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The young lady's car slowed to a stop ...
As she pulled as far off the highway, (onto the shoulder), as she could
(Allowing for any snow plow that might come along).
She had chosen poorly this time
Believing she had enough gas to get to the next fuel stop
But the car had run dry already
A few miles short of her plan.
The storm was now brutal and in full form
Snow swirling and drifting on her windshield already
Changing her car's color from candy-apple red to white.
So she turned her emergency blinkers on
And reached under the seat for her bag and the phone inside
It was not there ...
As soon as she realized this the horror struck her:
She had left it on the counter of the ladies room at her last stop
(She remembered now getting in the car without it)
And that was over a hundred miles behind her!!
Trying very hard not to panic
The tears nonetheless swelled in her eyes
And blazed a trail through her makeup and down her cheek
Dripping onto her blouse where it made a stain.
How in the world would she get out of THIS one?
She had tempted fate many times in her seventeen years
And it seemed like fate was now expecting payment.
Her mind spinning with worry and fear
She sat and tried to think of her options
Though none seemed viable or remotely safe
As the storm was raging and few cars were on the road.
It was early Christmas morning, after all
And she had only seen two cars going in the opposite direction.
She felt another tear running down her cheek
And looked in the rear-view mirror to wipe her face with a tissue
'Oh, my god!!' she thought, heart jumping to her throat, taking her breath
There was a man standing behind her car!
He was bent over doing something at first, but then stood up!
Rather poorly dressed and unkempt, with a long, scraggly beard
And not the type she would EVER speak to or associate with
Let alone want standing behind her car in a snow storm!
He was waving at her, a big smile on his dirty face.
Slowly, he came around to her driver's-side window
(While she made sure the doors were locked).
Still smiling and waving, he yelled through the glass at her to open the window.
Trembling now with fear, but having few options, she cracked the window
Her desperation overcoming her fright
"I'm out of gas!" she said, tears streaming now, despite her
"Wait here" he said calmly. "I'm going for help."
"But I have no money - nothing! I lost my bag ... well, I left it by mistake!"
"No worries", he said, still smiling, "Just hold tight ... are you warm enough?"
"Yes" she said, "I have a sleeping bag in the trunk."
He gave her a thumbs-up and left in the direction behind her.
She noticed then how ragged and old his clothes and shoes were
As he disappeared into the white swirl of the storm.
She had almost given up hope by the time he returned, tears dripping again
And had tried waving down a couple of cars in the meantime
But she had pulled a bit too far off the highway
So they hadn't seen her in the heavy white-out of the snow.
He was alone, and her immediate thought was more horror and fear
There should have been someone with him
A tow-truck, she had hoped
But just the scraggly man, walking alone out of the whiteness
Carrying a can ... a GAS can!!
He emptied the contents of the can into her tank
Then went to stand behind the car and waved at her
The same unworried smile on his face.
She turned the key and the car wouldn't start ...
She pumped the pedal a few times then tried again
And the engine roared to life
A flood of adrenaline filling her blood with joy ...
She was going to be OK!
Her fear now assuaged in a surge of warmth and safety
She keyed the window down and yelled for him to come there ...
Still, he just stood waving and smiling, motioning for her to drive off.
She jumped out of the car and walked back to him.
It was clear he was homeless, and she wanted to repay him ...
"I have no money with me, but I want to repay you ... please!"
"No worries" he said, "Merry Christmas!"
"But please, how did you get the gas? Aren't you homeless?!?"
"Oh, yes" he replied, "But some folks at the shelter gave me twenty dollars for Christmas ... I've been troubled since then, wondering what on earth I was going to do with it, then you came by ... the lord provides!"
"Yes, He does. Where did you go?" she asked him then
"Oh, I just walked to the pantry back there ... only a few miles"
"A few MILES?!?" she exclaimed
"Oh, no worries - I needed the exercise," he answered
"But I HAVE to repay you! Can I take you to a shelter or something?"
"Oh, no, thank you ... I have a warm fire going under the bridge back there"
"Are you sure? If so, I'm going to come back and repay you at the least!"
"Oh, no worries", he replied, "I had no use for it anyway"
He stood, smiling, a twinkle in his eye
And she knew by his expression that it would do no good to argue
Even so, she made a promise to herself
That she'd come back as soon as she could and repay him.
She gave him a hug, which, by his reaction, surprised him quite a bit
Then kissed him on his dirty cheek and thanked him kindly
Making a note that the tears now seemed to be on HIS face ...
She got in her car and drove off
His smiling face and waving arm disappearing into the white.
That late afternoon, after the storm had stopped
And the party at her family's house was over
She had her older brother and father drive her back to the overpass
The one that the man had talked about as his safe place ...
They brought clothes, a down sleeping bag, some hot food
A new thermos filled with corn chowder, some coffee
A down jacket, new boots, and even a tent and backpack
Along with a Master Card with $200.
They parked beside the highway and climbed down the embankment
But when they got to the underpass where he and his fire should've been
No scraggly man. No fire. No camp. Nothing.
Not a single sign that anyone had ever been there.
They drove back AND forward many miles that evening ...
* SIXTH PLACE in "The Good Samaritan" Poetry Contest, Craig Hawkins, Sponsor. *
Copyright © Gregory R Barden | Year Posted 2017