I had driven this three hour path so many times before that I never thought twice when I jumped in the car this particular day and shoved the key into the ignition. I adjusted my review mirror that my boyfriend (at the time) had moved when he last drove my red Chevy Cobalt, and quickly glanced at all my dirty laundry and misshapen duffle bags filled to the brim with items that I assumed I would need for my winter break. I suppose this all must have happened about a year ago then if I can only picture myself backing out of the University Village apartments as the frigid wind and slowly rising fog hit up against my defrosting windshield. I remember shivering and then flipping the heat on to the hottest setting on the dial, and my teeth chattering as my body gradually adjusted to the surrounding temperature.
When I finally made it on to the highway heading north and away from Pomona, my car had warmed up enough for me to shut off the heater. I let my free hand fumble over the car’s stereo buttons searching for a clear radio station, and in doing so the gaze that I had left fixed on the road in front of me slowly drifted downwards to follow the path of my fingers.
I felt my car gradually drift a little into the next lane and I popped up quickly enough to correct the direction of my car. I figured at that point it would be wise enough to get over into the far right lane when I started reaching into my purse for my iPod. My eyes darted down every other second to search in my bottomless-pit-of-a-purse to for the small, and with ever quick glance down into my endless came a veering of my car to the right of the road.
My eyes darted back up to correct the car once more, and in a series of events flashing before my eyes I saw a person walking along the side of the road and swerved erratically to avoid hitting them. Unaware that I had almost ended this person’s life, the pedestrian looked over their shoulder and stuck a thumb out to flag a ride.
Knowing that I had almost killed this person, and realizing that I was already slowing down to a stop and that this person was very small in stature led me to park off to the side of the road and lean over to the front passenger door to manually roll down the window.’’
“Hey!” I call out to the hitchhiker. I knew the dangers of picking strangers up off the road, but sadly I had recently watched a documentary about modern day nomads and remembered that not every hitchhiker was some deranged serial killer offing nice motorists. “Do you need a ride?”
I let the hitchhiker walk up to my car. “I just need a lift to as far north as you’re going,” the traveler said.
“Hop in.” I unlocked and opened the door all while still being buckled into my seatbelt. I watched as this person slide right into my car out of the cold winter weather and then gently closed the door. At this point I got a better look at this stranger who was now sitting in my car. I wasn’t sure if letting this person in was such a great idea, but I also assumed that it was too late to turn back now.
I turned toward my new passenger, “What’s your name and where are you headed?” I asked.
The stranger lowered the long collar, that had been turned up to block out the cold on the winter jacket, and took off the beanie that had covered almost everything else that the collar didn’t cover on the face. I saw the smooth olive skin emerge from behind the collar and then it was quickly covered by the long dark waves falling out of the navy blue beanie on her head. I watched as her hazel eyes turned to face me for the first time. “My name is Cindy, and all I want you to do for me is to drive as far north as you possibly can take me.”
Read the story “Shock Wave” every Wednesday.