I had been to the post office and to the bank to cash a check, and on the way home I stopped to get gas.
As I went in to pay, a skinny woman with hair to her waist came out of the cash mart. "Excuse me, sir," she said. "Can you give me a ride to the crossroads?"
Her Blazer had knocked off a few miles down the road and she was already late picking up her kids someplace. She just wanted me to take her home.
I looked at my car. I wasn't going in her direction, but I was pointed that way. And my debts came to mind. With the various rust buckets and rattletraps I had driven over the years, I had been broken down beside the road a few times. But in each case, within moments, someone had stopped and given me a ride wherever I needed to go. And none of those kind souls had ever accepted any money for their trouble. So maybe this was my time to pay the favors forward.
"Yeah, I can do that," I said. I paid for the gas, got behind the wheel and slid the post office and bank stuff from the passenger seat to the armrest space next to me. The woman got in and we headed up the road.
She sneaked a quick look over her shoulder at the back seat -checking, I figured, to see if an ax murderer was crouched in the floorboard - then glanced at the stuff between us. She squirmed a little and I realized the jeopardy I had placed myself in giving a lift to a female rider. She could accuse me of anything later and I could end up babbling before some magistrate, hauled to jail, my name in the police blotter.
We came to the roadside menagerie where a brown billy goat was always out of his pasture grazing beside the highway, and sure enough, there he was, his horns sticking out of the fescue. "There's that goat eating the bottles and cans again," I said, then made some other small talk.
She was the niece of a man I knew, the man who serviced my chain saws and lawn mowers. "You probably know my cousin," she said and named a girl I went to high school with. The woman was also related to some longtime family friends, and knowing those connections, I relaxed a little.
We went down the steep hill past my great-grandmother's old place and I pointed it out to her. Then across the creek, where, every time I went over the culvert, I slowed down, thinking about the neighborhood boy who was killed there in a car wreck years ago.
We approached the little store a local couple, also related to the woman, had fixed up and operated as a breakfast and lunchtime grill. But then they were robbed, so they just closed the place up, and now there was nowhere to sit down and eat for miles.
Across from the store was the modest white church that bore the woman's family name. "Anybody still go there?" I asked. "Yes," she said. "I go there sometimes."
We stopped at the crossroads, turned left and went a little ways further. The woman suddenly bolted upright in her seat and looked out my side glass. "Oohhh; there's Granny in the ditch," she said. "Oh no ... I hope she's all right." And I craned my neck to see what peril Granny was in. She appeared to be burning leaves.
I pulled in front of the house and before the tires stopped turning the woman hopped out and ran inside without another word.
I looked at the front door, glanced down at the stuff on the seat beside me, looked at the closed door again.
The bank envelope with my $73 in it was gone.