Published Today Hennessey Award nominated story The Kiss

Hennessey Award nominated story of an impressionable young man’s hitchhiking journey through France in 1968 during the time of the Sorbonne riots where he encounters predatory sex and tastes the delights of elusive love.

My thoughts began to weigh heavily outside Nimes. Cars whizzed by impervious to the Irish flag on my haversack or my tired thumb still coyly poised. A gloom set upon me with the darkening evening, and the lights going on in the city down a little way from me. I was reconciled to turning back towards the youth hostel, which I’d spotted coming through the town, when a blue Citroen slowed, coasting past me, stalling. Then, to the beeping of other cars, it reversed and the passenger door was pushed open. ‘I’m heading for Spain,’ I said, knowing I should have had a placard with Spain on it and not just an Irish flag which could be going anywhere.
He examined me for a moment saying nothing, and then motioned with his hand for me to sit in. He was middleaged spruced up in a dark blue suit, a business man I thought, into some sort of cross country sales. Short legs. His eyes had an aloofness about them.
‘Are you going far?’ He gestured with his hand as if to say a trivial question. ‘Do you speak Spanish? I’m sorry, I don’t have French.’
He made no effort to speak. It was as if language would incriminate, would let out secrets. I don’t know what was making me think like that. He probably had no language other than his own and, like a lot of French, which is what I presumed he was, expected me to compromise to come to terms with his lingo. That would have been fine if words had been forthcoming.
But he said nothing and drove slowly in the slow lane allowing the careering motorists to pass us by. I became conscious of his right eye shifting laterally in my direction as we moved away from the city lights. I had landed in Paris not by design. My destination was Barcelona to do a Spanish course in the University, but I had left it too late to book the plane and found myself flying to Paris amid the Sorbonne riots with the intention of hitching the rest of the journey. It was like a dream that moment as I gasped my way through tear gas on the left bank, and was swept along in a chain of chanting protesters, before making it to the AutoRoute.
And here I was now realising I should have gone to the hostel when darkness was falling. I should not have hitched in the dark. I should have waited till the morning to be able to see where I was going. As we drove out of the winding streets into the country, I lost my sense of direction. I couldn’t see any sign. (99 cents)


Author: James Lawless

Irish novelist, poet and short story writer.

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