Thursday, July 2, 2009

A Man by the Road

I was driving yesterday, along a five lane road next to a railroad track. It was an industrial area full of warehouses, bus stops and bland concrete block buildings behind razor wire that house vaguely named corporations. There were shabby houses nearby, and the human traffic here is mostly domestic workers, drunks looking for a place to sleep, and nannies coming in from the further suburbs.

There's money here. Those bland buildings are loaded with millions upon millions of dollars in merchandise, whether it's Chinese antiques or ball bearings. But the people in the corners and the wealth behind the wire are as far apart as the moon and Mars.

A train loaded with sand and gravel rumbled by, always a minor event. I drove through an intersection with people standing around in odd poses. An old woman wearing a rag on her head stood in the road itself, watching the train. I wondered if perhaps she was afraid to stand too near, so she chose to stand in the road as if it was safer. Two younger guys--baggy pants, low-hanging shirts--stood in the intersection, talking. They ignored my car as if I didn't exist. A tall and very thin man, his clothes in rags and his face lit with a chemical exuberance staggered down the side of the road, talking to himself.

But there was one guy among the whole scene I really wondered about. He was tall, maybe six foot, wearing jeans and expensive loafers. He had on a black tank top and was tanned and smoothly muscular. He wore mirrored sunglasses and stood back from the road, almost concealed behind a light pole and just feet from the train. As I pulled through the intersection, a BMW with smoked-out windows approached from the other way. I noticed because the driver flashed his lights several times and slowed, but did not stop. The guy behind the light pole emerged, quickly crossed to the BMW, opened a door on the still-moving car and stepped in.

Just before he vanished, he looked across the roof of the car at me. I was staring, of course, and I couldn't see his eyes behind his shades. But from the angle of his head, the set of his shoulders, the pause as he ducked inside the dark car, it was clear he was looking at me. Deliberately. I could easily imagine him putting his two fingers to his own eyes, then motioning to me, as if to say, "I see you."

I see you.

I thought about it all day, that flash of an exchange, him framed by the silver Beemer and the rolling freight train, the amorphous threat in his posture, his anonymity. What was he doing there by the side of the road? Why was he half-hidden? Who was driving the car and why didn't they stop fully when they picked him up? All day long, I invented stories for him. One minute, he was delivering drugs. The next, he was meeting his lover. Another, he was seeing the last sunlight he would ever experience, that whatever night awaited him was full of violence. The explanation was never mundane, never a simple meeting across town.

He saw me, sure, but I saw him, too.


Mark Terry said...

I love that sort of stuff. Seems nefarious. Could be a spy. Could be someone recently out of prison. Could be...

Could be a guy getting a ride after getting out of work. But what fun would that be?

LurkerMonkey said...

Yeah, what fun would that be? Like most writers I bet, I do this all the time. I'm constantly filling in the blanks ... but this guy really did look like a particular kind of gangster we have loads of down here.

Melanie Avila said...

I need to read this post every time I'm struggling to come up with a blog post.

I make up stories for people all the time but rarely end up writing about it. I need to get into that habit.