Thursday, December 10, 2009
On a wayward journey
Maria looked around in the parking lot for the car. The parking ramp had cars of various sizes, lined up in multiple rows. They ranged from the small and sleek smart cars, medium sized sedans, to the huge SUVs and pick-up trucks. By the time she had got back, lots of cars had left and other cars of different shapes and colors had taken their place. Her head started to spin as her eyes browsed through the mixed bunch of cars over and over again. She had forgotten where she had parked the SUV. Maria had recently purchased her brand new silver Rav4, fully loaded. After looking around for fifteen minutes she allowed herself to get concerned. She worried if she had locked the car properly when she ran off hurriedly to go pick a gift for her boyfriend. She tried to remember some of her actions in the process. She had just hung up from talking to her best friend, asking her to help with some gift ideas. After she had put away her cell, she had grabbed her purse and coffee cup before getting out of the car. But she could not remember herself locking the car.
A friendly young store assistant had helped Maria pick up the perfect gift for Ricky. In an effort to make small talk, he was complaining about sales being down, significantly, this year. A sure aftermath of the economic meltdown. With the huge increase in unemployment rates and corporate cost cutting, people did not have the kind of money that they used to have, to spend on a regular basis. In this economic situation, many people are going through monetary hardships, she thought. Austerity is known to drive people to do the most unexpected things. It would not surprise her if someone was lurking in the parking lot and checking if any cars were unlocked. Maybe the thief found her car and drove away with it. Her mind was uneasy. She still had her parking ticket in her purse. Are the parking lot security guards getting so negligent these days? There was no clear explanation.
Beads of sweat appeared on her forehead. How was she going to get home in time for the surprise birthday party? Everything was going to get messed up. A light drizzle had started when she had left home. The temperature was just above freezing, at that point. She looked outside through the open space above the sidewalls of the parking ramp. By now, white snow flakes were coming down at a steady rate. The forecast was six to ten inches, tonight. Maria had invited about a dozen of their mutual friends for the party. The guests would have to wait outside in the cold and snow for her return. She had very few doubts that it would make Ricky, practically, fly off the handle. Why was this happening to her? She had been taking the utmost care to make this surprise birthday party so very special for Ricky. He would have been so impressed that he would have even proposed her marriage. She had been waiting for his move for the last two years. Nothing would have been anymore perfect. But instead, there, she was standing in the freezing cold with gift bags and no transportation to get her home.
Maria's eyes welled up and before long the droplets joined together and started journeying down her flushed cheeks. She just did not know what to do. It was almost as if her feet had frozen and so had her brain. She was barely suppressing a moan that was forcing its way out. She tried to muffle the sound by covering it with her left arm. As she turned her head, her eyes met with a middle aged man with questioning eyes. The man was wearing an old and shabby black overcoat, a dark woolen cap and matching mittens. He had a calm and gentle face. The man took the last puff and dropped the cigarette butt near his feet. He extinguished the fire under his feet and let the smoke out through the corner of his mouth. He took a few steps forward and approached Maria. With a sympathetic smile, he asked her what was wrong. Maria briefly related her story, stopping to cry in between. She took out from her purse the parking ticket and showed him. He took it from her hand with a smile and briefly looked at it before shoving it in his pocket. "Does your car have a remote?" "Yes!" Maria's face lit up. Why didn't she think of it? She could go around and try listening for her car's response to the remote. The nice gentleman volunteered to help. Maria was so relieved that she did not think twice when she handed him her car remote. As she followed the man she thought she heard her car's faint response. "All is not lost" she reassured herself.
Apparently, the gentleman also got pretty excited and had started walking briskly towards the sound. The distance between them was increasing and Maria was falling behind. She turned in the direction of the sound and saw the head lights of her Rav4 blink in reply to her remote. "What a relief. Her car was here all this time. She was about to laugh at herself and forget the grueling last half hour. But what is this?" She saw that the man was now running fast, towards the SUV. She was shocked to see him get in the car and drive away in a flash, leaving her behind, staring at the fleeting form of her Rav4.
Maria suddenly felt keenly aware of her surroundings. She was at this point very calm and beyond despair. Instead of feeling sorry for herself she fished out her cell phone and immediately called 911, reporting her stolen SUV. Just like a blessing, another idea popped in her head. With the directory service available on her cell, she located the nearest taxi service and asked them to pick her up. She then walked down the steps to the entrance of the mall parking space to wait for her ride. Within fifteen minutes, a yellow cab arrived. She breathed easily as she looked at her watch. She figured she could be back home just at the nick of time.
She did not want to worry about her stolen car, right now. She realized that the outcome was beyond her control. It would be better to follow up with the police later in the night. However, her wisdom and curiosity did not see eye to eye and the mind kept wandering back to the Rav4, again and again. On her journey home, the cab got on the freeway. Maria, saw a police car, with its lights and siren on, cross their car at a very high speed. The police car was on a chase. She could also hear the rumbling sound of the helicopter right above her. “Were the police saving her Rav4?” Her heart skipped a beat.