The protagonist and the woman get to spend some time alone in this fourth chapter.

4.

I expected her gaze to be lowered, expectant or fearful, but when I turned towards the woman I saw her eyes fixed on me, with a fiery expression of reproach.

She opened her lips to say something, but it seemed she thought better of it. Instead she set out walking at a quick, firm pace, in the same direction as the truck. I followed her, because I also meant to walk that way; I already knew what there was behind; nothing – just a monotonous, empty landscape –; ahead there was, at least, the hope of finding something different, though for as far as I could see there were only fenced, uncultivated fields.

The highway wasn’t bad; despite the recent rain there were not many potholes, and it was level and mostly clear of stones; I thought that a well-maintained highway, even if it were of dirt and gravel, had to lead somewhere of importance, and though so far it hadn’t happened, perhaps because it was so early, it was logical to expect some regular traffic.

I stopped to put my shoes on because the gravel kept hurting my feet and it was uncomfortable to carry my shoes and socks in my hand; they were wet, like all my clothing, and I had no reason to believe that I’d be able dry them in the near future.

The woman walked a few more steps and stopped also, to wait for me, but without turning her head towards me. I continued walking and she began again, at the same pace, without breaking the silence.

After a half hour of uniform march she decided to wait for me, and when I reached her side she took me by the arm and said:

“I’m hungry.”

It wasn’t just simple information. In her tone, apart from anger and reproach (accentuated by the hardness of her expression), there was something of a command – as if, apart from the material possibility, I had the obligation to feed her.

“Me too,” I responded, and kept my eyes fixed on hers, without looking away, to make her understand that I did not feel I was to blame for the situation.

We kept walking, with less enthusiasm. Not so much hunger but the consciousness of hunger weakened us; even more, the certainty that without some unforeseen intervention we would be in the same situation for a long time. (It’s wrong of me to speak in the plural; it’s likely that the woman’s feelings were quite different to mine. In any case, the concrete fact is that our pace slowed.)

In the end, after another long stretch of walking, she stopped again and told me:

“I don’t want to keep walking. You should carry me.”

I looked at her with incredulity.

“What?”

“You should carry me. I don’t want to keep walking. I’m very tired, and anyway we’ll never get anywhere.”

“That’s ridiculous. Every road goes somewhere. And even if it were like you say, what use would it be to carry you? It would be better, then, to stay here, next to the highway. Why walk uselessly?”

I spoke quickly, and in anger. It mortified me to reason in such a basic manner, over something so stupid.

“And the truck driver?” I added. “Why did he take this highway, if it didn’t go anywhere? And us, why wouldn’t we arrive there?”

“Don’t talk to me about the driver,” she said, as if that were the only word I’d said. “I don’t want to hear any more talk of him.”

However she kept talking about him, at length; she explained that he was a rough, violent man, that many times he’d behaved in an abrupt manner, but that, in reality, he was good-hearted and highly valued by his superiors, because he fulfilled his obligations faithfully and was very hard-working, honourable and diligent. He also knew how to be tender, above all with his wife and children (although she didn’t make it clear if that woman was her), and with women and children in general. Only great anger, like that I had provoked with my childish, disloyal behaviour, could make him force her to get out of the truck like he did.

“If you know how to handle him, nicely,” she added, “it’s easy to get anything out of him; but he can’t stand that people behave in a dirty fashion with him. Right now the three of us could be travelling, comfortably and happily, like good colleagues, instead of having parted upset. And we’re the only ones losing; here we are, tired and hungry. And on top of everything you’re such an egotist that you don’t want to carry me, as would be your duty.”

I didn’t want to debate her lies; such insistence made doubt for a minute, but I went over my behaviour since getting in the truck, to convince myself at once of my absolute innocence; but it was obvious that she didn’t reason like a normal person, and I ended up agreeing to her whim without further conversation.

At the beginning I tried to carry her like a child, or a pile of wood – lying on my extended arms, her nape supported by my right arm, and her legs dangling from the left –; but that position tired me quickly, and I couldn’t take more than a few steps. When I staggered she started to laugh, and I left her on the ground; she didn’t get up immediately, but continued laughing, shouting once in a while that I wasn’t up to a woman, not even a woman as light as her (and the wordplay amused her), and perhaps I was incapable of carrying a child of six months in my arms.

Fed up, I left her on the ground and kept walking. Soon she stopped laughing and yelled at me not to leave her, but I paid her no attention, determined not to detain myself any longer. Then she rose and came running, at a speed that contradicted her protests of exhaustion, and by surprise, with a single bound, she clambered on my back, with her arms around my neck, putting her legs around my waist. In reality, this was the most comfortable manner to carry her; it annoyed me anyway, but I kept walking without trying to make her get down.

I observed her legs, which really were beautiful and that, as the truck driver had said, were covered with a fine down. I felt the temptation of stroking them, and I did, slowly. The hair did indeed produce a special tickle in the palm of the hand.

She shook her legs, kneeing me in the sides, while she insulted me and began one of her discourses: that everyone found it very amusing to grope and touch her legs, without thinking about the abuse they were committing against a poor defenceless woman, etcetera; but her words were contradicted by the laughter she let out every so often, and by her tone, cheerful, like a parody of her previous discourses. Fortunately she soon stopped hitting me, but from time to time she pinched my face and neck, or chewed my ears. To me they seemed signs of affection, although sometimes they hurt.