6. Rear Vision Mirror

WE DROVE FOR THREE days straight on roads that shook us to the core, avoiding every highway, giving false names at a caravan park on the first night and thereafter sleeping under the stars for fear of leaving a trail, paying in cash for fuel and meals, keeping a low profile in towns when we had to stop at a supermarket. It was hard to say if we were being followed: on dirt roads, a car throws up great billowing trails of dust. On the second day we passed a car abandoned on the side of the road with its number plates still intact. Raphael stopped the car and unscrewed the plates with a pocket knife. That night he swapped them for our plates as we munched on our cold canned soup. Later we shivered sleeplessly in the back of the car, despite lying together, four bodies – three human and one canine – sharing their meagre warmth. As if sensing something, Raphael slept in the middle, separating me from Renata. Had he guessed my secret? The net morning, after the usual breakfast of coffee and crackers, we continued on, driving hour after hour, my body periodically doubled over with seizures of pain, and all we had for music was that blasted dog's bursts of staccato barking, which seemed to coincide with my seizures. On the third day I became ill, violently ill. My illness forced us to make random roadside stops, and as the illness emptied me time and again, Raphael and Renata would hold up a towel to shield me from the road, facing away from me, Raphael smoking and talking the whole time, talking about the sea, talking about the ocean, teeming with whales, about watching the sun set over the ocean, about the great wondrous tides that washed back and forth over miles of beach. The following I was no better. Renata began insisting I should go to hospital, something Raphael was against as he felt it would give us away – there weren’t too many doctors or hospitals to choose from. Renata pleaded and argued the case, but Raphael would not be moved. Of course, in between bouts of illness I was mortified: once again my body was betraying me, betraying all of us. The following day, still ill, after a torrid night, another sleepless night for us all, I sat in the back of the car, shivering despite the noonday heat, thinking about that ocean, and the thought crossed my mind for the first time that I might never see that ocean. As if he’d just had the same thought, Raphael looked at me in the rear vision mirror. Our eyes met. Take me to a doctor, I said, and just leave me there. Raphael’s anger was palpable, but at the next intersection he turned onto a side road bound for a mining town. We found the clinic and said our goodbyes in the car a block away. They both hugged me. The dog I never had much affection for and the feeling was mutual, but I was saddened to farewell Raphael and crushed to be leaving Renata in his hands, for I knew he woud break her, and maybe she knew it too. Renata hugged me for an especially long time, until my body was seized with pain again, and Raphael began driving for the clinic entrance, pulling up at the door. I almost tumbled out, so exhausted was I, and Raphael threw my bag of belongings onto the footpath beside me. Of course the dog wouldn't let me go without a tirade of barks bidding me good riddance, and then they drove off, and I stumbled into the cool whiteness inside, and the relief of morphine, and later still questions from the sad local policeman that I refused to answer. Needless to say I never saw either of them again.