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27

FINALIST
Jury Selection

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He had opted for the basic package, “Seventy-seven day road trip, two-wheeled vehicle, half board, sleeping under the stars”. Of course, he would not have turned his nose up at the all-inclusive package in which the two-wheeled vehicle was replaced by something more substantial, and you didn’t have to worry about finding your own grub once a day and you could enjoy the comfort of a feather mattress. But the thing was, the all-inclusive package cost an arm and a leg.

And it was already quite something that he was able to afford the basic package. He had saved up for years, on the quiet. Well, of course, he could have made do with the nothing-at-all package which did not even include a two-wheeled vehicle, and no half board, but you could still sleep under the stars. With that package, he wouldn’t have had to shell out anything and he could have done his road trip on foot. Except that his knees weren’t as cooperative as they used to be and he had told himself that a two-wheeled vehicle would not be that bad.

Finally the great day had finally arrived. With his heart pounding, he pushed open the door of the road trip office and stopped for a moment, breathless from the feeling of excitement racing within him. The staff were running backwards and forwards, papers were flying everywhere, phones were ringing. He could even see the relaxation area full of staff whose nerves had cracked. Efforts were being made to get them operational again with soft music and incense.

Finally, he dragged his eyes away from this scene and made his way towards the seventh desk from the left. He would have chosen the sixth where the receptionist was the embodiment of calm and was taking the time to explain everything, smiling frequently. But instead of her, he got the guy with the suspicious expression on the seventh desk.

“Basic package, is that right?” he grunted as he took the form.
“Y…yes.”
“Stay there, I’ll check the payment.”
“I made it yesterday and…”
“Shhh. I’ll check, as I said.”

The receptionist plunged into the data on his screen with much scrunching of his eyebrows.

“That’s OK, we have the payment. Now, have you chosen a vehicle? You have the choice of a moped or... Oh no, actually we only have mopeds left. Right, well, that’s sorted. I’ll send you straight through to the conditioning room.”
“The ...?”
“It’s at the end of the corridor, on the left. Follow the purple arrows. Next!”

Picking up his stamped form, he made his way uncertainly to the conditioning room, even though he had no idea what it was. The purple arrows were indeed there and he followed them carefully until he came to a door. There, he hesitated. He did not know if he should knock, just go in or wait to be called. But his problem was soon resolved when the door opened by itself, as if to invite him to enter.

“Take a seat,” said a mechanical voice.

He went up to an armchair and sat down carefully.
“Welcome!” the voice said enthusiastically and the room was once more plunged into darkness. “You are here to embark on your road trip, a great moment in everyone’s existence. But first, a few words of explanation.”

He would willingly have done without explanations, but the voice seemed so keen to tell him all that stuff that he decided to grin and bear it.

“This road trip is going to be the most enriching experience of your whole life. Seeing that many people’s lives boiled down to nothing much more than working and sleeping, our researchers came up with a solution. Once in everyone’s life, there should be a noteworthy event, an event that would enable them to get to the end with no regrets. And after many tests, it was found that the road trip could be just that event. It allows the individual to be fully autonomous, left to his own devices, in deep communion with his environment. And to make the experience more authentic, we are going to condition you.”

He shivered. What was all this talk of conditioning?

“Our clever researchers saw that the subject enjoyed the experience more if he did not know it was an experience. So we are going to erase all your memories from this moment and you will think that the road trip was your own idea. All that is left is to wish you a good journey! Drive safely!”

Suddenly the room was filled with a blinding green light which disappeared as quickly as it had come.

He blinked. In front of him, the road wound towards the horizon and scents of wild flowers wafted on the soft summer breeze. On his left, he could see his moped, not one of the more powerful models, but he would not have changed it for anything in the world. Strangely, he could not remember exactly when he had decided to go on this road trip. But that did not matter. The only thing that did was to ride off towards the unknown and leave all his worries behind him.

Translated by Wendy Cross

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