I was the first to wake up most days, a fact that’s always filled me with an irrational and frankly pointless sense of pride. This was one of those mornings.
It was difficult to know exactly what time it was, the clock on the TV across the room was blinking a helpless 00:00 as it had since we’d arrived the night before; and I’d given up wearing a watch some months earlier. I knew it was sometime in the morning by the shard of V-shaped sunlight that imprinted itself on the wall near the ceiling.
Paddy and Sol were showing no sign of stirring. Sol lay typically motionless on his side, t-shirt sleeve rolled uncomfortably up into his shoulder; while Paddy lay face down, hugging the pillow below him and breathing with a whistle through his nose.
I rolled from my bed, felt the tiles cool on my feet, and tip-toed to the bathroom.
We checked-in late, past midnight. Bought a six-pack of Coors between us and drained them watching an old episode of M.A.S.H, where Hawkeye was narrating a letter home to his dad.
Paddy had driven the last few hours of the day, it was my turn in the back of the car; eyes heavy and drifting in and out of sleep as the dark of the night wrapped around us and the sound of Sam Cooke’s velvet voice filled the car. Driving music grew increasingly eclectic over the fifteen thousand miles on the road.
It was a transitional time, heading west, weaving between highways and interstates, up through Louisiana, a sliver of Arkansas, swinging into Texas.
The roads straightened, grew less busy. A sign told us to refuel, there was nothing ahead for 250 miles. We bought crisps, chocolate and Sprite.
We drove the lonely road, punctuating the time with brief chatter and background music.
Paddy and Sol remained undisturbed. I pulled on a t-shirt, found my trainers by the bed and moved towards the door. I hadn’t paid much attention as we checked in, handing over my share of the money, and shuffling across the dimly lit covered path towards our room for the night.
A motel existence to which we’d grown quickly accustomed.
White light washed over me as I opened the door, making me squint. Quickly stepping outside, closing the door behind me – quietly. Keen not to wake my companions. Not out of kindness. I just savoured the moments alone.
The heat was upon me, that oven-style heat, hot, dry air that pressed against the skin. My eyes adjusted to the daylight and I stepped out, walking across the car park, acclimatising to the conditions with every step.
The air was still, the morning quiet. The edge of the car park was separated from the road by a strip of narrow pavement. I stepped onto it, looked out into the distance. It was a two-lane road, cracked, grey, slowly cooking; each lane separated by a thin yellow stripe. To the right it meandered on a gentle curve, heading back towards the Interstate. To the left it stretched out, as far into the distance as I could make out.
Breathing in warm air, letting my eyes absorb the world: the sparse land across the road, rugged earth and tangled weeds, distant hills puncturing the clear blue expanse of sky.
A squeak, the faintest break in the silent scene. The slight movement of hot air on the metal sign above the motel. I turn, scan across the car park, the three cars liberally dispersed; other sounds of the morning leaking in; the buzz of a generator, the hum of the vending machine.
I stepped back across the asphalt, back towards the room. Sol and Paddy would be awake soon and we’d be on our way. Forging onwards, westwards, further away from home with every turn of the wheel. I stopped and looked back again at the vastness of the sky, the sprawl of the landscape; the heat oppressive on my head.
Home was Wales, a million miles from here. Nobody knew where I was; a vague idea, but no more than that.
Where was I?
I wasn’t sure.
I didn’t care.
It was a good day.