for solitude too can be shared.
There is no difference between you and the road: you are the road and you will be on it ’til you choose to get off or draw it to a halt. It’s a map unfolding before your eyes, the sumptuous joys of the fresh and different are the blue seas swirling around the landmasses painted green and brown like the lazy disgust of the unlikeable and the small lines dividing countries are the borders of your dreams and as you cross each little line off the map your musings become a reality and you no longer know if you are awake or lost in a haze of dreamy adjectives describing intangible things you never thought you’d see and you still don’t know if you’re awake and if this chimera of feverish otherworldly experiences is your own and you recall the stranger and the cup of tea and you feel it in your hand and suddenly the cold creeps into your toes for you are lucid and alive and in this state you see all and feel all and this is no hallucination: it is real and it is life and you are on the road.