Chapter 4

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Marcelo gazes motionless across the room, through the walls in the back, far beyond the horizon outside. And only distinguishes different patches of absolute void. He notices how the sincere heeding he throws at these boys seems to slide of most of them like water from a well-oiled canopy. His silence at that observation is only equaled by his indifference.

How tender is the confidence that stems from ignorance, he silently reflects.

As he strenuously constrains that thought to the realm of secret and strictly personal musing, it slowly dawns on him that the bunch of mollycoddles before him really do not have the slightest inkling as to what they are getting themselves into. The tranquility settling in these fools' minds is likely the most deceitful counselor they will ever meet. And yet they trust it with that blind arrogance that only youth can possess.

The young American again appears to be the sole exception. A slightly pale complexion and a general composure betraying growing nervousness, has him stand out from the rest of the bunch. It makes Marcelo wonder if the odd one out might actually turn out to be the one valuable element in this miserable lot.

The weathered driving instructor pulls his lower lip inwards till it covers his lower teeth, and prods the tip of his tongue against the inside. It looks as if small waves roll from his mouth down to his chin. Then back. Then down again. Like tiny ripples of despair, endlessly bashing onto the shores of his tanned face. It was a habit he had adopted long ago, at a time when people still showed an interest in him. Back when every journalist on the premises was eager to know how he felt about the prospect of a race, about the layout of a track, the qualities or lack of qualities in a car. Times that had vanished an eternity ago. Times when he had been someone. Or had at least felt like being someone. If only he had known then, what he knows now.

One useful thing he had learned in those days, was that quick and idle talk brought nothing but distress and agita. And he had thus learned to weigh his words. To shave off the hardest edges before letting them flow into the world outside, out of his control. Into an unsteady and unreliable reality where his words were at the mercy of interpretations and twists of reporters, and even worse information termites. Where he no longer mastered their impact or the reactions they provoked.

It was in those days that he had started to let his words hover on his tongue for a while prior to releasing them to the universe. Then, as time passed, the habit that had once served a purpose, had started a life of its own. With a senselessness that much resembled that of the basket in the corner of a room vainly awaiting the four-footed friend who had long since perished. And finally, as even more time passed, it had simply become part of who he was. Like an incongruous bauble in an interior that nevertheless stayed firmly rooted in its spot.

"Finally," Marcelo concludes, "the Run-offs is a rather short track. Which should allow you to acquire an understanding of the track pretty rapidly. Even in the lame Clio's that we will drive during the first days, a good lap should still barely take more than a minute. That will leave us the opportunity to run plenty of laps and gain experience. With all the swagger here, that seems about the only thing you lads lack: experience. An obvious pity though that, out there on a racetrack, experience is about the only thing that really matters."

While pronouncing those final words, the old Spaniard fails to conceal a giggle of mockery under his barely shaven cheeks. The short juicy chuckle that slips from his bitter lips sounds almost like the whinnying of a nervous horse. And as if to mask that small crack in the absolute indifference he nearly succeeded in displaying for the entire first hour, he quickly proceeds to split the group into three smaller groups of four participants each. Each such smaller group is then entrusted to a group instructor, bearing the responsibility for his group during the remainder of the week. The first quartet stays in the room for some more theory on the business of racing, while the second group shambles on towards an adjacent room for pretty much the same.

The routine of it all has become so predictable thatMarcelo sprints along with the third group almost spontaneously, desperatelyyearning for those first few laps on the gently sloping circuit. In the end,when all was said and done, what else remained but... driving?

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