tagRomanceThe Solitary Road Leads to You

The Solitary Road Leads to You

bysubtlekiss©

Author's Note: In the summer of 2013, I was on a road trip along the less touristic parts of Europe. This story was inspired by long highway roads and the solitary rest stops along these routes. Hours of driving across barren pastures; some with vegetation, some with wilderness, all mesmerized me. Upon returning from my road trip, I started this story, wrote a considerable half of it but failed to complete it and over the years the story was abandoned.

This year, I have made it my resolution to finish my unfinished stories. I wanted a sense of closure for all my unfinished jottings. I hope that I did justice to what I had originally intended to write.

I am not sure if this story appeals, but just feel free to let me know. I will try to improve my craft and carry on writing to my heart's content.

With lots of appreciation,

*.* Lily


*****

The Solitary Road Leads to You
Before the long road, the full moon beckons
Poppy fields are burning bright
I think of the wondrous universe
Horizons without end
The lush depths of your eyes
Everything pales when I close my eyes
Then how do I not love you?

From the jottings of Tessa Bauer
I grew up in a small town called Thor. Nowadays it reminds people of the Nordic god wielding the hammer with the same name, thanks to the Hollywood revival of the Marvel comics. During my childhood though, the town was just as ordinary as it could get. It was primarily an agricultural community. The historical town centre itself was a small, sleepy hollow where a medieval church formed the main focal point of its quaint town square.

Now we get tourists from the United States taking photos with the small signpost welcoming visitors to our town. Sometimes they wield their own hammer and jack up our signpost as well. This has been an ongoing nuisance for the locals who see no humour in it.

I used to dislike tourists because they tend to clog up the narrow road leading to town. My English was not very good, so when I replied to questions from tourists, they did not understand me and this made me feel like an idiot. They came mostly in summer, so luckily for the rest of the year, I got to rest in peace; or rather, relax in peace as this town could be very quiet. Yet this was exactly what I liked about it, being the very reason why I never ventured out of Thor.

My childhood friends said that Thor confined me, but no, it is rather I who revelled in it. I felt secured and cocooned under its consistent regularity of a lifestyle. If I wanted some sort of excitement, I would take the hour long highway drive across Route 61 to Bad Holburg, which was the adjoining spa town, famous since the 1800s for its healing salt caves. In recent years though, the number of tourists have dwindled due to the rise of alternative health therapies.

I was a quiet child, painfully so. Thinking back, I would not say that I had a particularly happy childhood, but as a child, these thoughts do not come to mind. I did not know any better. Ignorance was indeed bliss. I believe that it was only due to the influx of contemporary self-help culture which made people question life so much.

Reading those self-help books, I now find that I was probably underage labour when I was young, and that I grew up in a dysfunctional and emotionally distant family. I could grow up all wrong in so many ways, according to these books which were supposed to make you feel better. For a long while, they did not. Instead I became melancholic. I have since risen above the need for self-improvement. Here I stand today - self-sufficient and rational. And I like to think that I function pretty well as a human being.

Of course, who am I to judge myself? I was not well-read except for a reading outburst during my late teenage years when I dwelled deeply into the meaning of life and got so perturbed over it because I could not decide what life was all about precisely. So now, twenty years older and wiser, I shall stick to what I do know about my life here and expand in my own little universe. I kind of like this saying. I could take my time, or I could take forever. I answered to no one except myself.

The earliest recollection of my youth were the poppy fields close to Thor where the striking blood-red hue of its blossoms stood out miles away even during the brightest of days. The poppies grew in abandon; they looked so beautiful with their fragile petals swaying in the ravenous wind. The vigour of the wind devoured the barren pastures here with no great barriers along the way. Except for the poppies. I did not know if they swayed against the force of the wind or if they bended at will to its pull. But they were always there, and after every rainfall, they looked more vivid and brighter than ever. They survived no matter what. As a child, this view gave me the impression that they were flowers of courage. As if flowers could be courageous. I smile at this thought now.

Once, when I was playing alone in the poppy fields, I gave an old farmer who was passing by from the adjoining field the shock of his life. Thinking back, it must have been a miracle that he did not drop dead from a heart attack.

"Goodness, I thought that the poppies were alive and kicking!" He stammered, still reeling from the shock of perceived runaway poppies.

The child that I was stared at him, astounded.

"What a strange creature you are!" He said, calming down but still finding it necessary to say something which alternated between awe and annoyance.

"Goodness, I've never seen such hair! As red and as wild as the poppies." He said now, looking at me as if I was a curiosity object from the antiquities museum.

My wide-eyed childhood innocence must have melted his heart somehow.

"It's getting dark. Now, little imp, be off with you if you know what's good for you." He said.

I scampered away, never once turning back until I had reached home and closed the bedroom door behind me.

My wavy, red hair was the wildest part of me. It encompassed the whole wilderness my life lacked. My hair was always kept long. Initially it was because my mother found my thick locks a nuisance to handle. We never went to the hairdresser as my mother took it upon herself to cut and trim our hair. In my teenage years, I grew to treasure my hair because I became rebellious; not to mention that poppies were my favourite flowers. Not the sunflower, nor the lavender which also grew in this region yet significantly non-existent along the wilderness of Route 61.

My parents were farmers. No, that was not why I did not have a happy childhood. Rather it was because they often argued. In fact throughout their life they seemed to detest being together but stayed put anyhow for want of better choice. They simply tolerated each other but I was apt to think that they did love me in their own way although never once did they praise me. What I did or did not do was never right. It was either too much or too little; or I was either too fast or too slow. So from a young age, I learnt that I had to be very precise in everything I did. The way I did things mattered; the minutes mattered right up to the seconds.

My parents farmed a piece of land for a company. They were hard-working and had a work ethic which I have continued till today, minus the land. They would have been pleased with this aspect of my life, to say the least. My parents grew corn and I would be helping them in the cornfields almost daily. This was already the time of technology, but because the farm we had was small, we did the planting and harvesting by hand.

My parents felt that labour should not change from the ways of their forefathers and they wanted to honour these traditional practices. So they toiled the earth the whole day, barely having time for other undertakings. Hobbies or social activities never crossed their mind. Sometimes I think that deep down they did not know what to do should the work on the field be taken over by modern machinery. They did not have any known interests. They complained all the time but take that out, they had nothing to talk about. Complaining was a way to make mundane life interesting. When they did have time in between planting and harvesting, they stayed home and stared into space. This was the time they became most irritable, and this was the time I ventured out alone to the poppy fields more often than ever to play.

Yet, things did change. The government wanted to buy the piece of land from the company to build a highway connecting our town of Thor and the spa town of Bad Holburg which was 120 kilometres away. Our farm was situated right in the middle of this project. The company was initially reluctant to sell as the price offered was too low. Eventually the government acquired the land through compulsory acquisition.

These series of events left my parents devastated. They were merely employees of the company. They thought fondly of the company as the company had not wanted to sell. After receiving a generous payout, they were informed that they could seek opportunities at the upcoming highway rest stop called Route 61, about ten kilometres from where we lived. They were told that a restaurant, gas station and perhaps a motel will be built there, depending on traffic flow.

It seemed the most sensible thing to do. So we left and that was how my parents started to work at the Route 61 Restaurant. You see me here today, at this restaurant, now serving mostly truckers and the occasional family. Over the years, my parents, being the hard workers they were, saved enough money to put forward a substantial offer to purchase the restaurant from its previous owner. Upon their demise, I have been managing the restaurant fulltime.

There was to be no motel as traffic never really picked up that much and tourists would rather drive straight to Bad Holburg than stay overnight here in the middle of nowhere. Only the restaurant and the self-service gas station remained for good.

I did expect to inherit the restaurant, as I was their only child and I worked here since I was tall enough to wash dishes at the sink. I was not studious nor adventurous enough to do anything else, so it was a reasonable arrangement. My parents never had great dreams for me either. From mingling with customers at an early age, I was now no longer shy yet I was still reserved and generally quiet, apart from small talk with the regular truckers.

A lot of my childhood friends have since moved on to bigger towns and started families. Many have travelled the world. It was not, however, for me. I was content as I could be near and literally at the place of my childhood. I never wanted to leave.

I enjoyed my solitary lifestyle with precise regularity. Everything went on like clockwork. I woke up at 5.00 am sharp and had breakfast by 6.00 am. I was irritated even when I woke up five minutes later. By 7.00 am I would be at the restaurant and I left the restaurant between 10.00 pm to midnight sharp. This was the only time frame in my life which was uncertain, and this had nothing to do with me. I was always punctual and despised surprises, because they gave me a dreaded feeling in my heart. There was no safety net there. I wanted to plan in advance about everything which could go wrong.

Dear reader, the one big irregularity in my life between 10.00 pm and midnight was the closing time of my own restaurant. This was because I felt responsible to let everyone who wants to have a meal to basically come in, enjoy and eat. I knew a thing or two about truckers especially. They drove nearly the whole day and when they arrive, they want a nice hearty meal. I cannot turn down a late trucker. This was my one weakness. Because these itinerant truckers came in at all odd hours, I felt compelled to keep my restaurant open until the whole place was finally devoid of customers before I could call it a day.

In the past, I had dated a few. Some were really nice men. However the relationships never worked out. The initial spark I found with them always fizzled out. I never felt like I found the right man for me. Although I accepted them as they were with all their flaws and imperfections, I did not feel that I could give myself in completely to them. I was still put on guard against something which could go wrong. Maybe I could not trust enough or maybe there was no such thing as the one.

Year in and year out. Finally, the age of youth passed me by. I became increasingly solitary and was alone, as I had been for the past six years. At the age of forty-four, I was already resigned to a life of spinsterhood. It was a tolerable lifestyle and I could have done much worse.

It was always the uncertainty in life which brought along trouble. The two hours gap I had for closing time was to change my life completely, in ways I could not have imagined.

Being one of the few women working at the Route 61 highway stop, I received quite a fair share of attention from the local truckers and over the years friendship had blossomed. I knew my regulars and felt blessed with the friendship I had with them.

My contentment was broken one day when this new trucker came into my life. He was a wanderer of sorts and had worked with different transport companies. He was fickle-minded and changed jobs as often as he did his socks. He regularly drove through Route 61 and soon became friends with the other regulars there. He was one of those young men sorting things out. I gathered that he must have just finished his studies and was out for an adventure.

He always seemed to know what to say to the people whom he wanted to talk to, and the ease of conversation always came flowing naturally to him. He had the gift of the gab but was selective in who he wanted to converse with. He never bothered about me. He never once so much glanced in my direction except when he wanted to order something.

His name was Stefan. He had a boyish charm about him but his eyes were quite soulful, which was an odd mix. He was tall and broad; his voice was a deep baritone. His blond hair became golden curls in the sunlight. He was very flirtatious and liked to tease the opposite sex. He ogled the rare young woman who walked in alone and tried his luck in exchanging phone numbers. Sometimes it worked, and sometimes it did not. Once I think he had a very intimate encounter with one in his truck. Not that I was prying. The other truckers were whispering about the adventure off the beaten track, as they called it. I was serving the gang dinner then. Ernst and Friedrich were closer trucker friends I had, and normally they told me stories about their travels and misadventures. I would think sexual conquests were personal, but to them, this was a bragging right for their trucker team. Both did not have long-term partners. The hazards of the job, they told me.

Stefan never teased me nor glanced in my direction directly. I was just there to serve him his favourite fried cod with fries, minus the salad. Personally I thought that he could have eaten more vegetables for his own good. Indeed, there are times when one was grateful to be past that age of teasing. I preferred to always be in the background cooking up a storm of a meal and serving my patrons. I wondered had I not been the age I was, would he had paid me even the slightest bit of attention or if my red hair would have put him off. I kept it long at waist-length because I was so used to it now that I could not imagine myself otherwise. My hair became a shawl for me whenever I needed it. It became good for weather protection, especially on cold nights. If I felt uncomfortable, I would just let my hair naturally fall forward until it covered my cheeks. I could partially hide my eyes as well as my facial expression like that. So as you can see, these are the advantages of keeping my hair long.

Yet, if I were true to myself, I have to let you know that in the innermost refuge of my heart, the status of the poppies have been elevated to almost a kind of mysticism. The old farmer's words never left me. Just as the poppies survived the ravenous wind, whether by swaying of their own volition or resisting all the way till they surrendered completely to the forces of nature, I thought almost fervent-like about a life where desire and passion mingled; and where against all odds I surrendered completely to this sensation which will envelop my entire being. Then I knew that this was meant to be. The poppies gave me a glimpse into a parallel life which never could have been. Yet every time I drove past the poppy fields, I saw flaming desire and passion- these abstract qualities which the naked eye could not see; and they give me reassurance and faith for the day. And it makes me smile the most genuine of smiles. It was my little secret.

Stefan always ordered the same dish for dinner whenever he was here. On that particular moonlit night, there were only two customers in the restaurant. I had allowed Lena to leave earlier because she said that she had a date. It was just an hour before midnight. Stefan was one of them and the other was a woman who corresponded to his age, I would think. She had rather huge eyes and sun-kissed skin which contrasted with how petite she was. She had a stunning hour glass figure. Men would have liked that, I thought.

Sleuthing from the corner of my eyes, I observed Stefan as he took a long glance at her. If I had found her attractive, she certainly must have caught his roving eyes too. Yet I had least expected what he would do next. With a sudden and unexpected velocity, his eyes darted into my direction. They lunged deep into me. It felt as though he knew that I was prying on him all along. I was caught off-guard and automatically I swished my wild, unruly hair to let it obscure part of my face by turning to my side in the pretext of working on the cash register. I had never been more grateful to my hair until now.

I did fiddle aimlessly with the cash register by stacking and rearranging notes in and out of their respective compartments. When I finally had the courage; or rather sense, to look up, in the nick of time I caught Stefan as he gazed in her direction again. The woman was alone and she did not have a ring on her finger. I observed as Stefan glided suavely to her table and asked if he may dine with her because he was feeling lonely. Perhaps it was not that he spoke loudly but rather it was a quiet night, and the restaurant emanated a still-like meditative quality of silence.

I could hear his words clearly and the gallant manner he had spoken to her was akin to a knight in shining armour. I heard her sweetly reply that she was sorry to hear he was lonely. She courteously welcomed him to her table and they did dine together. The moment he sat opposite her, they spoke in softer tones. I could not catch their conversation anymore but I did cast furtive looks from the counter now and then to observe them.

Both appeared to be at ease with each other and finally after the last drop of drink, Stefan took his leave from her. He walked to the counter to where I was and wanted to pay for his newly-found companion. He looked straight into my eyes. This time I had no excuse to swish my unruly hair to provide any sort of concealment. I had to reciprocate his gaze. It was only good customer service. Since Lena, my assistant, lacked that courteousness, I had to be the saving grace of the restaurant. Yet I shuddered as I looked into his eyes. They seemed ethereal. All this while, I had known that there was something about him which made him stand out amongst other men, but I could not quite pinpoint what it was. Strangely my mind fleeted to the poppy fields. He was all of those striking wilderness in the otherwise barren fields. He nonchalantly stood out. Yes, simply ethereal.

I could not take my gaze off his eyes now. They arrogantly pierced into mine. The lush blue within seemed to spiral without end; lunging me into its vortex and enticing me further into the man that he was. The eyes were the window to the soul; was it not right? So much depth in so young a man.

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