The winter sky had darkened into a moonless blackness and her headlights tore into the night. She took the on-ramp for the interstate. She almost missed the man walking up the side, almost, but her as her eyes lit upon him an over-powering urge took her and she hit the brakes.
Really, God? A hitchhiker? This late at night? I need to get home. But it was too late now. Her car slowed down right next to him and she heard her own voice, like a traitor, saying, “Do you need a ride, sir?” The man didn’t even have the good grace to reply, he just opened the door and hopped in like he owned her little car. Vivian bit her lip, suddenly feeling very cautious and mad at herself for stopping. Out of the corner of her eye she could see the man. His clothes were ragged and his hair unkempt and he was eying her two cherubs in the back with a decidedly disgusted expression.
Something trembled inside her. She could feel the malice reeking from him like an unpleasant stench. God, really, why?
Because you asked me to.
Vivian remembered then. She had been feeling so very blessed that day, her life full of joy and happiness. She had sent up a fervent prayer asking God to guide her into giving back some of that happiness.
She almost let out a groan, but instead took a deep breath and took a shot at some meaningless chatter. “So, where are you headed, sir?”
“Where are you going?” He shot back at her, not even a hint of politeness in his voice.
Vivian kept her eyes on the road and replied, “I can take you as far as Lakeview.”
He didn’t answer. Discontent filled the car like a smoke. Had she done something to offend him? Fear nudged at her and she kept telling herself to be calm. God wouldn’t put her in a position of harm. She was going to be fine, but that thought didn’t keep her eyes from darting to the back seat and gazing and the two children, deep in sleep, their cheeks flushed in pleasant warmth.
The man’s voice rasped out then, “You shouldn’t have picked me up. You should know better, woman.” He cursed. A string of foul language coming forth that made her heart pound.
Vivian heard the warning in his voice and the fear hit her veins like ice water. It was a wonder she could even drive. The one part of her that should be closed tight was answering the man then, her words ridiculously calm considering the turmoil she felt inside, “I knew you needed a ride and I had space for you.”
He shook his head and glanced in the back seat again. Why did he keep looking at her kids?
“You don’t understand. You shouldn’t have picked me up. Have to get somewhere. I have to get there tonight. I am going to do anything to get there.”
“Where do you have to go?” Vivian asked, trying not to gag on the fear stuck in her throat.
He shrugged, “Does it matter to you? I was going to take the next vehicle of whoever was stupid enough to pick me up and it was you.” He turned squarely to her and rasped out angrily, “I could kill you. I need this car so bad.” Vivian’s heart seemed to stop and then he went on, “But those kids, I can’t do it with those kids.”
She was going to cry. Her mind ran wild through all the twisted things that seemed about to happen to her, to her kids, to her life. Who was this man? The silence that had not so long ago seemed so sweet now tortured her with its oppressive secrets.
She heard the vagabond let out a deep breath, like the air going out of a tire. When he spoke again some of the wrath was missing, “I’m trying to get to my son.”
“Is he sick?”
He shook his head. Vivian waited for him to continue, afraid another question might send him over a dangerous edge.
“I just told him I would come. He needs me. I haven’t seen him for awhile.”
That simple answer thawed some of the fear and Vivian softly stated, “Children are blessed when they have someone who cares.”
It was those words that got Vivian’s passenger talking, really opening up to her and that two-hour ride became a life changing event. Gerald Smith had lived life hard and the one thing he had that was truly good was his son. Courts had decided he wasn’t fit to have custody of him when he was born, and Gerald admitted it had been a good choice. Foster care had been better for that little tyke than life with a father constantly being imprisoned and never keeping a job. But now that son was almost ten and had run into trouble and called his dad. Gerald had been traveling for days and felt his time running short. Rides were getting hard to find since Gerald looked dangerous. He had been waiting hours before Vivian had pulled up next to him and had already decided that if he was going to reach his boy in time he needed to commit another crime.
Vivian listened, letting him pore it all out. When he was done he said once again, “I think I would have done something really bad if you hadn’t had those kids with you. Why did you pick me up?”
She smiled and said, “God told me to.”
He listened then as she told him of God’s grace and when they got to Lakeview she pulled into a truck station and asked him to wait in the car. Gerald did. Vivian didn’t have money to give the man, but she found a nice truck driver that was headed exactly where Gerald needed to go. She got back to the car and told Gerald, “I enjoyed our trip, Gerald. I’ll be praying for you. “
There were tears on that rough man’s face when he got out and said, “I’m so glad it was you that picked me up.”