The cool air blasted into the Town and Country minivan. It was a couple of years old now, but I loved my purchase. It fit my family of five, had all the fancy stuff, and made me a few extra bucks when a customer needed a larger Uber. Most of my customers enjoyed what I offered in comfort and space. I seldom had complaints. Except for tonight.
“Look, lady, I don’t know what to tell you. You ordered the Uber. I was available… I am what you get,” I said.
Julie Spinner, my new fare.
“I thought a deluxe was, like, an upgrade,” said Julie. “I should have never listened to Candy. She’s always been a little low class.”
I shook my head in disbelief. The braid from my long crimson hair whipped against the headrest. The back of my throat spasmed as sweet mango mixed with an overpowering bouquet of geranium filled the minivan. I coughed and released air into my lungs once again.
A sparkling black high heel shoe entered the van, followed by a mile of tanned leg. It met a silky red slit just below her hip. She had chosen the seat my four-year-old sits in. Spilled milk, Cheerios, and last week’s burrito filled my mind. I smirked. I shut the door before she could change her mind.
“You got the upgrade. It’s an XL, the six-seater. You now have all that space to yourself,” I said, looking at her through the mirror. “Music?”
I shrugged. Annoyance scrunched up her perfect, wrinkle-free face. Shadows filled the cracks, the distortion complete. I imagined I discovered her genuine face. I wondered at the ugliness of beauty. It appeared, like candy on Halloween, to belong to the rude, hateful, and ungrateful. I, by no means, viewed myself as homely, but I did not belong on a magazine cover or a billboard. Julie looked like she had walked off of one.
Thankful this wouldn’t be a long ride. One rich neighborhood to another five miles up the road. I set off toward her destination. The full light of the moon lit up the sky. Each home I passed appeared cut from the same mold, right down to the placement of the bushes around the yards. A Conoco lit up a four-way stop.
The click, click, click of the left turn signal broke the silence as I turned to cross the intersection.
“Watch out,” Julie said.
I heard a thud. The van bounced.
Tires squealed. Our bodies knocked into the back of our seats and slumped forward as we slid to a stop. Time froze. I waited, struggling for breath, for the inevitable crunch, thankful it never came. The intersection remained clear. My breath shook as I put the van in drive and pulled into the Conoco.
“What in the actual hell was that?” I said.
“I — I’m sorry. There was a man on the road. We got close. I thought we hit him.”
I watched in the mirror; her hands shook as she tried to explain. The chocolate and caramel highlighted hair, no longer pinned up, fell over her face. Eyes wide, she stared at me.
“I didn’t see anyone,” I said. My body trembled. “But I will go check.”
“Okay,” she said. “I — that’s good. I mean, great. Yes. Thank you.”
I stepped out. A cool breeze danced with the curls around my face. Two cars waited for the green light. A rock sat in the middle of the road. Beyond, a lone man limped on the sidewalk as he pushed a cart. His clothes, ragged and splotched with black patches, floated over a withered body. He may have been the guy.
“There’s a homeless man walking up the road, and a rock in the road,” I said. “That’s it. Do you think it could be him?”
“Maybe, it was a blur.”
“I should go check on him, make sure it wasn’t just the rock.” My breath calmed.
“Well, he doesn’t look like he’s hurt. Can you just take me to my destination?” she said. “Then come back.”
Eyebrows lifted. I couldn’t believe it. “Of course, that’s what you want to do. I thought, for just a moment, there might be some humanity in you, but — ”
“Wait, what do you mean? I’m human. I care. I… I’m just late and he didn’t look like we hurt him.”
I turned, legs tight, poised to run, and froze. “He’s gone,” I said. I shivered, and the hair on my body stood to attention.
“So, can we go, then? I’m sorry for the — ”
“Forget it,” I said. “I’ll just get you where you need to go.”
Silence permeated the van once again. Over it, I turned my favorite Pandora station on low. Adele’s sultry voice filled the van. Julie shrugged in the back. Lights flew past as I neared her destination. I pulled up to a large black gate.
“The code is 57311,” Julie said.
The box beeped and then buzzed before the gate squealed open. Once through the gate, a horseshoe driveway awaited me. I pulled in behind a limousine. I now understood her frustration with getting me as a driver. It would embarrass me too. I pushed the automatic side door button. It slid open for Julie’s exit. She got out without a word, flipped her hair over her shoulder, lifted her head, and walked toward the house. I couldn’t blame her.
“Glad that’s over,” I said.
Done for the night, I rolled the windows down and pulled out of the big horseshoe driveway. Lilac with a hint of grass wafted through the van as the cool night air blew over me. I pointed the van toward home. The image of the man with a limp haunted my brain.
Photo by Jennifer Brewer via Canva
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Originally published in Adelaide Literary Magazine here.
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