I was driving alone down a lonely road in Patagonia — a land named after an indigenous tribe you could supposedly spot by their disproportionately large feet — when I suddenly saw a strange shape to one side of the road. I slowed down instinctively, and was amazed when I saw a lock of blond hair poking out from under a blanket that seemed to conceal a person. I stopped the car, and when I got out I saw something astonishing. All the way out there in the middle of the plain, hundreds of miles from the nearest town and without so much as a single house, a single tree or fence-post in sight, a boy was sleeping peacefully without a care in the world.
What I'd wrongly taken for a blanket was in fact a long blue cape, with epaulettes and a purple lining you could just glimpse, with a pair of white trousers like jodhpurs emerging from underneath it, tucked into boots of shining black leather.
The whole thing gave the boy a princely sort of air that was out of place around those parts. A straw-coloured scarf, fluttering nonchalantly in the spring breeze, blended sometimes with his hair, giving him a melancholic, dreamy look.
I stood there for a while, baffled by what seemed a complete mystery. It was as though even the wind, as it swept down in great gusting dustclouds from the mountain, had skirted politely around him.
I understood straight away that I couldn't leave him there, asleep and defenseless in that solitary place and without food or water. Even though nothing about his appearance was frightening in the least, there was a certain resistance I had to overcome before approaching the stranger. With somedifficulty, I gathered him up in my arms and laid him down in the passenger seat.
The fact that he hadn't woken up seemed so odd that for a moment I feared he might be dead. A weak yet constant pulse proved he wasn't. As I placed his limp hand back on the seat, I thought that if I hadn't seen so many images of winged creatures, I might have thought I was in the presence of an angel come down to earth. I'd soon realise the boy was exhausted, at the end of his strength.
Back on the road, I spent a long while thinking about how adults, with all those warnings designed to protect us, in fact distance us so much from others that touching someone or even looking them in the eye has us uncomfortable and anxious.
“I'm thirsty,” the boy said suddenly, and I jumped because I'd almost forgotten he was there. Even though he had spoken very softly, the sound of his voice was as clear as the water he was asking for.
On long journeys like that one, which could last up to three days, I always packed drinks and something to eat in the car so that I didn't have to stop other than to fill up with petrol. I gave him a bottle, a plastic cup and a beef-and-tomato sandwich wrapped in foil. He ate and drank without saying a word. Meanwhile, my head was starting to teem with questions: ‘Where are you from?’ ‘How did you get here?’ ‘What were you doing lying by the road like that?’ ‘Do you have a family?’ ‘Where are they?’ And so on and so forth. Considering my anxious nature, and that I'm always brimming with curiosity and the wish to help, I'm still amazed I was able to stay quiet for those ten endless minutes while I waited for the boy to gethis strength back. He, on the other hand, tucked into his meal like it was the most normal thing in the world, after one has lain abandoned in the middle of those desert-like plains, for someone too appear out of the blue and offer him a drink and a beef-and-tomato sandwich.
“Thank you,” he said as he finished, before leaning back against the window, as though that word was enough to answer all my doubts.
A moment later I realised I hadn't even asked him where he was heading. As I'd found him on the right-hand side of the road, I'd taken it for granted that he was travelling south, but in fact it was much more likely he was trying to get to the capital, which lay to the north.
It's strange how easily we assume that others must be going in the same direction as us.
When I looked over at him, it was too late. Other dreams had come and carried him a long way off.
Should I wake him up? No, we needed to cover some ground; whether we went north or south was of little importance.
I sped up. This time I wouldn't waste any more of my life asking myself what direction to go in.
I was absorbed in these thoughts when, after a long time had passed, I suddenly felt a pair of blue eyes watching me curiously.
“Hi there,” I greeted him, turning briefly towards the mysterious boy.
“In what strange machine are we travelling?” he asked, glancing around the inside of the car.
“Where are the wings?”
“D'you mean the car?”
“Car? Can't it lift up off the Earth?”
“No,” I replied, with a touch of wounded pride.
“And can't it move off this grey strip?” he inquired, pointing through the windscreen with his fingers, while I considered some of my own limitations.
“That strip is called the road,” I explained, thinking, Where on earth has this kid come from?
“And if we went off it at this speed, we'd be killed.”
“Are roads always so brutal? Who invented them?”
Answering such simpe questions was starting to feel oddly complicated. Who exactly was this boy, who radiated innocence and was shaking my inherited beliefs like an earthquake?
“Where have you come from? How did you get here?” I asked him, noticing something in his eyes that was strangely familiar.“Are there many roads on the Earth?” he asked, without paying the slightest attention to what I'd said.
“Yes, any number of them.”
“I've been in a place without roads,” said the mysterious boy.
“But people would get lost there,” I pointed out, while my curiosity to know who he was and where he'd come from grew stronger and stronger.
“Where there are no roads on the Earth,” he continued, unfazed, “don't people think of using the sky to orientate themselves?” And he looked up out the window.
“At night,” I reflected, “it's possible to navigate by the stars. But in very bright light, we'd risk going blind.”
“Ah!” the boy exclaimed. “The blind see what no one dares to see. They must be the bravest people on this planet.”
I didn't know what to say in reply and a silence fell over us while the car carried on down its brutal grey strip.