What is Rotterdam like in the winter period? Do you think about the geometry of dogs? Do you prefer Hamlin in his younger years or Hamlin in his older years?
Who are the questions for? He didn’t know. All he knew was the backs of cars. He’d already thumbed his way from one end of the country to the other. He’d sleep in the back seat and watch the world upside down.
On his back was a backpack with extra clothes, a wash bag, scissors, a towel and in the front pocket, a notebook. It was thick - at least 400 pages - and inside it he’d written questions on every single line.
It was a cold day because his face felt thin. He put a thumb out and a car eventually stopped. He got to talking with the driver, a fat man in a plaid shirt.
What’s that you’re writing, said the fat man.
What’s the use of that? Why’d you write questions?
The man wrote down the questions that the fat man had asked him. The fat man didn’t bother asking any more questions. They drove in silence.
He was dropped off in a car park late at night. Thank you, he said but the fat man had already started to drive off.
The car park lights cast an orange light on him. He stood there and thought about his next move.
The next morning, he wrote more questions over breakfast. The diner had plain tables and booths where the upholstery was wild flowers.
How long is now? Why is the rain smaller than a storm?
These are things he heard that day in the diner. He went to a toilet and washed his face in a basin and used the scissors in his bag to cut his hair and beard. He nicked his chin and when he saw his reflection he thought of another question: will I be considered a burn victim?
When will all the blacks in here shut up? This was a question he’d heard behind his booth at breakfast. He wrote it down.
He hadn’t eaten in a long time. He was drinking a black coffee and he drank it fast, until the silt and grit slid down his throat.
He was hungry, so he pressed his finger into his stomach like somebody poking a stick at an animal to check if it was alive. His stomach made a noise.
He cuts his hair and beard. He keeps the hair in his pockets. Why am I doing this? He writes this down, later. Some questions are only there to make him feel warm inside. Some questions are useless, answerless, but there to serve a purpose much deeper than truth.
Her name was Patricia. It said so on her badge. It wasn’t clear what the badge was for. Had she been speed dating? Or had she just finished work? Questions, he thought, so important that they deserved being written down. But not yet.
She picked him up outside a Polka club called The King of Polka. The lights were blue and red and a neon man called Big Jimmy buzzed in the dark. She slowed her car down. What you doing out in weather like this? He said nothing; he stood there hugging his body as hard as somebody hugging somebody they were never going to see again. He came forward, his bag on his back. I’m just out trying to figure out the questions, he said. She laughed and said hop in.
The car was messy. He thought perhaps she lived out of this car. He tried to smell her and he thought he was correct in his assumption. She smelled. There was a slight crab smell about her. They were divided by a CD compartment, opened, and full of tissues and chip packets.
What’s your name? She asked it with her eyes on the road. Her fingers were fat and hairy and he thought about sex with her and then he thought about sex without her. My name doesn’t matter, he said. She laughed. She always seemed to be laughing.
He looked at her jaw when it laughed. Her chin wobbled, too. He felt a sickness in the pit of his stomach. He didn’t feel like he was in the car. The wind ran straight through him, as if he was made from netting.
Years passed and he was living out in the back of a trailer. He made money in ways people wouldn’t care to make money. He spent the days with a woman who he didn’t care about. He appreciated her for the fact she was a presence and not an absence. He liked warmth, not cold.
Once, he was compared to a dolphin. You know dolphins don’t really care about humans, an old timer told him. No I didn’t, he said. It’s true. People think dolphins have these great big hearts. When you’re stranded out at sea, everybody thinks dolphins come over and help you. Push you to safety. But it’s not true. Wouldn’t matter if you were a human being or a piece of driftwood. Dolphin sees you the same way. And that’s the way I see it with you and that woman of yours. She’s not your woman. She’s just driftwood.
Later that night he went back to his home and lay next to his woman. He took out his notebook and started writing questions. Who were the questions for? Again, he wasn’t sure. He used his woman as a table and wrote on her fat back until morning.
Oliver Zarandi’s latest stories have appeared in The Quietus, HTMLGIANT, Hobart, Squawk Back, The Bohemyth and theNewerYork. He's on Twitter, too.