Protected by the relief of knowing our destination, being in possession of that shred of certainty, finally some meaningful direction, I lounged on my seat, noticing for the first time the comfortable giving of the material, the seat embracing and accommodating my body. There was still apprehension within me, yes, after all I wasn’t in Barcelona without any worries, painting and next to you, but at least now, after several hours of being kicked around like a ball, I felt I could grab a flat paint brush the width of my hand and lay a thick and dark layer over that apprehension and just enjoy the ride.
‘So we are going to my parents house,’ I could have said out loud to get a confirmation from the driving soldier, or I could have insisted with the ‘where are we going?’ but instead I asked “So, how’s your war going?”
The soldier, both hands on the wheel, shrugged his shoulders but kept his attention on the road.
“You must be winning, of course,” I insisted. No reply. Nothing else to say.
We were following the river now. The succession of trees precisely aligned along the road dulled my mind. I was a monkey jumping from tree to tree at an exhilarating and constant pace. I was a giant with an imaginary sword slicing trees as they came. Then the trees transitioned into a hedge, then a few rural houses, then we passed across a town that I thought I recognized. The bell tower was standing at the end of the main square, but there were two blocks of buildings that had not been spared. Bombed out houses against a peaceful backdrop of overgrown shrubbery and a hill further away. It seemed unnatural to look at such blunt destruction here in the countryside. One could consider Stuttgart or any other large city to be an unsurprising receptor of the scars of war, whole blocks of apartments flattened into dunes of rubble, and the produced dust and sadness spreading over the surrounding roads, lapping adjacent buildings with questions and despair, but here in this tiny town such level of devastation felt unreal, malicious enough to leave one astonished. Something so shocking that I would have wanted to paint it, though. If I had been the one driving I would have stopped, gotten out of the car and drawn a sketch with soft pencil on any paper at hand while enjoying the clean, evening air.
As quickly as we entered the town we left it behind us, and soon the straight road run between undulating fields. Uniform bands of chlorophyll separated by blackish green grooves. Geometry is so boring and relaxing. I just had to close my eyes for a moment and I fell asleep.
When I woke up my mouth was dry. My tongue was still sleeping, senseless, like a foreign piece of rubber attached to the back of my mouth. I was seriously hungry now. It had gotten dark during my nap. The last remnants of light in the lower sky only illuminated the top of the trees and the hanging clouds. The car lights revealed the road immediately in front of us and the monotonous ditches and hedgerows. I couldn’t see anything inside the car, but it felt like I had a hole in my abdomen and I could insert my fist through it and make contact with the seat.
“I’m very hungry,” I said.
“We are arriving to our destination. You’ll be able to eat something when we get there,” the soldier replied. He sounded tired. Even concerned or unsure about something. It was too dark for me to discern his facial emotions, although I could notice that once again he didn’t turn his head to face me. He was resolute, following displeasing orders. This was the first time in which I appreciated that he wanted to be somewhere else as much as I did. Maybe dancing with a girlfriend in Berlin. Maybe reading a book in a dusty, safe attic. Maybe holding one of my brushes, caressing the canvas with greens and blues, you posing in front of the window.
We turned into our last road. At the intersection we passed the unassuming signpost announcing Ebene, a wooden post supporting a plank of wood with the inside carved out around the letters, the whole thing painted in black except for the raised letters, shouting with a crimson red. Once as a boy I was at that intersection, observing another boy from the town reapplying black to the signpost, long brushstrokes up and down the post. I remember thinking that I could have done that job, especially the letters, making sure to extend the black of the background to the sides of each one of them, then carefully painting the top of each letter so that the red stayed in its confines without running down the sides. Not my place to do such a job, or being out there for that matter, possibly already late for my piano lesson or some social event at the mansion on top of the hill and overlooking the town.
The road we were in would lead you directly to the center of town, and from there you could go up a wide street and reach the front of the mansion. The fastest way to reach the mansion, however, was to take a service road that diverted to the right before coming to the first buildings of the town. This service road had low walls on either side and ascended around the hill at an angle. At the end of it, and when you crossed one of the wrought iron gates with large E letters as the main feature, you exchanged the silent road for the vivacious rattle of the pebbled path that went around the left wing of the mansion and took you to the back of it, where you couldn’t see the town and the town couldn’t see you, where you had an extension of parterres, waterworks, sullen statues, and symmetrical avenues that you could stroll to enter into manicured woodlands.