It was in the middle of the night in a deserted part of the outskirts of Tarifa. I’d matched my rotten luck with a Cornish student I’d met, panhandling for spare change outside the ferry port in Gibraltar. Exhausted, filthy, and low on cash, we’d shared a packet of biscuits and tried for 13 hours to hitch a lift North. We’d only managed to get as far as Tarifa, which by my reckoning was 28 miles back in the wrong direction.
When night began to fall, we were nowhere and stranded quite finally, at least until the morning brought a bit more traffic. We found an abandoned petrol station to shelter behind for the night. Although it was April, the temperature dipped to 13 degrees C and it was very uncomfortable despite passing the whole day outside in the sun. Richard Quick generously offered me a length of his aluminium blanket but I declined it and went for a wander. There was no way I was going to get to sleep.
I walked around town, searching for signs of life. I’m not sure exactly what I was looking for. Conversation? A cup of coffee? Any kind of break from the cold and agonising fatigue that begged me to sit down and rest. I found a doorway to shelter from the chilly wind that started to blow in from the sea. The doorway offered little shelter and no respite. I crouched down and pulled my arms around me as the wind continued to blow through my jacket. What was that? A distant voice, a man’s voice carried on the air. It was screaming.
I held still. I didn’t know what help the voice needed but if it found me, I might also need help from whatever had started that screaming.
There it was again. I thought about Richard Quick, curled up in his aluminium blanket, inexplicably asleep behind a petrol pump.
I was a university student, an American ‘study abroad’ student. It was Easter holidays and all of my wealthier American counterparts were ‘interrailing’ on pre purchased Interrail passes where with great delight, they had all set off on European backpacking adventures before the start of the summer term. I’d just about managed to buy the rucksack and learned the one word that would set the open sky as my shelter for the duration of the term holiday: l’autostop. As in, hitchike.
Getting as far as North Africa was more or less straightforward (mostly) but coming back was proving nigh on impossible as I was, at this moment, likely to be stabbed and left for unidentified remains in a border town in Europe. No, I was being silly. Of course I had identification.
I couldn’t tell if the voice was moving because the blowing of the wind and the echo of the empty streets distorted the sound. I thought, ‘Well I’m either going to be murdered or I’m not!’ and jogged nervously back to the petrol station.
I found Richard Quick still sound asleep despite the elements and certain calamity around us. There was no help or protection to be hoped from this stranger I’d met hours before but it calmed me somewhat to think that whatever doom or salvation the immediate future would bring, at least I wouldn’t face it alone.