A hundred and forty kilometres. A little above three hours. Three and a half, tops, with any unscheduled breaks. Before noon, she would be at her destination. Myra took a deep breath. Found a local radio station she could live with, and cranked up the engine. The automatic sprang to life with a slow purr.
The traffic was light at this time of the morning, and she was on the highway within a half hour of starting out. She had now found a station playing classics, with hourly news thrown in, in the local language. The sun was shining behind her. The cloud cover increasing ahead of her. Shades on her eyes, she put the car on cruise control, and stared straight ahead.
At first she wasn’t sure she had heard it right. But she reduced the volume on the radio anyway. And tried to hear more carefully. She was right! There it was – the muffled, but unmistakable thumping noise coming from the car! Myra groaned. Oh, please! Not a flat! Not now!
It wasn’t the flat tyre itself that worried her – she knew she had a spare in the back and she could change a tyre all by herself with no help. But it would be a delay she wasn’t ready for. And yet, it had to be done.
Myra saw that the road was lined with trees on both sides. With rice fields stretching along both the sides as far as the eye could see. Signalling to the left, Myra pulled up on the side of the road. She parked in a grassy space under the shade of a tree. Taking off her seat belt, Myra got out of the car and looked for the flat that was making the thumping noise.
To her surprise, the tyres were perfectly fine! No flat tyre. That gave Myra a pause. Baffled, she double checked the tyres, and when she had assured herself that everything was in order, she went back to the driver’s side door.
That was when she heard it again. The thumping. Louder this time. And this time she could also pinpoint its source. The noise was coming from the trunk! Puzzled, Myra put a hand inside her jacket, as if holding a pistol there; and with her other hand, she opened the trunk from the outside.
Cool green eyes stared back at her from a smooth, fair face of a young man, may be a year of two older than her. As she continued to watch, he unfolded his long legs and got out of the trunk to stand next to her. Myra stared. He was at least a head taller than her, and incredibly fit. In a white T-shirt and simple blue denims, he looked like he was out on a road trip somewhere. As Myra stared, the man stretched his cramped muscles, and then bent at his waist, reaching into the trunk to retrieve a briefcase. Now he looked like a young lawyer on a holiday, standing there on the grass with the briefcase in hand.
“Thanks for the ride,” he said, giving Myra a dazzling smile. “I’ll hitchhike it from here.”
With that, he gave her a mock salute and turned to go.
“Hold on!” Myra finally found her voice. “Who are you? And what were you doing in the trunk of my car?”
That smile again! Oh, there was a dimple too! On the left cheek. And then he sighed. Myra almost caught herself swooning.
“Well, technically, this isn’t your car.” He said, coming closer.
“Yes, it is a rental.” She said.
How did he know that? She wondered. And then kicked herself mentally. Oh! Yes, the plates! The rentals always have different plates!
“But that doesn’t answer my question.” She said more sternly than she intended to.
“Yes. So I shall answer it.” He replied. Very calm. She noted.
“Name’s Ryan.” He said. “I was at the rental agency. Outside. I was outside the rental agency. I saw you come out with the guy who handed you the keys. I heard you ask him a few details and check out the fuel tank. I also heard you ask him the fastest route to your destination; and I got into the boot you had left unlocked.
‘Thing is, I need to get somewhere really fast. And I didn’t have the time to waste on niceties, asking you for a lift. Not to mention that you would’ve turned me away anyway.”
He was trying to be cute! Myra almost smiled. And although her face was impassive, she thought she liked this guy. He was clean, good looking – and no matter the unorthodox way of his hitching a ride with her, he didn’t seem like a serial killer.
“Hop in, then.” she said before she could stop herself. “Travel like a proper passenger.”
“Oh, thank you!” he smiled. He walked to the passenger side of the car and got in.
Myra took a moment longer to reach the driver’s side, and eventually, they drove on.
About an hour in, they saw Police barricades and road blocks ahead. Myra frowned. She looked across and saw Ryan frowning too.
A policeman knocked on the driver’s window and Myra buzzed it down.
“Excuse me, Ma’am,” the officer said, “Would you mind showing us your papers, and stating the purpose of your journey?”
“Sure,” Myra smiled at him; reaching over to the back seat and taking her driver’s license and the rental registration papers from her bag. “What’s up, officer?” she asked handing them over. “What’s with the road block?
A killer on the loose?” she asked, glancing at her passenger.
A killer on the loose?” she asked, glancing at her passenger.
“Nothing so serious, Ma’am” the officer replied, scanning her papers. “There’s been a theft.”
With that, he handed over her papers to her and bent down to look at Ryan. “And you, Sir? Would you show your papers?” he asked.
“Me?” Ryan looked up. “Oh, I am just with the lady” he said smoothly.
The office looked at Myra, who smiled and nodded. shrugged.
“Okay, then!" the officer shrugged too. "Just open your trunk Ma’am; and once we check that, you are free to go.”
Another hour passed in silence. They were very close to the city of their destination now.
Myra stopped the car a little away from the main road. Another shady tree. Some more grassy land.
“Okay. Out with it.” Myra said, glancing over at Ryan. “Hand me over the briefcase”
Ryan turned to look at her. And then he bent his head low on his shoulder, looking at her keenly, while slowly raising a gun at her.
From the glove compartment. When had he taken it?
Then in one fluid motion, Myra had a gun out of her jacket pocket and pointed at his temple. In the blink of an eye, the situation had become charged.
“When did you call the police?” Ryan asked.
“When did you take the gun from the glove box?” Myra countered.
“I asked first.”
“Before I sat in the car, after I found you.”
“Same time.” Ryan smiled.
“When did you know you will have to train a gun on me?” Myra asked.
“When the officer let you go without much explanation as to your destination or as to me. Especially, as to me.”
“So, now what?” Ryan asked.
Myra took a deep breath. “You know they will be waiting for you a few kilometres away…”
“And this time you won’t tell them I am with you. You will hand me over.”
Myra looked at the green eyes that were trained on her. She knew he could easily shoot her, just as easily as she could shoot him. And yet…
“Hand over the briefcase, and I will allow you to walk.”
“If only we didn’t belong to warring countries, huh?” Ryan said then.
“If only,” she echoed.
You can read my other entries for this festival here -
Of Life Lessons and Listening to One's Heart