By: Shane Lambert
I visited France in the spring of 2008, a trip where I was primarily interested in seeing the capital city of Paris. But in the early part of my trip, I found myself in the smaller city of Nice, a city situated in the south of France on the Mediterranean Sea.
This was a region that I had no previous knowledge of before the spring of 2008. I’d only selected Nice as a city to visit because the airfares from Canada, my home country, had been incredibly affordable for my travel dates. My economic situation was such that I often felt pressure to shave off expenses whenever I could, even when I was on my annual vacation.
To this end, during my time in Nice I was fortunate to find very affordable accommodations. I stayed in a hostel for several days, a type of accommodation that had dormitory-style rooms with multiple and ever-changing dorm-mates.
I’d also had the good fortune of making a friend during my five days in Nice, a man named Conrad from the United States of America. While meeting Conrad did nothing to cut back my expenses, it certainly made my time in the south of France far more enjoyable than it otherwise would have been.
Together Conrad and I had gone to Monte Carlo, we’d visited the tourist sites in Nice, and we’d gone out drinking on a couple of occasions. He and I both planned to leave the south of France at about the same time, but not to the same destinations. Whereas I was heading to Paris, he had just come from there and our mismatched itineraries promised to force a parting of ways.
When I said goodbye to Conrad, he was sitting in the common area of our hostel’s dorm. I didn’t want to make the farewell between us too emotional so, after saying goodbye and exchanging email addresses, I didn’t linger near him but instead took a seat on the other side of the room.
Minutes later, I noticed that he was speaking to a man that I had judged as suspicious during my stay. I wasn’t sure of this man’s name, but the fellow certainly hadn’t been on the friendly side over the last few days. He’d also shared the same dorm that Conrad and I had shared and I’d made attempts to speak with this stranger on some occasions. However, every time I did so my efforts were met with no response — even when I was certain that the man had heard me. As far as I knew, he’d behaved the same way towards Conrad and, while choosing to keep my distance, I found it strange that the two were speaking to one another just minutes before my friend was to depart.
It had mainly been due to the strange man’s presence in the shared dormitory that I had felt concerned for the security of my possessions over the last several days. My travel items were mostly of minimal value, however, I still would have been out a pretty penny if I had to replace my entire travel wardrobe. I was also fond of a new backpack I’d purchased not two weeks earlier from a shop back home.
But, most importantly, I felt I had to worry a little bit at all times about my passport. I imagined that losing this while on vacation would be a red-taped nightmare, one that I knew had the potential of ruining my trip for several days. In my heart of hearts, I did not trust the stranger in my dorm and I was sure that if something of mine was to go missing then he would be the proper one to blame. Thus, I kept everything that I didn’t keep on my person securely locked up, including my precious passport which always sat in a pocket in my backpack.
The first time the strange man spoke to me, after several days of sharing close quarters, was shortly after Conrad left. It was at a time when I was looking at the travel costs of getting all the way to Paris from Nice, a trip that could take about half of a day. The high costs of ground transportation that I found on the Internet certainly didn’t impress me much and, after paying so little for trans-Atlantic airfare, I was more keen on finding similar deals for points between destinations within France. It was at this time, while I lamented the costs associated with getting to Paris, that the man approached me.
“Hi,” he said in an English or Irish accent, “I ‘aird that cher lookin’ to go up to Paris.”
I was immediately intrigued, not by him but simply by the fact that my instincts told me that a chance to save some travel expenses might have just presented itself.
“Yesss!” I replied with raised eyebrows. “I’m kinda lookin’ over prices right now. You headed there too?”
“Uv coehz,” he said in a way that communicated a degree of frustration with me, as though I should have automatically assumed that he was heading there too.
He then motioned his nose toward my laptop.
“Yer nuht gunna fine anythin’ fer less than two-fifty euro lookin’ online,” he continued, “but I’m drivin’ to Paris at thuh crack uh dawn and if you wanna ride I ken charge you ownlay fiftay.”
I knew that his price estimation of two hundred and fifty euros was a mistake, maybe even a lie. I’d already found that you could take a night train to Paris, like the movie, for only sixty-five euros from Nice. That wasn’t a cheap price when I converted it over to Canadian dollars and, adding insult to injury, the timing of the next available train to Paris meant that I would have to stay an extra day at the hostel, something I didn’t want to do now that Conrad was gone.
However, my inclination was that the price that this man was offering me, fifty euros for a shared ride to Paris, was a rip off too. As far as I could see I would be paying for 100% of the gas cost and then some. I knew fifty euros was the cheaper price compared to the train but it wasn’t this basic math that guided my decision. I simply felt better about a company ripping me off than this guy who stood in front of me, a man who only started acting half-nice to me when he thought he could swindle me.
“I’ll think about it,” I said. “I think we’re bunkin’ in the same room.”
“‘k,” he said, kind of choked up, and he started to turn away.
“Shayne,” I said, extending my hand before he fully turned.
He looked at my open palm for a split second and then extended his. It was in this moment where I felt that I had a read him. It seemed, at first, like he didn’t really want to shake my hand, but did so only when he calculated that there could be something in it for him.
“Andreas,” he remarked as we shook hands briefly.
After the exchange, I weighed my options more thoughtfully but came to the same basic conclusion. It was my opinion that I would be better off paying a company to take responsibility for my travel arrangements rather than an individual that I’d just met, one who seemed odd. The former offered a guarantee while the latter could ditch me without giving me a refund.
After Andreas walked away, I researched online again in hopes that I might find something both better and more affordable than the night train. After a solid 30 minutes of searching, that proved futile. It was at this point, when I went back to the night train’s reservation page, that I learned that the price had increased by five euros. Since I was already reluctant to book at the previous price, I wondered if Andreas might negotiate.
I’d certainly overspent a little during my time in Nice — not on accommodations but on alcohol — and avoiding the high cost of the train was something I saw as bringing my travel budget back into balance. I could have used some advice on travel in the region but the only friend I had in the area, Conrad, was nowhere to be found at this point and I wouldn’t see him again. We would not converse until several months later, when we were both back home and exchanging emails.
At that time, in the summer of 2008, I would learn that he did send Andreas in my direction before leaving the hostel. According to Conrad, the American hoped that I’d gain a shared-ride option as an alternative to expensive rail travel.
An important point that Conrad emailed me, one that I never knew while I was in France in the springtime, was that Andreas wasn’t actually going to Paris but just up to Lyon. This destination was, in fact, en route to Paris but it was still a city that was only about 40% of the way to the French capital from Nice. That Andreas wanted to charge me fifty euros and then dump me off in Lyon would be a point that he would keep hidden from me at all times in the day ahead.
I found Andreas in our dorm and offered him a generous thirty-five euros for the trip, fifteen up front and twenty when we got to the capital city. He countered with twenty up front, five more in Lyon, and ten more when we got to Paris. I agreed, but then I found it peculiar that he wanted the twenty euros immediately, even though the plan was to leave the next morning.
“I’ll pay you when we’re in the car,” I said.
It was a remark that I thought a reasonable person would find agreeable. However, when he acted as though he had been affronted, that was another occasion where I sensed something not quite right about him.
That night, before heading off to sleep, I made sure to prepack and I had a late shower. At about 6 AM, as I slept in bed, Andreas flicked my temple as one might flick a bug away off of a table. Before we left, I did little more than brush my teeth, return my room-access card, and get my deposit back from the front-desk staff. By 6:10 AM, we were both in the vicinity of his car.
“Five mo’ minutes and I woulda luft ya,” he claimed.
He drove a small hatchback that only had two seats. In the rear of the vehicle there was a deep trunk where we both stored our bags. I didn’t really like having a locked trunk between me and my bag, a lock that I didn’t have the key to, however, there really was no space up front. The way I ended up looking at it, him having my bag (and my passport) in his trunk was a way for him to guarantee that I wouldn’t stiff him in Paris: he could hold my bag until I evened my bill up with him. In a way, it did seem fair to me.
The vehicle he drove was different from ones I’d seen in France to that point, because both the driver’s and passenger’s seats were switched around. At first, I actually went to enter on the wrong side, but when I saw the steering wheel through the driver’s-side window I quickly corrected my actions. When I sat down on the other side of the car, I reached into my wallet and found twenty euros for him. As I did so, I glanced at Andreas and judged his eyeballs to be very focused on the other bills that I had.
“So that’s five more in Lyon and then ten in Paris, right?” I asked apprehensively.
“Ken we do ten in Lyon?” he asked and I shook my head slightly.
“‘k,” he said abruptly, with squinted eyes.
We didn’t talk a whole lot, but when I asked about why the steering wheel was on the right side of the car Andreas muttered something about how I should pay attention to people’s accents. It was a remark that seemed to highlight my inability to connect a certain set of dots, as though I should have known that the car was British from the way he spoke.
As he drove, I sensed that he had a lot of confidence in where he was going. Along the “Route de Grenoble” there were both train tracks and a river than ran parallel to the highway. There were also mountains in the area, although none as majestic as the ones back home in Alberta. The area seemed more on the arid side too and, in that way, everything reminded me more of the Okanagan. It was not desert, but it was not lush. It was not flat, but there was nothing towering.
A huge difference between home in western Canada and where I was in France was how the latter had a town or village almost every ten minutes. When I thought of a road trip, I thought of fence posts for miles on end, undeveloped land, isolation, and signs that told you how far away the next gas station was. In France, or at least at this part of it, it felt like civilization never ended and for a good hour of driving I wasn’t even sure that we had left Nice.
When there wasn’t tense silence in the car, Andreas would generally be swearing about something or other. He was as bitchy as a chain smoker that couldn’t afford his daily pack and that bitchiness only intensified when he faced a genuine hardship.
The highway travelling was very slow and I faded in and out of a nap, much to Andreas’ dismay. Multiple times he slapped me on the chest and said that since he wasn’t able to sleep, neither could I. Just getting to Grenoble ended up taking us a full six hours in thick traffic. With the time about midday, I asked Andreas if there were any plans to stop for lunch.
“No,” he replied sternly. “You ken go fer lunch in Lyon.”
At the time, the comment struck me as odd, but I didn’t think much of it for long. It felt like he should have said “we” could go for lunch in Lyon. To make sense of the remark, I presumed that he couldn’t use that inclusive pronoun because of his antisocial approach. Not knowing that he planned to ditch me in Lyon, when “we” went for lunch I imagined it would be more like “him” and “I” going separately, perhaps even in the same restaurant.
As we passed through Grenoble, I noticed that Andreas often looked down at the readings on his dashboard. I wondered if, from his point of view, the car was acting funny. In speculation, I thought that maybe the RPMs were high or that maybe the car was overheating. We pulled into a gas station when we got into the rural area after Grenoble and, after we came to a stop near a gas nozzle, Andreas seemed perturbed.
“Wite ‘air,” he ordered as he exited the vehicle and walked into the station’s store.
I actually wanted to go in the station to use the restroom and I wondered why he’d ordered me to stay put. Then I wondered why he’d ordered me to do anything at all and I further wondered some more about why I listened.
Did I do it because both my bag and passport were in his trunk and because I didn’t fully trust him to not drive off with it if I rubbed him the wrong way? Did I do it because I wanted to stay on good terms with him until we got to what I thought would be Paris?
The answer was a mixture of the two, but nothing changed the fact that I had to use the bathroom badly. After a short deliberation, I figured that if he was going to run off with my stuff then he wouldn’t be doing it too quickly. He needed gas and I knew it would take a few minutes for him to fill up. As for staying on good terms with him, some things in life needed to be thrown in the wind.
“Salle de bains, sil vous plait,” I said to the clerk in the station as Andreas looked through the drink coolers.
The clerk passed me a key and pointed to the side of the building. When I returned, Andreas was filling his car and, after I reclaimed my seat, he started tinkering underneath the hood.
“D’ ya know much about vayickles?” he asked in an uncharacteristically sweet voice through the window on the side of the car.
“Not a whole lot,” I lied. “Why? Havin’ a problem?”
He nodded his head and described a certain feeling when he drove the car. According to Andreas, when he pressed the gas pedal it didn’t seem like the car responded with its normal power.
My first thought on the matter was that the change he noticed actually had something to do with me and my bag. I was a hefty unit and my bag weighed a bit too. Together, we might have been almost 300 pounds and my one-time occupancy of a seat in his small-engined vehicle may have been a good explanation for the difference in how the vehicle behaved.
But this was a point that I decided not to bring up for two reasons. The first of which was that it suggested that sticking me curbside was the solution to his vehicle’s problems.
“Check the transmission fluid,” I said through the window.
He then made a “come here” motion with his left-pointer finger, an action I found a little bit affronting. But I continued to obey him and I directed his attention to the transmission dipstick. After that, I took little interest in his problem and I stood back from the engine.
When he looked back at me, he probably noticed my disinterest. He then consulted his owner’s manual, a consultation that a very loud sigh followed. A couple minutes later, we were back out on the road again as it became clear that fate would simply need to be tested.
I didn’t actually notice anything unusual at all about the way the car was running myself, but then I had no previous experience with the vehicle to compare to. All I noticed was that Andreas was constantly looking down at the readings on his dashboard and frequently muttering swears of frustration under his breath.
Then, after we drove for another twenty minutes, a rumbling sound came out from under the hood. With that, Andreas swore out loud as he slapped the steering wheel and pulled off to the side before we both got out. When he lifted the hood, I saw steam escape from the inside and into the air. I figured that a leak must have been sprung and that some kind of fluid had sprayed into the heat of the engine.
“Fuck sakes,” he said with his hands on his head. A moment later, he directed his angered attention over toward me. “I thut ya said that things wuh fine!!” he yelled.
“I never said that,” I retorted and he glared at me.
I got the feeling that he was trying to shift some responsibility for his car’s problems to me, maybe believing that putting a guilt trip on me might lead to me paying for some upcoming towing costs. However, that certainly wasn’t part of my plan and that had nothing to do with the fact that he was a jerk.
I was a minimalist in life in terms of my possessions. I’d gone without a car in recent years and there had been all kinds of inconveniences that had been associated with that. However, the one major convenience, besides the saved money on car payments, was that I didn’t have to deal with random car troubles. That issue was the domain of vehicle owners and, in my mind, I’d be damned if I suffered the inconveniences of not having a vehicle while shouldering the inconveniences of having one at the same time.
That I’d shared a ride with someone that owned the vehicle I was transported in meant that I had to kind of jump through his hoops while I was in his car. When he told me not to sleep, I listened. When he was rude to me, I suffered it. But, at least, when his car broke down I could do something that he couldn’t do — walk away from it.
We’d passed a village about two minutes earlier and I could see houses on our side of the highway back toward Grenoble. Otherwise, there was nothing but farmland on each side of the highway. The passing vehicles were numerous and it seemed pretty clear to me that those motorists represented our best hope for rescue.
For my part, once we hitched a ride I had no intentions of staying with Andreas. He wasn’t my friend, I owed him nothing, and he’d been brash with me. However, my travel companion would force alternate plans on me.
Andreas closed the hood to his car and walked some steps toward the barrier on the side of the highway. He then stared away from me into a farmer’s field for a few moments and I allowed him some silence to collect his thoughts.
“Shoyne,” he said softly several seconds later, “I need ja t’ stigh with m’ car while I go get ‘elp.”
It was funny how people’s voice tones changed when they needed a favor.
“No,” I said and he turned around and gave me the evil eye.
“Why nauht?!” he asked sharply.
“Because this is your car. If ya think I’m waitin’ ‘ere fer more than twennie minutes while you go get help you ken forget about it,” I said.
He gulped and he turned his face away from me again.
“I ken get ‘elp ‘air in thirdy,” he said. “I’ve gut relations aroun’.”
“Really?” I asked, a little more optimistically. “Don’t cha have a cellular on ya?”
He shook his head, kept his back turned, and replied “no” as cars drove by — including that one that seemed to be decelerating.
“Salut!!” a voice then yelled out from about thirty meters down the highway, one that caught both Andreas’ attention and my own.
“Salut!” I replied and I walked toward a man who had parked his car on the shoulder ahead of us. “Tu parle anglais, mon ami?”
“Yes,” he said. “Eez yer car broken?”
“It’s not my car, but his,” I replied as I directed the man’s attention toward Andreas.
My travel companion then gestured with an open palm to some space away from me, as though he wanted the helpful stranger to walk into that space to talk privately. If Andreas thought that it was smart to keep his conversation away from my ears, it wasn’t. I knew that the conversations that you couldn’t be party to in life were the ones that you needed to hear the most. To me, Andreas’ invitation to the man to move to an area away from me screamed out one incontrovertible fact: whatever Andreas would speak about would be a mini-conspiracy against my interests somehow. A minute later, Andreas directed the man back to his car and then the grump came up to me privately.
“I’ll be buhk in huff ‘n hour,” he said before sneaking in an up-sell, “forty-five max. In the meantime, I need ja ta mayhk shuh the car doesn’t get towed away or broken into. I’ll need a piece of I.D. from ya too.”
I thought about it for a moment and the up-sell was fine as forty-five minutes didn’t seem like a vast amount of time to me. However, there was no way I was giving him an identification card.
“Okay,” I said, “I’ll wait but I’m not givin’ you my passport or nothin.’ In fact, I want my bag out while I wait.”
He smirked at me in a distrustful way and shook his head ever so slightly.
“I’ll only be forty five,” he said. “Jus’ relax for a bit. Anjoy thuh sainuhry.”
With that stunning indifference to my demand to be in possession of something I owned, he power-locked both of the doors to the car and walked away. That he had a certain opinion of me in doing so was clear as day.
After all, there was a way to get my bag out of the trunk of the car without his car keys. His impression of me must have been that I wouldn’t dare take that option. But when the vehicle Andreas traveled in left my sight, I started to look for a good-sized rock. It was a search that I gave up on very quickly as I froze and stared off into the distance in roadside introspection.
I found that my impulse to break into Andreas’ car would be one that would be tough for me to act on. Accordingly, as the time slowly passed in rural France, I found myself only thinking about what the consequences would be if I did break a window on Andreas’ car. It was an action that would give me access to the trunk-release lever, but it was one that would also put some potentially vacation-wrecking forces into motion.
After all, if I did break into his car, Andreas might file a police report against me. I had no reason to believe that he knew my last name, but if there was any will power on the part of the police, then Andreas could direct them to my hostel stay in Nice.
I had registered under my legal name and I had used my correct home address. Andreas knew the room I slept in, the bed I slept in, and the time frame I had been in Nice. For certain, the hostel’s software would have my identity in it if the staff were provided with those pieces of information. I thought about this sequence of events intensely as I stood roadside.
“No,” I said in my head, “that’s not how it’ll go down.”
It seemed possible, even probable, that no one in the French legal apparatus would spend much time bothering with me.
“He’ll have to tell them that I was offered a ride,” I continued to think. “They’ll wonder why I would then break into his car and Andreas will have to explain that he abandoned me without relinquishing my possessions.”
At this point, I began to summon some nerve. This required justifying to myself that it was, in fact, okay for me to break the window of a car that I did not own against the wishes of the owner.
That Andreas was an asshole mattered little the more I deliberated. It would feel good to break his window as revenge for flicking my temple, slapping my chest numerous times, making many cutting remarks, and ordering me not to use the bathroom. But that I felt a vindictiveness toward Andreas was something that I knew I had to reason past.
Sorting my emotional contempt for him from my logical reasoning was difficult. But one fact that was definitely true was that the owner of the car that I wanted to break into had abandoned me on the side of a rural road with my bag and passport inside his vehicle. I had no bathroom, no water, and no food. While I had agreed to a 45-minute wait, I felt that much longer than that meant that I could free myself from my difficult situation with whatever means I had available. That was especially true given that I had no way of tracking Andreas’ movements, no way of knowing if he’d been sidetracked, and no way of knowing if he was honestly on his way back to the car.
That he was an asshole wasn’t entirely irrelevant by any stretch. It suggested that my well being would not be a major consideration for him as he tried to solve his problem.
“You can break his window and remain the same person,” I thought to myself.
While walking around the area near the car, I noticed a pile of rubble about thirty meters off of the highway. The rubble had to be on private property because it was on the edge of a field, one that someone clearly maintained. I climbed over the small barrier on the side of the highway in hopes of finding something that would break a window without risking any part of my hand.
Among this precious rubble I found a muffler, some scrunched up tin cans, two blown-out tires, a shoe with a sock, a board with a nail, and other kinds of random items. The only sturdy object I found that I could easily carry was a glass one-liter pop bottle. I grabbed it, walked back toward the car with it, and figured that the base of the bottle would definitely break what’s-his-name’s window.
Moments later, I stood beside the broken-down car with my new bottle in hand. I then glanced at the sun and decided that perhaps only twenty-five minutes had passed since Andreas had left.
“You gotta give ’em that forty-five,” I whispered. “It’s a contract.”
In the time period ahead, I routinely looked around and I constantly reassured myself that I was in safe enough isolation to commit an action that looked like a crime. The only people that could possibly see me would be passing motorists, but I judged it very possible to avoid their eyes because of both gaps in traffic and because I could break the window on the side of the car that faced away from the road.
My heart rate remained unnaturally high for someone whose body was at rest, a condition that attested to the pressure I felt. But when I was sure that at least a generous sixty minutes had gone by, I started to tap the base of the pop bottle on the driver’s-side window. I’d already long since spotted the release to the trunk in the foot area of the car.
At any moment, I could have shattered the window and relied on the remote location to prevent any kind of attention coming my way. However, I refrained from doing this because I feared that a momentous blow might leave me cut. After a while of tapping, I gained confidence that the base of the bottle was actually stronger than the window and so I progressively tapped a little bit harder until I passed the point of debatable culpability.
Pressure. Time. Fracture.
There was no alarm that sounded, likely because the car had not been equipped with one. Moreover, I didn’t shatter the whole window, but only made a small hole that I enlarged with the spout end of the bottle.
Then, using my sleeve to protect my hand, I reached inside the car and lifted the knob that unlocked the door. Shortly thereafter, I entered the vehicle, sat for a minute, allowed my heart rate to calm back down, and then reminded myself that I should leave the area as soon as possible.
In the driver’s-side cup holder I found an unopened drink, one that Andreas bought at the gas station earlier. In the glove compartment, I found a packed lunch with both a rice-and-salmon concoction and an apple. I decided, with no one around to argue with me, that I’d paid four-sevenths of the agreed fare to get to Paris from Nice yet did not receive anything close to four-sevenths of the distance. I paid myself the balance with his lunch and a drink and then I tucked the falsely-incriminating evidence under his seat. Next, I flipped open the trunk and retrieved my precious backpack. The thought, that I had access to Andreas’ bag, did cross my mind but I never did touch it.
I then tossed the pop bottle deep into the ditch, put my bag on the hood of the car, and stuck out my thumb. I speculated that anyone that passed me would think I was a car owner whose engine had failed as opposed to a budget traveler who needed to freeload. It was a difference in image that I thought would work in my favour.
“Tu parle anglais?” I asked a man who pulled over.
“Non,” this driver replied with a shaking head.
“Ummmm…..Paris?” I asked.
“Non,” he replied with a shaking head.
“Ummmm…..Lyon?” I asked.
“Oui,” he said with a nod.
As I got in, I could tell that my unwitting getaway driver wondered about the broken-down car and, in a way, it was nice that he couldn’t speak English nor I much French. When I imagined his perspective, I couldn’t help but think that he must have wondered why I would want to go to Paris and leave my car behind so far.
“L’auto est mon ami,” I said.
What I meant to say was “the car is my friend’s” but what I really said was “the car is my friend.”
After an hour of driving, “Airvay” (ie. Harvey) dropped me off in Lyon at a public-transit station that I figured was probably not too far out of the way for him. He wrote a message on a piece of paper for me: “Gare de Lyon Part-Dieu” it read.
“Gare” was a word that I felt like I had seen recently, but it’s meaning escaped me.
“Gare?” I asked with a confused look on my face.
“Oui, Gare,” the man replied.
“Qu’est-ce que c’est?” I asked, meaning “What is it?” in English.
He looked troubled for a moment and then said “Choo-choo!!” and I knew he meant that there was a train there for me to Paris.
“Ahhh,” I said with a smile before speaking slowly. “Gare….de….Lyon Part-Dieu a une CHOO-CHOO pour moi a Paris” (the train station has a train for me to Paris).
“Oui,” the man said with a smile.
“Aujourd’hui?” I asked, meaning “Today?”
“Oui,” the man said.
“Bon,” I said. “Merci!”
We shook hands and I left.
It would only cost about eighteen euros to get from Lyon to Paris, but I didn’t leave that night. Instead, I spotted a hostel near the train station and felt that I should stay there instead of risking travel to Paris and arriving in the evening without accommodation. I did, however, make a train reservation for the next afternoon and I spent the remainder of the evening planning my days ahead.
With the money I’d paid to Andreas combined with the train ticket from Lyon, I’d saved about 30 euros compared to if I took the night train. However, the mental effects of breaking the window were on my mind and it was this card that my opponent had played against me. In paranoia, I wondered if the sound of police sirens that night in Lyon were for me.
However, every time I thought of it, which was very, very, very often, I realized that finding a tourist in any city was a difficult thing to do. Even if he knew I was in Lyon, there were a lot of hostels and he had no way to know which one I would go to.
I really didn’t think the police would help Andreas much. If they did, then I didn’t think that they would do it too quickly.
The last of the incident played out the next morning when the manager of the hostel in Nice emailed me, a bilingual man. He informed me that someone named Andreas was trying to get my contact information and wondered if he, the hostel manager, had permission to give it out. I said “no” in response and thanked him for respecting my privacy.
“May I ask what it’s about?” he replied. “He said that you vandalized his car.”
I thought a good while about how I would respond to that, fully aware that there was a minuscule chance that my reply message could end up in court. The last thing I wanted to do was admit that I caused the damage because it’s a fact of life that the things that you can justify to yourself aren’t universally accepted. After two hours of edits, I came up with the following.
“We shared a ride to Paris yesterday, but his car broke down outside of Grenoble,” I replied in writing. “He hitched a ride to Lyon to get help from a relative and refused to allow me to leave the vicinity of his car (he kept my backpack/passport locked in his trunk and refused to allow me access, locking the car doors),” I continued. “He failed to make it back after three hours,” I lied, at least as far as I knew, “and I started to wonder if I was going to have to sleep road side. As daylight faded,” I lied, “I was fortunate to find a coat hanger in the rubble on the side of the road and was doubly fortunate that the driver’s-side window had an ever-so-slight opening. In elongating the hanger and bending it into a hook, I was able to reach the trunk release with it through the window opening, something that allowed me to retrieve my bag. I then had to walk two hours to Grenoble and, if his car was vandalized as you say, it must have been done by someone in the time between when I left it and when Mr. Andreas finally arrived back. Please don’t give out my information, but do feel free to share the facts above with him. If he presses then just tell him that it’s out of your hands because I do have a right to privacy.”
I decided that the message was perfect before I hit the “Send” button. It made me into a victim that had to babysit a car for hours under the duress of not knowing when the owner would return, something that contained a lot of truth. It avoided admitting that I’d committed the alleged vandalism and it suggested an alternate way for the damage to have occurred. Furthermore, the message lied about my current location and put me in the opposite direction of the one I had gone in.
The only real regret I had was not standing up to Andreas before he left me standing by the car. Maybe, it would have been better if I had told him that if he didn’t let me have my bag then he’d return to find his car window smashed. However, that would have created a possibly hostile moment with no clarity as to how it would have played out. Furthermore, he actually shocked me a bit with his brashness and that left me in a discombobulated indecisive state for a few critical moments. When I rumbled into Paris on a train the next day, I decided that saving travel costs could be complicated.
As a man in my 20’s, this was a lesson that I could learn from with many years ahead to apply it. As an imperfect human that felt a natural inclination to get revenge, I took some satisfaction in knowing that Andreas, someone who mistreated me, was much worse off for it. As judge of myself, my precious conscience felt clean because I didn’t think I’d played my cards unfairly.
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The preceding was fiction. Any resemblance to anyone’s life is purely coincidental.