Halfway to Arkansas This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

December 20, 2013
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“Kaiya,” my older sister whispered in the dark, “I don't think we're in Virginia anymore.”
It was true, if not somewhat obvious. We'd passed the Virginia border yesterday, our whoops and hollers rising to the car roof once we reached Tennessee. The hours of rocky mountains that touched the sky had turned into flat plains and grassy landscapes. There were no parades of Southerners greeting us, or even a touch of fanfare to welcome us – just more cars, more road, more dirt.
To me, this trip truly was a somber one.
After a quick stop at White Castle, we'd pulled into the shadiest hotel we could find, a billboard screaming LOW, LOW, LOW PRICES. Once we'd collected our keys from the greasy-haired man at the kiosk, we found ourselves in a room stinking of cigarettes. The previous tenants had taken apart the smoke detector, leaving plumes of smog in their wake.
“If this isn't Fate telling us to get out of here, I don't know what is,” I muttered to my sister. She gave me a sharp look – she wanted this move after all – before picking up her duffel and waddling ­inside. I heaved a sigh, put on the best old man ­impression I could muster – hunched shoulders, melancholy expression – and followed her.
That night I contemplated why we were here. Of all the places my father could have been stationed, why Arkansas? The name rolled off my tongue, and not in a pleasant way. It was bitter and sour and foreign. There were no memories here, none I could even fabricate to excite myself about this move. The whole idea of it seemed pointless: two filler years before I repressed the memories of this entire experience and headed off to college.
The great cities of the East Coast came to me: D.C., Baltimore, Richmond, Philadelphia, New York, all left behind for this “great adventure,” as my mother called it.
“It'll be a change of scenery. I want to see something different. I'm getting sick of Virginia,” she'd said whenever I complained. “You never know – you could meet your best friends there, Kaiya.”
“I already have them,” I would grumble.
The amazing ability mothers have to comfort you and undermine you at the same time – it's a gift. Really, it is. But I was in no way relieved. For months I'd dreaded this move. I'd lie awake at night trying to think of the positives, and nothing came. Absolutely nothing.
But that night, in the darkest hotel room I'd ever slept in, my perspective changed. It was my mother, as it always is, who was the catalyst. She'd shaken me awake sometime after midnight, keys jingling in her hand.
“Come on, get up. I left something in the car.”
There has always been this silent pact in my family: women never go anywhere alone. Even though my older sister and I are completely useless in the tactile defenses, it just seems a lot safer having someone there beside you.
I shrugged on a jacket, despite the 70-degree weather, and shuffled out the door. It was silent and eerie, like the beginning to a horror flick. My mother and I kept close as we went down the three flights of stairs, slippers scraping against the asphalt.
While she unlocked the car and leaned inside to get whatever she needed, I sat on the hood, looking out at the parking lot. There was a man across from us who every so often glanced at us. The first time he did it, I tried to ignore him, reassuring myself it was human nature to stare. But after the third time, my heart started to thud against my chest, threatening to break out of my rib cage. He wasn't just glancing anymore but staring.
My mother was still inside the car, oblivious to my panic. It wasn't until he detached himself from his car and started walking toward us that I jumped off the hood and ran to my mom, jabbing her back.
“What, Kaiya?” she asked impatiently, squinting at me.
“There's a man, and he's coming over here,” I cried breathlessly, not daring to look over my shoulder. I pressed forward, trying to fold myself into the car. “Mom, there's a creepy-looking guy that's probably about to kill us.”
She didn't look as stricken as I expected, only pushed me into the car before she jumped out, walking into the street to meet the stranger.
“Mom!” I whispered sharply. “Mom, he's gonna kill you!”
Whether she heard me or not, she didn't respond, just kept walking. I crawled into the back seat, feeling like a little kid as I stood on my knees and watched through the rear window. I pressed my elbow on the window button to roll it down so I could hear the conversation between them.
“Sorry, my daughter … she's a little jumpy. Do you need something?” my mom asked, her voice all polite.
The man gestured with his hands as he responded. “I just noticed your flat tires. You've got two of them in the front and back. I was just wondering if you noticed.”
“We did, but we didn't have time. See, we're on our way to Arkansas …” My mother continued her story, the man watching her with interest and respect. After she finished, he scratched his head, looking back at his car.
“Well, I have a couple spares. I certainly wouldn't mind helping you out here–”
“Oh no, we couldn't ask you to do that,” my mother interjected. She is the type of person who doesn't like to accept help from others. She always sees it as an inconvenience. “We'll just stop at a gas station tomorrow after we reach Arkansas.”
He was already turning on his heels. “It's no problem, ma'am.”
So in the wee hours of the morning, midway between our old home and our new home, a stranger changed two tires for us. There was no praise or ­reward; he did it out of pure generosity. He talked to me and my mother as he worked, told us about his job, his children, his life.
Once he was finished my mother thanked him and offer him some money, which he declined. He told us to have a safe trip and ascended the motel stairs to his room.
That night I couldn't stop thinking about that man and the good he'd done – one of those random acts of kindness society always talks about. I realized that there was a purpose – there always was – to these huge changes in life. That man and his simple kindness had started a revolution in my mind.
The move to Arkansas still seemed a huge obstacle in the giant mystery I called life, but it was a hassle staying mad. I'd rather use that stranger's tactics and divert my anger into something meaningful, something that could benefit others.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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