“So, ‘lost?’ Is that the word you’re looking for?”
Unconcerned either way, Jigen leaned over the cast iron kettle. The water was just beginning to boil. It had taken long enough. He frowned and prodded at the smoldering coals with the rough edge of his boot. Lupin lowered the folded road map, bending one corner in as he inked a yellow line down the highway they had presumably walked beside earlier that morning with a felt-tipped pen. He spread the map down on the ground, picking stones from the brush to use as paper weights in each corner.
“Nooo. Being lost is all a matter of perspective,” Lupin said at last, one hand scratching at his chin as he surveyed the map. He gave Jigen a bright, impish smile. “Don’t you like camping? The stars at night, the smell of the campfire…”
Jigen let out a stiff breath as he considered. “No,” he decided. “I like roofs.”
“ Jigen ,” Lupin said, playful in his scolding. “I never knew you were such a homebody.”
Jigen lifted a hand to wave away Lupin’s attention. He figured conversation would only distract him from plotting their course and getting them back on track towards the Parisian metropolitan area. Lupin was like that. He had the tendency to meander.
“Okay! I got it, Jigen.” Lupin readjusted on the dirt, legs now folded beneath him. He tapped at the map several times, then traced a finger down a trail.
“La Mailleraye-sur-Seine, I’m pretty sure that’s where we are. Somewhere near there at least,” Lupin said. “So that means we can just take Chemain de Lavieux all the way down following the river towards A13.”
“I don’t know what that means.”
“It means we’re not lost anymore,” Lupin insisted. He tapped the map for emphasis.
“But we were before,” Jigen said. He cracked a small smirk as he moved the water kettle off the heating grate and poured it, steaming, into an open cup of noodles container.
“ No, ” Lupin said, “we were enjoying the scenery .”
Lifting the cup of noodles after stirring it gently with a fork, Jigen offered it over to Lupin.
Lupin took the cup in both hands, pleased by the warmth of the styrofoam on his fingers. He twisted the cup in his palms, but after reading the label, balked at the flavor.
“No! Mushroom shrimp?” Lupin whined. “That’s terrible.”
Crestfallen, he poked at what was most likely intended to be dehydrated shrimp floating on the surface with one chopstick. Jigen moved to examine the supply of instant noodles they had packed in one of the canvas camping bags. Salt-Free Beef, Sriracha Meatloaf, Lemon Anchovy. None of the flavors sounded especially appealing.
“I think Goemon picked these out,” Jigen said. He narrowed his eyes.
“I wouldn’t be surprised,” Lupin said, mouth entirely full of noodles despite his earlier grievances. He motioned forward. “Aren’t you gonna get something to eat?”
Jigen glanced up. He had been staring somewhat thoughtlessly into the coals, into the dark reflection of the kettle. “Uh. No,” he said. He took a moment to reorient, refocus. “Not really hungry.”
Lupin frowned, picking a slimy reconstituted mushroom from his noodle bowl and flicking it into the dirt. “Okay,” he said provisionally, “but we have like 80 km to walk tomorrow morning. You’ll be sorry you didn’t get something to eat.”
Lupin set his noodle cup aside and folded his arms, slouched, to mimic Jigen’s bent posture. He set his palm across his forehead, covering his eyes to replicate the deep brim of Jigen’s hat. Jigen eyed him a moment, sharp, then softened and removed his own hat. He toyed with the lining a moment with his fingers before setting it on Lupin’s head and tugged the brim down over his eyes.
“I’m going to bed,” Jigen said.
Lupin struggled a moment with the hat over his eyes while Jigen moved to grab one of the camping blankets. Unrolling it, he tossed it over one shoulder and lied down beside the cooling fire pit. The canvas camping bag was an unceremonious pillow, but it was better than nothing. Jigen had certainly slept in less savory places.
“You’re no fun,” Lupin said. He had adjusted the hat nicely on his head now and wore it with proud confidence. He gestured up towards the sky, just faint inky openings between the tree canopy. “I was going to show you all the constellations. Orion, Perseus…”
“I think you’re making these up.”
“I wouldn’t!” Lupin insisted.
Turning on his side, Jigen pinched his aching eyes, the bridge of his nose, and let out a slow breath. It would be a long walk towards Paris tomorrow. National security was on high alert with regard to Lupin’s activities after he had nabbed the world’s largest sapphire last month, so he had tried to keep things simple by making the journey into the city on foot. It was too dangerous to use public transportation, to cross border lines or fill up at a petrol station when your name was plastered on every wall, every public and digital space.
None of this precaution and skulking around seemed to fatigue Lupin, though. He was as cheerful as always. Instead of grabbing the second rolled blanket and getting some shut-eye, Lupin had crouched beside the map again, penciling in details in the topographical key margin. The scratch of the graphite on the map paper made a soft but deliberate sound. Between the occasional pop of the cooling embers and Lupin’s thoughtful pencil marks, the forest seemed warm, cozy, almost domestic.
Maybe camping wasn’t so bad after all, Jigen thought.