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Iori Yagami

Diablo Gazette
Photo Journalist
Bitter Grounds-

1. “Come back early or never come”

In every way that counted, I was dead. Inside somewhere maybe I was screaming and weeping and howling like an animal, but that was another person deep inside, another person who had no access to the face and lips and mouth and head, so on the surface I just shrugged and smiled and kept moving. If I could have physically passed away, just let it all go, like that, without doing anything, stepped out of life as easily as walking through a door, I would have done. But I was going to sleep at night and waking in the morning, disappointed to be there and resigned to existence.

Sometimes I telephoned her. I let the phone ring once, maybe even twice, before I hung up.

The me who was screaming was so far inside that nobody knew he was even there at all. Even I forgot that was there, until one day I got into the car―I had to go to the store, I had decided, to bring back some apples―and I went past the store that sold apples and I kept driving, and driving. I was going south, and west, because if I went north or east I would run out of world too soon.

A couple of hours down the highway my cell phone started to ring. I wound down the window and threw the cell phone out. I wondered who would find it, whether they would answer the phone and find themselves gifted with my life.

When I stopped for gas I took all the cash I could on every card I had. I did the same for the next couple of days, ATM by ATM, until the cards stopped working.

The first two nights I slept in the car.

I was halfway through Tennessee when I realized I needed a bath badly enough to pay for it. I checked into a motel, stretched out in the bath and slept in it until the water got cold and woke me. I shaved with a motel courtesy kit plastic razor and a sachet of foam. Then I stumbled to the bed, and I slept.

Awoke at 4:00 AM, and knew it was time to get back on the road.

I went down to the lobby.

There was a man standing at the front desk when I got there: silver-gray hair although I guessed he was still in his thirties, if only just, thin lips, good suit rumpled, saying “I ordered that cab an hour ago. One hour ago.” He tapped the desk with his wallet as he spoke, the beats emphasizing the words.

The night manager shrugged. “I’ll call again,” he said. “But if they don’t have a car, they can’t send it.” He dialed a phone number, said “This is the Night’s Out Inn front desk again. . . . Yeah, I told. . . . Yeah, I told him.”

“Hey,” I said “I’m not a cab, but I’m in no hurry. You need a ride somewhere?”

For a moment the man looked at me like I was crazy, and for a moment there was fear in his eyes. Then he looked at me like I’d been sent from Heaven. “You know, by God, I do,” he said.

“You tell me where to go,” I said. “I’ll take you there. Like I said, I’m in no hurry.”

“Give me that phone,” said the silver-gray man to the night clerk. He took a handset and said, “You can cancel your cab, because God just sent me a Good Samaritan. People come into your life for a reason. That’s right. And I want you to think about that.”

He picked up his briefcase―like me he had no luggage―and together we went out to the parking lot.

We drove through the dark. He’d check a hand-drawn map on his lap, with a flashlight attached to his key ring, then he’d say, left here, or this way.

“It’s good of you,” he said.

“No problem. I have time.”

“I appreciate it. You know, this has that pristine urban legend quality, driving down country roads with a mysterious Samaritan. A Phantom Hitchhiker story. After I get to my destination, I’ll describe you to a friend, and they’ll tell me you died ten years ago, and still go round giving people rides.”

“Be a good way to meet people.”

He chuckled. “What do you do?”

“Guess you could say I’m between jobs,” I said. “You?”

“I’m an anthropology professor.” Pause. “I guess I should have introduced myself. Teach at a Christian college. P
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