The first drop of sweat, like hot candle wax, coursed down my cheek and dripped onto the dusty asphalt. A white sedan stopped. Excitement filled me. The driver side window hummed down, “Do you need a ride to the bus station?”
“Umm, no. I, Umm,” my well-rehearsed lines crumbled under the driver’s glare. “I want to go to the next city, I’m hitchhiking.”
“Oh,” he paused as if he was sorry to have to say this, “well I’m not going that way. Good luck.” I sighed as he disappeared around the curve. He was the third to stop and the third to suggest that I go to the bus station. I considered it, I wanted to get out of this humid heat, I wanted to get there quicker, it would be so easy. I couldn’t, I had to at least try to hitchhike. “Just one hour, if I don’t get a ride, I’ll go to the bus station,” I told myself.
The coconut trees above me moaned in the uncaring heat. The poor things had no protection. The hard bar of the coconut trees narrow shadows smothered my own. I sat down near the tree trunk where thick bushes cast a lush shade. The damp air smelled like moldy leaves long stuck in a gutter.
I was aiming to make it to the highway, according to a poorly photocopied minimap, this was it or almost it. I couldn’t be certain. Before me, a long stretch of black asphalt ran in both directions and disappeared behind sharp curves and large trees. Almost no cars came by. Across the street large, half in the opening to a jungle, chickens pecked at a pile of abounded cucumbers, their thick feathers clinked together like armor. Above them Jack fruits dangled like cancerous tumors.
A car rounded the corner. Sunlight light bounced from windshield and sent twinkles of light into the dense foliage. I stood up and stretched my stiff frame. My thumb extended, my lips smiling, the car slowed. My muscled tensed, my smile opened wider. The car crawled. My fingers bit into my palms. “Stop, stop, stop.” I repeated in my mind. The car picked up speed and zoomed by showering me with warm wind. My smile plunged.
Another car came, I forced a smile. It slowed. A crowded family starred out and gave me a friendly wave. Cars trickled down the road. Most of the eyes sat heavy on from the pavement. More cars came. They slowed, but went on. I gritted my teeth. Failure and the stress from it triggered something inside of me. A hidden strength, a wild abandon of what is safe and sane exploded. I stomped across the road. The shade-less, scorched earth cracked under my weight. The inhumane sun drummed down. I ignored it.
I wasn’t smiling, but in direct sunlight my blond hair, white shirt and orange fisherman pants glowed. Cars came. The drivers locked their eyes with mine. They didn’t slow. Some threw out long annoyed honks, others gave quick supportive beeps. A few cars with teens and children passed by, they always gave me a smile and a thumbs up. Sweat dripped over my smile, approval, even in failure, is nice.
I looked at my thumb. In almost all cultures a thumbs up means “good”, (although, in Iran it means F#&* you). Maya had said that my thumb wouldn’t be good for hitchhiking in Thailand “everyone will just think you like their car”. “You should signal by patting toward ground,” she had suggested, which I had ignored. I dropped my thumb and started patting. More cars came, slower than before, their mind deciding, their heads arching to look back. No one stopped.
A tired semi-truck stumbled by. Its engine stuck between a roar and a whine, its suspension coughing. It bashed the air apart and sent wind rushing around my skin, bathing me in coolness.
The sun bore down on this land of fire, the chickens, the bugs, the lizards, everything but me was smart enough to stay out of direct sunlight. I stood there, waiting, ignoring the sweat as it turned from a drizzle to a downpour.
The chicken’s erupted in an argument, their thick wings changing from armor to sword. A car coasted around the corner. The chickens battled, feathers flung everywhere. They exploded, some fleeing into the jungle, some darting across the road. The quick moan of straining breaks squealed as the car rushed to a stop. The chickens ran on. The driver’s quick eyes read me. She leaned over to her passengers’ side and cranked down her window. A cool breeze flowed out.
“What are you doing here?” she said as her grey eyebrows rose.
“I am trying to hitchhike to the next city.”
“Oh I’m not going there” She said as she started to crank her window back up.”
“Could you take me to the highway?” I pointed at my map, she squinted.
She gave a slight smile, “ok, get in.” My heart jumped. My first ride!
There were still more houses here and there, but I was defiantly outside of the city. She dropped me off on a narrow road that pierced the distance. “You’re going that way” she pointed down the road. “Just wait here, someone will take you.”
She left and there I was, not a large highway, but an elevated, empty two lane road. There was no shade. I waited, locked in stillness as heat rained down and sweat soaked me. My heavy backpack pulled me down toward the uneven stones beneath my feet. My knees buckled.
A sky-blue station wagon rolled up to me. It was bursting with cardboard boxes. The driver stopped anyway. He used one arm to hold back the boxes overflowing from the passenger seat. “The bus station is back that way,” he said as he struggled to turn and point the way he had come.
“Thanks, but I am hitchhiking to the next city.”
He gave a glance to his boxes. “I’m sorry, but I don’t think I have room.” He caught the quick drop of my smile, “don’t worry someone will come soon.”
“Thanks anyway” I said and gave a genuine smile. I sighed and let my head drop as he drove way, sure that he would be the only human contact I would have for the next half hour. At least he stopped, at least he smiled.
A minute later a pitch black SUV roared down the road. It came to a gentle stop in front of me. The window came down. A sharped cheeked man in his middle ages waied. I waied back.
“I’m going to the next city.” I pointed down the road “That way.”
He chuckled “I doubt you’re going any other way,” his narrow eyes glided over me and landed on my backpack. “That looks heavy,” he glanced up at the sun then to my eyes. “Wow, you must be hot, get in.”
Thick, frosty winter air wrapped around my charred skin, soothing me, shocking me. I inhaled deep. Ice filled my lungs and pumped through my veins. I ran my hands across the leather seats, as cold and soft as snow.
A little girl turned from the passenger seat. Her diamond eyes, like hanging jewels, smiled and arched at a sharp angel. Her sharp cheek bones rose with her smile. “Where are you from?” she said in broken English.
“Wow! America! Are you from New York?”
“No, I am from North Carolina.”
She nodded, “Los Angeles?”
“No, LA is very far away, I live in the south east.”
She gave me a blank look.
The blank look continued.
“Oh, Disney land!”
“Umm, yea sure, but not too near.”
She nodded, her smile ripe and vibrant.
A sea of flooded rice fields surrounded the highway. The young lime green rice contrasted with the distant jungle, so dark green it was almost black. Around the rice fields hungry bulldozers devoured the earth leaving large dripping piles of red mud. The lifted land lassoed the rice fields and would soon become elevated roads. Above everything, standing with their feet deep into the rice fields were colossal steel towers. Their arms outstretched to hold enormous power lines that carried civilization to the very edges of the jungle.
“Give him some water,” the driver insisted.
“Ok daddy,” she lifted two wet bottles from a cooler at her feet and handed them to me. Half frozen drops slid through my fingers. I smiled.
“Where are you going?” The driver added.
I told them my plan, to hitchhike a few cities away.
“Good, we can take you halfway. We are going to the next city.” He gave a slight chuckle, “not like there is anywhere else to go.”
“What do you mean?”
The rice fields were gone, replaced with a thick labyrinth of trees. They grew thick and dark, as uninviting as an unlit crypt. In the distance, a towering wave clouds splashed into jungled mountains and drowned them in fog. Dark green and brown flashed by the windows, trees fenced the car. The thick jungle pulled close. Stout limbs lifted leaves high, creating a canopy, a tunnel of green. Stars of hanging light piercing through and rested on elephant eared leaves and ringed coconut tree trunks. A silken fog enveloped the car. The bland air became thick and white. The mist bellowed from the air conditioner, a cool damp haze.
They dropped me off, after the next city, on a long empty road surrounded by slouching mango trees. Blood red dust painted the grey asphalt and flavored the air. I watched the road as rising air warped the light and created mirages of distant cars.
A Tuktuk, an underpowered motorcycle pulling a tarp covered wagon, hummed down the road. The driver waved and beeped, his two cylinder Motorcycle geared down. I shook my head. A quick moan of straining breaks met with a clash of steel as the wagon and motorcycle trembled together. I looked away. I didn’t want to take the Thai version of a taxi, and not maintaining eye contact is the best way to say no. The tuktuk sped up and shivered as the wagon bloated with wind and jerked back.
The trees above relaxed in the cooling wind, they opened their arms and spread their knife-shaped fingers to let the wind hiss through them. Little hanging vines holding little green mangoes dangled like pendulums. The dust danced over the road as the wind picked up. The hard wind gave me a soft hug, pressing my clothes onto my body.
A blue pickup-truck, orange-red from dust and rust grew in the distance. I rose my arm and gave long, slow waves. This driver was going to see me. This driver was going to stop. I would make sure of that. I wave my hand faster. The truck grew. My leg twitched, sprinting the palm of my foot, making rapid fire contact to the earth. The truck ran over the concrete slabs that made the road. It hit the creases with heavy snaps. Snap snap, Snap snap. The truck grew and grew until it was almost next to me. The driver slowed and popped the passenger door open. I threw my bag in the back and got in.
Find this useful? Funny? Sad? Emotional in any way? Or better yet, did you like it? If so please leave a comment. I enjoy reading them, each is a little surprise present that keeps me motivated and keeps me writing. By the way, I will reply to any questions you ask me.