One early Saturday morning, around 10:30 a.m. (yes! that is early for a Saturday), I was trying to get into my car in a parking lot. I had just finished working out at a fairly upscale gym which was located in a shopping complex and the parking lot was beneath the shopping complex. It was eerily quiet and mostly empty. Parked next to my car, to the left, was a huge SUV. It was parked very close to my driver’s side so I needed to kind of squeeze into the spot.
Have you read that email going around that warns women about how to be careful when getting into a car? Especially in empty parking lots? I have. It asks you to be vigilant about who is around you when you get into your car. It also says that once you get into your car, you shouldn’t sit around checking your messages or taking care of other mundane things instead of driving away. Someone may enter the car while you are doing that. And it most certainly cautions you against big cars/trucks parked on the driver side. Serial killers/rapists etc. can pull you into their big cars as you try to get into your car.
Call me paranoid but I have a habit of checking big cars if they are parked on my driver’s side. I also do not spend unnecessary time rummaging through my purse etc. in isolated parking lots and tend to drive away once I am in my car. In fact, when I am alone I only press the unlock button on my remote once so it unlocks only the driver’s door.
I threw a fleeting glance at the SUV and noticed there was no one in the car. I proceeded to unlock my car and as I was opening my car door, I heard someone behind me. I jumped and turned. A tall and well-built (extremely well-built) man was standing behind me. He was probably in his late forties; about six foot four, with broad shoulders, blonde hair and extremely blue eyes. Although he was not standing very close to me, he was sort of blocking my way as he stood between the two cars.
Er, excuse me, he said in a heavy Russian accent. Could you please help me?
All kinds of alarms went off in my head. Here I am, standing in an empty parking lot with a stranger, a good-looking stranger who is blocking my way and asking for help. Ted Bundy, anyone?
I don’t think I even got a sound out. I just stood and stared.
I have locked myself out of my car, the man was saying. Would you be able to give me a ride home? I live about five miles from here.
I gulped and probably stared some more. He took a couple of steps further ahead into the tiny space between the cars and I had to fight the urge to jump into my car and just drive. The door was open for crying out loud!
There, he pointed to the interior of the big SUV. Can you see the keys in the ignition?
I turned and did see the keys in the ignition.
I am sorry to be bothering you. My wife is home but she cannot drive. The only other person who could have brought me the spare key is my son who is currently out of town. I don’t know what to do. I have been walking around the parking lot looking for someone to help me.
He kept on speaking rapidly. His rapid chatter made it difficult for me to think clearly.
Slow down, please, I said. Do you want to use my phone? Do you want to call someone?
No, there is no one I can call. If you can give me a ride, that would be great. My house is not very far from here, he said.
I go to the same gym as you, he added.
Was that supposed to make me feel better? Or prove he was a stalker?
Really! My house is not very far from here, he said again.
To be frank, he didn’t seem to be pleading or anything. He just stood there and expected me to give him a ride just like that – like it was the most natural thing in the world to do. Until today I have not understood why he thought I would help him. More than that I haven’t understood why I agreed. I know it wasn’t the wisest decision I made. And I am by no means saying anyone else ever should make the same decision in a similar situation. But I agreed.
Alright then! I said. Let us go.
His blue eyes brightened up to an even bluer shade. He managed very quickly and very lithely to fold his gigantic self to fit into my tiny car seat. I fiddled with my purse and took out my phone and held it in one hand, you know, just in case? Although if he pulled out a gun or a knife, how that phone would have helped me I don’t know. Hell, he didn’t even need a weapon. He could break my neck like a twig just with his bare hands. I could even see the headline the next day:
Dumb Indian girl gives ride to a killer!
Voluntarily at that. I started the car and following his directions drove to the main road. Ok. There were people here. And he seemed pretty relaxed and happy in the car seat. I relaxed a little bit too. He started to tell me about himself. He was from a small village in Russia. He had served in the Russian army briefly. Life was difficult so he made a decision to move to America and he had been living here for about 20 years. Now he worked as a contractor and repaired houses. He was married and had two sons. He still missed his village sometimes.
You know, in the village everyone knows everyone. Here after all these years, I still remain a stranger. An alien!
Story of an immigrant! Story of my life, I thought.
As I listened to him I forgot my fears until we turned to an isolated road. Now we were in a residential area and there was nobody in sight. I turned to look at him.
Keep going, he said.
We were going deeper and deeper into a quiet neighborhood. My internal panic returned. Although I had lived in that area for a few years, this place he was taking me to was totally new. If left to my own devices, I wouldn’t be able to find my way home without the help of a GPS. Oh God! Also, it seemed like we had driven way farther than the five miles he promised. This wasn’t looking good any more. I contemplated stopping the car and asking him to get out.
Stop, he said.
We are here, he said.
I looked up and found myself in front of a house. I pulled over. He got out of the car and I released a breath not realizing I was holding it in.
Please wait for five minutes. I will be back with the spare keys, he said and disappeared into the house.
It was then that it occurred to me that he wanted a ride back to his car. I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of it. I somehow thought a ride to his home would be enough. Since I lived closer to the gym anyway, I decided to wait. I looked around and saw a lawn chair and a garden hose in his front yard. There were people walking their dogs, jogging, gardening in the neighborhood. There was a yard sale going on a few feet away. How did I not see all these people a few minutes ago? I even recognized the street. I had come here before. There was a park a few blocks away where I used to take boot-camp classes last summer.
He came back. As he got into the car, he put two oranges on the dashboard.
I don’t eat oranges. I don’t even like them. But those were the sweetest I had ever tasted.