Break from Forever Forward

Between somewhere and nowhere, a straight highway cut through the barren desert of Arizona. I did not need to look up to know where my car was going. Straight. Forever forward in a never ending line.
I squinted into the hazy late afternoon sky, the white blinding sun slowly dimming. It wasn’t the endless drive that was on my mind, but what I would do when I  returned to the city. Allocating my workload to the three minute mark, I planned the remainder of my day from when I would arrive home.Within the bounds of my strict plans I was safe.
I should have kept to the plan.
Only when I choked back my sigh and returned my focus to the road did I notice the silhouette of a person waving to me ahead on the side of the road. I slowed my car as it passed,  the apparent hitchhiker deeming it as a welcome to my car. It certainly was not.
Through the right window of my car she waved. Her  thin face compressed into a cute smile. She carried a backpack and wore a faded green jacket over a ripped pair of overalls.  She looked in about her mid-twenties and as far as I was concerned, very untrustworthy. Still, she knocked on the window.
“S’cuse me! I need a quick ride! Just to the gas station back there,” the young female hitchhiker begged, brushing away strands of dyed dark green hair that framed her face, “Please!”
“As far as I know you’re planning to kill me while I drive,” I shouted bitterly through the closed window. The second the words escaped my mouth I felt unsure of myself. Never have I been in this situation. It would feel wrong to just leave someone here, but letting someone in my car just did not make sense.
Wordlessly, she unpacked everything out of her bag.
A  book. A change of clothes. A thick wad of papers and pens. A pack of trail mix. A sleeping bag. It was a disorganized mess. Holding up the empty pack she asked again blithely, “Am I permitted to come in now?”
“The jacket,” I nodded harsh and sternly towards her, feeling tired of this odd security check.
“I can’t unpack it, but you can hold on to it. Trust me. Nothing illegal or dangerous. I just need a ride to the gas station back there. Only a five minute drive!”
Five minutes going backwards was five minutes I could be going forward. This two minute conversation could be time going forward too. I should not let her in. Not to mention, she seemed very suspicious. Her small eyes were constantly darting, seemingly scanning my face for a response. I didn’t like this at all, but how could I drive away knowing that I abandoned someone on the side of the road? I opened the back door. For once, I had no idea what the next five minutes would hold.
She climbed into the the car and passed up her jacket. It was heavy, but I still started the car and began the five minute journey.
“Look, I’ve got places to be so we can skip the mindless pleasantries, this is just a car ride. I am Ellen,” I spoke with choppy, monotone speech. Looking back at her made me shift in my seat.
“Whatever you want boss. I’m Polly,” she beamed brightly, “but… what are ‘mindless pleasantries?”
I paused awkwardly, and looked at car mirror to see her staring back at me.
“Pointlessly polite exchange of greetings. Similar to this,” I muttered to myself, but the harshness in my words was audible.
Holding one of the many mountains of files stacked on the seat she said, “I see you do a lot of work in here. Marketing. Statistics. Must’ve taken awhile to get all this smarty stuff down pat.”
She kept switching the conversation as if after each reply she was growing bored, but I nodded subtly at her mentioning, it was true.
Polly twisted strands of my hair that leaked through the gap in my seat between her long pale fingers. I asked her to stop, but she persisted.
“Such pretty hair. Straight and black,” She commented, her voice seemed far away despite being seated next to me, as if she was drifting through her own universe, “What hair dye do you use?”
I missed a breath in an startled confusion. How did she know?
Since my college graduation I’ve continued dye and straighten my naturally thick red hair. I wanted to be taken seriously, and with a puffy cloud of red hair, I couldn’t achieve that. With the success I achieved later I could’ve stopped my dependence on it… why haven’t I stopped?
“It feels like you naive children take forever to grow doesn’t it?” Polly disclosed with a arrogant nod. Her gaze portrayed her as wise, all knowing deity, but in a pitiful hiker’s attire.
I took a breath in preparation to chide her.  What a stupid child to talk down to someone older.
“I know what you’re thinking,” she blurted, interrupting my thoughts,  “‘I must’ve been writing entire ESSAYS when you were just learning to walk!’ Yeah sure, but what have you really learned?”   She let the malicious silence suffocate me until my entire universe was choking.
“Isn’t the most valuable form of knowledge, experience?”
The thought hung in the air like a low fog. You can make any guess about what lies ahead, but you will never know until you trek, and conquer the gloom.
She retracted back to her seat looking out the window casually, shrugging off her own thoughts, “It looks like you’ve seen nothing but a classroom. “
She suddenly pointed to the upcoming gas station excitedly. I still didn’t know how to respond. I parked my car before the vacant, old gas station. The convenience store trailing the gas pumps was lit in a florescent glow.
“Why did you want to come here? To this gas station,” I solicited quietly and cautiously. I was a decently successful, thirty nine year old woman who had her confidence drained by a simple minded young lady.
“I heard you could see a beeauutiful sunset from the roof of that store,” she answered absentmindedly, gazing out of the window. She checked the cheap leather watch hanging loosely to her wrist, “The sun should be setting soon. I’ll get out of your hair Ellen.”
She dashed out of the car with her pack and headed towards the convenience store.
I pulled away in my car, resuming my forever forward journey, but I didn’t go far before I noticed her jacket, forgotten in the passenger seat. I looked back to the gas station, now just an a crack on an endless stretch of sidewalk. In the crack was an even smaller ant named Polly, young but with wisdom not outlined in any textbook or chart. In the jacket was a bulky box of colored pencils and three drawings. Each was a sunset. In each, the sun stretched its arms of light cradling the sky in its blazing warm colors. At this point I was behind in my schedule, but could still catch up. I put my foot on the gas, ready disappear back to an office somewhere. But I stopped again.  I wasn’t ready to go forever forward.
I didn’t move. I watched the sunset.
It was beautiful.
I drew my own picture on the back of one of Polly’s works.
The drawing wasn’t very good, but I’ll improve with experience.
I was invited to a much brighter world…
And I was glad that I stayed.






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