She knocks on the window as I’m staring at the restaurant sign composed of light bulbs encased in metal lettering, silently amusing myself about some shit related to “the message is the medium” as I’m waiting for an Uber ride request. I look over and a silhouette has occupied my window. Honey blonde, almost bronze. Maybe it was the dark night tinged with the incandescence of the sign. Long, wispy hair that seemed to catch the light discerningly. Eyes of two different colours. Expressionless face. Deep blue eye. The other one I couldn’t tell. Loose black t-shirt.
She briskly knocks again, breaking me out of my spell.
“Can you drive me?”
“I’m driving for Uber. Can you request the ride?” I fumble with my phone to show her the app.
She shakes her head.
“I’m not looking for an Uber ride. I’m just looking for a ride.”
“Where are you going?”
“Not too far, I promise. I just… I just need to clear my mind.”
She doesn’t wait for a response. She opens the passenger door, slides in, slams the door closed. She rolls down the window and glides her arm outside the window. It’s so smoothly executed that I automatically hit the gas once she’s settled. She looks out to her right as I drive. We drive in silence.
“If you could do anything what would you do?” she asks. Her words break the silence and linger in the air.
I shrug. “Go travelling I guess.”
I shrug again. “Maybe Peru. I’ve always wanted to climb Machu Picchu since I’ve seen people there in photos.”
“You ever done anything that seemed right at the time but you can’t justify it now?”
Loaded question. I shrug again.
“I don’t know…. I can’t think of an example at the top of my head.”
She responds right away this time but still does not look at me. She’s starting to unravel. Her body language is tense like she’s about to burst. She’s been holding in so many things she has wanted to say, and in the presence of a stranger, she’s about to unleash it all. She takes a deep breath.
“I used to be so defiant and say that I never regretted anything in my life… because how can you focus your energy on something you can’t change? I mean…you can’t go back in time and do it right, even if you can see it all clearly now.”
“But it’s caught up to me now. It’s like all these things happening in my life are due to what happened so long ago. Because of that one decision I made. And I would have taken it all back.”
“What did you do?” I ask her.
“I did what I had to do.”
“It probably wasn’t the end of the world if you hadn’t done what you had done. You’re still here now.” I make a right at a light. At this point, I’m cruising the same four blocks.
She turns to face me now. Her eyebrows are almost furrowed, her stare intense.
“I fell in love,” she says carefully.
“And then you broke up.” I smirk.
“I fell in love,” she repeats gingerly. “I wasn’t supposed to. I was supposed to… move on with my life after what I did. Like I was going to run away and disappear, and just forget what I did. Okay, I wasn’t going to forget what I did. But I knew I could move past it. Like I could just focus on other things and move on. And even now, I think that this arrangement would have worked out. But instead… this is going to sound so cheesy, but I found a reason to stay. Like I found a reason to be better… to be a better person I guess. But that meant I had to face what I did, I had to face that decision I made a long time ago. And it turned everything upside down. Like I hadn’t configured my life to incorporate this guy… but…”
“This sounds like one of those typical love stories then.”
She’s surprised that I interrupted her. “What?”
“This sounds like a little girl who thinks she’s fallen in love for the first time and everything is now over because she broke up with her soulmate.” I deadpan it but hope there’s some bite. Why is she still in my car? Why did I agree to drive her? She hasn’t given me any directions; we’ve just been driving.
She looks straight ahead and slouches back in her seat, expression serious.
“You’ve never fallen in love then.”
“Look who’s talking. You’re naive enough to think that is falling in love.”
She sits in silence and chooses her words carefully.
“Love is becoming compelled to do the right thing. I know that sounds so cheesy… but I’ve thought about it a lot. And that’s why you’re driving a strange girl around the city tonight, in this car…. I was in the passenger seat when something terrible happened and I makd a split-second decision that changed everything. Someone died, and someone else… is just… not the same anymore… And it’s scarred me to the point that I can’t sit in other people’s passenger seats. And yet here we are, full circle.”
I grip the wheel. Who had I let into my car?
“If I could have done anything, I would have gone back to that moment in the car. I would have done it right.”
“I’m trying, don’t you see? I’m trying to do the right thing. When I leave the passenger seat this time, no one is going to get hurt.”