He was tired. The long twelve hour shift wasn't particularly difficult just long, but it was Saturday and noon and he'd been up for more than 24 hours and was weary. He rubbed his eyes, having passed the bridge into his hometown, and slowing down for the turn on to the road ahead.
He smiled, the lonely country road seldom had traffic on it. It bordered a state park, with a wetland on the other side, and the shade from the forest made the car immediately cool and fresh when he passed this way each day. It was a welcome milestone, as it meant he was minutes from home, and the fragrance of the Earth's wild Sweet Annie herb wafted through the car.
Suddenly up ahead, he was forced to swerve. A large boat-like car sat in the middle of the road. Cursing, he pulled to the side, barely able to squeeze through safely, and avoided a collision. His teeth in a clench, he wondered why in the heck would someone just park there, then looked back in the mirror at the old African American granny looking perplexed at her tires. He sighed. He was very tired, and hardly felt altruistic, but reparking his car, he popped the trunk, got out a tool bag, and walked slowly to her.
She was nervous. She was frail and venerable. The dark-skinned Asian man approached her. She fretted. The tire was flat, and she'd barely been able to handle her car as the tires buckled. She sure couldn't change it. She was miles from a phone, and her car in a bad spot. Now a stranger was coming close to her, and she felt a bead of sweat inch down her neck.
What was she going to say to him? He seemed mad. His face was in a frown and it scared her a little. She was running late now to see her waiting grandbabies. They were counting on her to watch them.
“Howdy Ma'am, car trouble?” The man seemed a little miffed, but okay, she thought.
“Yes my car started to swerve as I rounded the corner. Then my car pulled to one side as the tire went flat.” She unconsciously touched her mouth, and the man saw that she felt uneasy.
“Let's have a look. Shouldn't take long to fix her. I'm John.”
“Thanks John, that would be so nice. Please, if you help....” her voice cracked, and the man felt bad at letting such a little thing irritate him.
He sighed, “Sure. Can you pop the trunk?” He fiddled and fished out a tire iron and her jack. The tire and car seemed enormous compared to his own. The contrast in the lady's size and her car in comparison to his own compact and his size made him smile. “Don't worry, I'm nice.” he said, trying to allay her fears.
A few cars passed them. Some honked and one shook his fist. The close proximity of the vehicles and the last person's anger made him try to quickly get off the lug nuts. He heard another car pass, stop, a door close, and footsteps.
“Hey, what's going on?” a soft Southern drawl, much like his own, but in a whisper voice was behind the prone man changing the tire.
The man looked up. A large thirtish African American man, dark skinned and grinning spoke to the two of them. He had his hands full and was bent over and felt vulnerable. A unconscious nervousness started to rise up in him. “Not much. This lady's tire went flat. I'm helping her.” Gosh why was he so nervous?
The stranger nodded, “Want a hand?”
“I think I got it. It's really a one man job.”
The stranger appraised the kneeling man. He seemed okay. He'd seen an Asian man in the middle of a road, and an old woman like himself standing next to him. He'd wondered what was going on. “Okay, I'll get out the spare.”
The two men worked on the tire. Minutes later, the lug nuts tightened, a brief thank you, and everyone got back in their cars, and went their way. The man realized that he hadn't caught their names. He looked in the mirror. When he made eye contact, the eyes looking back looked a little guilty.
When he got home, he washed up. The stranger had only been trying to help. Why had it made me feel apprehensive? The though flickered in his mind briefly like a candle. He rubbed his eyes and yawned and crawled into bed.
The phone rang, the man's wife answered. They wanted her husband to double back. Could he come in tomorrow morning. When he got up, she told him. He felt very irritated. It was his day off, and he'd wanted to have some family time, go walking in the woods, and renew himself. Work was the last thing he wanted to do, but he could hardly say no, so altered his plans.
The next day, rising in a stupor, he felt exhausted. He already was in a foul mood, and the day was just starting. As he rounded the swamp road, even this simple pleasure gave him no respite, only reminding him of a delay in hiking. He frowned, stopped, and turned onto the busy highway.
It didn't take long for his to notice the car's motion felt off. Something was wobbling, oh man, and he felt the car shimmy and shake. He drove on, he could hardly stop, not here on a bridge.
As he crested the hill and drove on, he felt unsure what was happening, but he was running late, and hoped he could get to work on time.
He didn't. In moments the tire went flat. He grit his teeth, again?
He pulled over, braking to a stop. The tire facing the highway was flat all right. He cursed. You'd think since he'd just helped someone that God would cut him some slack. Looking at the distance, he wasn't pulled over enough, but dang it, he had to get to work, so he got his tools and set to work on the tire.
Taking the lug nuts off was a cinch, but for darndest reason he couldn't get the tire off. What the heck? He tugged and pulled, but it just didn't want to come off.
He looked at his watch. He should have left sooner, but had been irritated at having to come in. He was late. He didn't have a cell phone. They were expensive, and they were new and bulky to carry. He cursed again. Thanks God. Really great. I help you all the time...and this is what I get.
A familiar car pulled up. The very same stranger from yesterday smiled. “Hey John.”
“Hey. Didn't catch your name yesterday.”
“Yeah, it won't come off.” Henry noticed Rob was pissed. He'd apparently been doing this awhile. “Some of those import tires have to be kicked a little from the side. There's a catch that has to release on some models that grips the wheel. Watch...”
John watched while Henry kicked the wheel. It didn't budge. The tire rebounded a little, but didn't come off. “Guess it's stuck. Where you going?”
“To work, I'm late.”
“Oh man that would be so nice. I was just hoping you'd give me a lift to a service station. But a ride to work would be more helpful.”
“Get in.” The two men chatted. Henry seemed entirely normal. Just a regular working guy, not much different, married with children, and friendly. John felt guilty. Henry was as nice as he could be.
After dropping him off, Henry sped away. He was from the same town, a tiny one, they'd just never run in the same circles. John hadn't gotten his number, and didn't know his last name, and wondered if he'd ever see Henry again.
He said a quick prayer for Henry. It was the best he could do. He thought about him from time to time. Just another guy, the same in every way, save the color of skin. John had been worried just because of the color of the skin of a man of God's creation. It made him feel very bad.
I'm sorry God. Thank you for letting me fix that lady's tire. Thank you for Henry. I'm sorry that I let the smallest of things worry me from time to time.
John never saw Henry again even decades later. He figured he was out there, just like him, making his way, living in a little town, not a stranger, a child of God.