–The following is an extract from a semi-fictional novel I’m working on. It is based on my experience of taking part in medical trials as a lifestyle and tells the tale of a disenfranchised young man living on the edge of society and finding his place in the world while meeting fellow drifters along the way. It is still a work in progress and one that will keep being developed as I continue living this way and collecting more material for the book, but for now I will post extracts on here. Previous instalments can be found here.
We spent the next few days roaming around Cannes and its surroundings. Tim kept drink-driving everywhere we went. Without driving under the influence, the only choice was to take expensive taxis or to stay sober – both of which were unrealistic options. The holiday partying was underway and we blasted 90s rap as we cruised around Cannes. We were two young guys, single and unemployed, deluded and drunk, with nothing to do and nowhere to be. Well, I had a flight to America at the end of the week which was looking increasingly doubtful with the ever-growing pandemic. I kept trying to avoid the news of it and just enjoy my time there on the south coast of France. While taking in the sights of the Riviera, I felt bad that Tim hated living here so much. The sun, the sea, the beach, the beautiful women. It was the good life, but I understood how lost he felt. He probably wanted to be living somewhere else in Europe with his Russian ex-girlfriend while starting up his own modelling agency; unfortunately he was stuck with me while living in his parents house with nothing to do but keep on getting drunk off cheap wine.
As the week drifted on, we stopped going to bars and just got drunk at his house in the hills. I downloaded the dating apps again as we tried to find some girls to meet up with. I was still speaking to Christina, of course, but it seemed a good chance to have a fling with someone else before we got married and lived happily ever after in the states. The matches came in and we invited whatever girls we could around to his parent’s house for a party. There were a few who said they might come, but inevitably it ended up with me and him chatting shit about life and putting the world to rights into the early hours of the morning. Eventually I did get speaking to one girl who was actually keen to meet. Her name was Tina and she was twenty-years old and lived in a small village somewhere outside of Nice. I told Tim about my catch and he agreed to take me to go and meet her the next day. “Fuck, let’s do it man. Why not? Maybe we have a threesome or something…”
We picked her up from the train station where she was waiting outside. I gave her a kiss on the cheek and asked her how she was doing. “I’m good!” she said jubilantly. “Well, I had to sneak out the house because my parents didn’t want me to leave because of the virus. My village is a bit out the way so I also had to hitch-hike to the train station. But whatever, I’m here now!” She was a pretty little thing with long dark hair, hazel eyes, and pale skin; an exotic mix of Danish, French and English. Aside from her general attractiveness, I also noticed some self-harm marks down her wrists, some of which were still fresh and bloody. I pretended not to see them while talking to her and realising that, once again, I had attracted a tortured soul. There were now three of us in one car: a lab rat on his latest escapist adventure, a self-harmer who had snuck out of her house, and a depressed guy who was drink-driving while trying to forget about his ex. We made quite the team and spirits were good. The world was seemingly going crazy with the outbreak but we didn’t care. It was a nice day as always and we went to buy some alcohol to drink on the beach. By now the supermarkets were regulating how many people were in the store at once. I think it was at this point I started realising my big adventure was about to fall apart before even properly starting. Still, I kept putting my head in the sand and purchased a bottle of spiced rum and some beers. We passed them around in the car as Tim drove us to the beach. Once there, we found some rocks to sit on and watch the sunset. I sat with Tina on one rock, and Tim sat on one alone, staring out at that setting sun, no doubt wondering if he’d ever get back with his ex, or if one of his business ventures would transpire, or if he would ever be happy in this world.
“So what do you do back home?” Tina asked me.
“I test new medicines for a living.” At this point I simply couldn’t be bothered anymore to dress it up.
“That’s cool,” she said, starting to hold my hand. I was surprised by her blunt reaction and lack of questioning on the subject. At this point it was clear she wasn’t after anything serious. I had already told her that I was supposed to be flying to America in a few days. Things were going to shit real fast, but hey, at least it was looking like I was going to get laid.
A couple of hours later we were at a bar when all of a sudden they started closing. I went to ask the bar staff what was up. “We have to close because of the outbreak. The government has declared a military lockdown from midnight tonight.” It was a striking sentence which suddenly made it all seem very real. Disaster was looming; the world was closing in on us. Our debauchery looked like it was coming to an end but Tim had an idea.
“Fuck this shit man! Let’s get some more booze and go find a hotel.” We all agreed it was a good idea and within twenty minutes we had two more bottles of red wine and were in the reception of some budget hotel. Tim was arguing with the receptionist to let us have a room. There was some uncertainty as to what the rules were with the new lockdown, but eventually the staff caved in and allowed us to have a room for the night. We headed into our lair with our bottles of wine. Me and Tina sat and drank on the bed while Tim sat on the windowsill, staring out into the city of Nice, the lights shimmering like everything was almost normal. There was a distant look in his eyes and it was obvious he was thinking about his ex. I thought of how many other poor bastards were out there, sitting and staring out at windows and wondering what was left out there for them in this messed up world. I almost was going to go over and console him but Tina had started fondling me under the sheets. Standing up at this point would have been slightly awkward. It didn’t take long for Tim to realise what was happening. None of us were clearly interested in the threesome, and Tim invited himself out.
The next day I awoke to a loud knock on the door. The woman knocking was repeatedly saying something in French. I tried to carry on sleeping but her knocking was persistent. I got up bleary-eyed and looked around the room. Tina lay there naked, half covered by the blanket. There were empty wine bottles and red wine stains on the sheets – not to mention bloodstains from her self-harm marks. It was another one of the times in my life I had woken up in a strange room with a strange person in a strange circumstance, my head pounding and wondering what the hell life had in store for me next. Eventually Tina awoke to the banging too. Unlike me, she could speak French, so she got dressed and went to speak to the angry woman at the door. I watched them conversing in a heated fashion for a minute before Tina closed the door and walked over to me.
“The lady said they are being forced to close the hotel because of the lockdown. We have to leave as soon as possible.”
“But we paid for breakfast.” For some reason that was my first thought.
“She said she’ll bring it up now but we have to be gone within the next thirty minutes. Apparently we are the last ones left in the hotel. The streets are deserted too.”
“Okay,” I said. I started flinging all my things into my backpack before scoffing down the continental breakfast. It really felt like I was in some sort of disaster movie. Only a few days into my trip and I was already in a totally bizarre situation where the world was getting turned on its head. Sadly, this was looking like one of the last parts of my trip with the way things were going. I had already received messages from people back home telling me I needed to get back to the U.K before they closed the borders. I had just escaped the damn place, now I was being told I had to return.
We left the hotel and started walking around the streets. Tina needed to get back home to her worried parents and I needed to get in contact with Tim, which was made more difficult by the fact my phone was dead and I was without a charger. For an hour we walked to the train station, meandering through the eerily quiet city, feeling like we were at the beginning of the end of days. Everything was shut or in the process of shutting. At one point I asked Tina if I could come and stay with her for a few days in her small village. She seemed keen, but a quick call with her parents and the idea was swiftly dismissed. “Don’t you realise there’s a pandemic going on!” they shouted down the phone. “We can’t have strangers around. Get home now!” Well, it was worth a try. We carried on walking to the station where we bumped into a German traveller. He had been travelling around Europe for a few months with no money, just a backpack and a bible. We smoked a joint with him then wished each other some luck on our ongoing journeys – it seemed like we were both going to need it.
Eventually Tina got on her train and drifted out of my life. We said we’d see each other again but we both knew that wasn’t going to happen. Alone again, I carried on wandering around, and eventually found a shop where I could buy a charger for my phone. I purchased it, then went back to the station to charge it off a plug socket. I then got in contact with Tim and found out his situation was even more dire than mine. After leaving us at the hotel last night, he had driven home only to get pulled over by the police after five minutes. The breathalyser saw him come in about five times the legal limit and his license was now gone for at least the next six months. I knew the poor bastard was already in the pits of despair, but this would be the thing to send him plunging deeper into that abyss. His life was completely off-the-rails, just like mine, perhaps even more so than mine had ever been. He also told me that his parents had rushed back from their holiday and that I could no longer stay around the house. My things were there, but he arranged for his neighbour to drop them down at the station for me.
After I had my things, I knew I had to get to Nice and take a flight back to the U.K. But it was too depressing a reality to face. So instead I continued walking around in a hungover daze, trying to avoid the police who were asking for papers to be out on the street. At one point it all hit me just how totally fucked up the whole situation was. My adventure was down the drain and the whole world was entering a crisis of epic proportions. The only thing I could do was go to a shop that was still open, purchase a four-pack of beers, and head to the beach to drink them out of sight of the police. I didn’t have anywhere to stay for the night, and most of the hotels were closed or closing. As I had discovered in times of crisis in the past, getting drunk was one way to solve the problem temporarily. I opened the beers and sat down on the shore, looking out into the Mediterranean sea, my back turned to the world that was in a state of collapse. My life had reached a peak of chaos in the last year, but now it seemed the whole world had caught up with me. Everything was falling apart. People were about to die, get sick, lose jobs, holidays, life savings, businesses.
Still, I was glad in a way that everyone was about to experience a life crisis along with me. There was even a part of me that welcomed it. And with this new virus that was shutting down societies and collapsing economies, there were sure to be a healthy amount of medical trials available. The vaccines and medicines would need to be produced quickly to combat this global pandemic. My career in the human guinea-pig industry was looking secure for the time being. This sick world needed its lab rats and I was a man with some sort of purpose. I then checked the news to see that the USA was shutting down its borders too, and that non-essential travel was not possible, and that some people were predicting a lockdown for the next six months or even a year. I hadn’t contacted Christina in two days, but that was confirmation that our adventure was now definitely down the drain. I knew many things were down the drain, and I thought of Tim, and Tina, and Warren, and Eliana, and Lee, and all the other misfits I had met over the last year. We were just surviving, enduring the trials of life, trying in whatever way to get by as the absurdity rained down upon us. The world was more insane than ever and there was nothing left for me to do. So I just sat there in silence and drank. I just sat there in silence, staring out at the sea, sipping my beer, nursing my hangover, thinking of the insanity of the last year, and of what was to come next, and if I would ever finish my stupid novel, and realising that my life was destined to forever be caught in a storm.