She knew she had only a couple of minutes left. Everything felt woozy. There was a sense of calm that emanated from her but that was the least strange thing about her. She took short purported steps through the inner pathways that connected to the highway. Just about 3 more kilometers she reminded herself.
In a world where karma seems to be the figment of a poor man’s imagination, the rich getting richer, people skipping the entire ‘principles of success’ and still coming out on top, I had found a way to break the notion that good guys finish last. I had a strong conviction that I was a good guy. I had done all the right things, a doctorate degree in process control, working with a top corporate firm with annual earnings running well into six figures, married to a soft-spoken, pretty woman with three children; two girls and a boy. With a beautiful house, a recognized/respected member of the community and one of the biggest donors at my church and all fundraisers alike, I could dare say I had fully hacked life/living. If that was not enough, the beaming face of the board of directors with their glasses raised up in a toast to me was an undeniable seal of excellence. I had just been made senior manager and was bursting at the seam with a need to get to the phone and relay the amazing news to my wife. Excitedly, I set up my new office while colleagues and well-wishers filed in all with congratulatory messages, a gift or two.
At about 5:00pm, I was making my way back home winding through the budding traffic. Nina Simone’s ‘feeling good’ had just come on the radio. What were the odds that at that exact moment, my all-time favourite song would come on?! I turned up the volume of my radio, singing along and I bet everyone who as much as caught a glimpse of me must have considered me nuts. I stopped by the flower shop and picked up roses for my dear Rosetta; it has been 12 years now but the similarity in my wife’s name and her favourite flower was still a conversation starter. By the time I got back on the road, the cloud had begun to gather and I stepped on the accelerator a bit harder; that was when I saw her. I was immediately drawn to the forlorn look on her face. I wondered why she was walking on this busy expressway and seemed in no hurry like everyone else trying to get to shelter against the threatening rain. Nevertheless, against better judgment and Rosetta’s continuous warning in my subconscious about giving rides to strangers, I pulled over and beckoned on her to get in seeing as she was walking in the same direction I was driving in. Doing some good couldn’t hurt or so I thought. If only I knew.
‘It’s only April and we are having rainstorms of this magnitude. It is even worse than was forecasted’, I said trying to start a conversation with my new riding partner. Asides from the ‘thank you’ she mouthed while getting seated, she had not uttered a single word. Instead, she settled in laying her head on the headrest and stared out the window. ‘The flood would even do more damage this year, don’t you think?’ I asked making more attempt to ease the awkwardness of the ride. After more failed attempt, I gave up. She must have had a rough day I thought and I knew better than to pester her just because I was giving her a free ride. I continued driving resigned in the fact that she would let me know when I had driven far enough for her to get closer to her destination.
We had driven for over 5 minutes in this dead silence except for the pouring rain before I asked her where she was getting off seeing that I was just two right turns away from the street on which I live but to my disgust, she remained silent. I had had enough at this time so I got the car to a halt and tapped her slightly asking her politely but firmly to get out of my vehicle. She didn’t budge. I shook her a bit more roughly feeling the panic well up my throat. Her head slid off the head rest on to the dashboard with a thud hard enough to rev anyone from any kind of sleep but she still didn’t move in the slightest bit. I felt a cold shiver at the base of my spine run up to my neck as I got out of my seat and jumped into the rain running over to the passenger side of the vehicle to assess what had become of my passenger.
No! No! No!!!!!
This couldn’t be happening I thought yet there I stood watching it literally happen to me. I felt for a pulse and got nothing. I looked on at the whitened face with lifeless eyes staring into thin air as I entered into full blown panic mode. Willing myself to think, I ran back into the driver’s seat drenched trying to avoid prying eyes before I could make sense of what the hell was going on. I started to call emergency and hung up immediately the operator said hello because how the hell do you explain to anyone that you just happened to have a woman you know nothing about dead in your car. Feeling my brain shut down in terror, I picked up the phone to call my wife and hung up too. I thought of heaving her out of the vehicle and ending the horrible nightmare but then all my fingerprints would lead right back to me. At that point, I started the vehicle and got on the road driving into the night, tears pouring down my cheeks to match the weeping of the dark skies above. I suddenly knew where to go to.
Last year when the neighbour’s daughter, Susie, had run off we had walked far down the hill in the search for her into the cluster of trees too dark and for the most part never ventured into. It turned out that she was just hiding in her boyfriend’s basement but I digress. I drove till there were no buildings in site and the tarred road ceased to exist. I drove deeper into the cluster of trees with more difficulty as the rain had made the ground even muddier. When I felt I had driven sufficiently deep into the woods, I brought the vehicle to a stop, turned off the headlights and got out walking over to the passenger’s seat trembling severely. I stretched out trembling hands freeing her from the seatbelt and slung her over my shoulder. She was incredibly lighter than I expected. I walked slowly but steadily listening for any movement deeper still into the woods using my cellphone for illumination. I placed her slowly down on the wet ground having dead leaves sprawled on every inch of the soil. My hands were a bit steadier now and so was my ragged breathing. I let the illumination from my phone sweep over her as I took in her features for the first time. She looked about 5ft 5 inches tall with jet black hair hanging loose over her face and neck. It was hard to tell her complexion at this time as rigor mortis had begun to set in but I would have guessed brown – dark skinned. She had a distinct mole on the side of her nose and had not a single jewelry on. As I looked on, I realized how tattered looking and disheveled she was. How on earth did I miss that on the road before offering her this ride? I wondered.
Using a sturdy branch I made a sizeable pit out of the soggy grounds to lay my passenger of misfortune in. I was almost done replacing the wet earth over her when I spotted the swelling on the side of her neck. On closer inspection, it turned out to be a branding made out of hot iron in the shape of a triangle with the initials SG written into it. As I contemplated taking a photograph, the sound of a rustling in the wood startled me into lying on my face with my phone buried underneath me to snuff out the illumination. I remained in that position for about ten minutes only daring to breath in intervals until I felt certain there was no one out there. Hurriedly, I filled up the hole and scattered some leaves on the fresh soil I had just dug up. Retracing my steps to the car, I drove back out into the night headed home with a sense of foreboding; relief very far away.
The guard was already pulling upon the gate ushering me home when I saw the purse at the foot space of the passenger’s seat. My face filled with horror as I drove in pushing the purse underneath the seat with the last functioning brain cells I had at that moment.
Rosetta was still up and waiting at the door for me as I walked towards the house. “Honey, oh my God! What happened? You have got mud all over you? The children are asleep already. We had this whole celebration planned for you. Are you okay?” she fussed non-stop. I managed to get out ‘change tires…cold…tired’ through clattering teeth as I brushed past her into the bathroom leaving a trail of mud behind. When I got out an hour later, Rosetta was already fast asleep. I got in bed, sleep impossible as i reflected on the abysmal turn of event. I had woken up that morning a sane man. How had my life gone haywire in less than 24 hours?