He couldn’t see me watching him. It was dark, and the vehicle had no windows in the back. My face was in the shadows, but some of the bright light from the parking lot came in through the windshield and passenger window, casting most of him in silhouette, while some wrapped around his ear, inked in the bridge of his nose, illuminated the flare of a nostril and placed a sinister catch-light in one eye.
I could hear voices outside. Cars pulling up. People getting out. Car doors slamming. The gas pumps turning on and off. I heard a mom ask her son what he wanted from the store. A dad called to his kids that they should use the bathroom while they could. Car doors opening again. Slamming shut. Engines starting. Cars driving back off into the darkness. I remember feeling incredibly alone. I wanted so much to join these normal people doing normal things.
I imagined the gas station as a beacon in the night, an island of light on the side of the highway, cars hurling themselves through the dark void to land, momentarily, amidst the warmth of this highway oasis. The freedom to peruse the aisles of a Mac’s or a 7-11 became a miracle to me, something I would give anything for. Here they were, these invisible people I knew so well, coming and going, doing things people always do, and there I was, separated by a thin piece of metal that may as well have been a universe, yearning for the mundane that had become the exotic.
I thought about bashing my head against the wall. Routines would be disrupted, and people would wonder what the hell was going on in the suspicious vehicle parked over on the side, definitely up to no good. Bad things always happen in these kinds of vehicles, don’t they? Surely they would hear the bangs I would make in the few seconds before he noticed, suspected trouble, and came over to have a look. After all, these kinds of things happen all the time. Every night on the news: reports of murders, mass shootings, abductions, rapes. Don’t you remember?
But what good would it do? He was right here. Under the whirl of get gas, buy chips, go to the bathroom, someone might hear my few bangs in the split seconds before he was roused from his brooding feed, before he jumped up and forced me to stop, only to shrug their shoulders and carry on. No one ever suspects that the horrors on the nightly news could be happening right under their noses. Even though they are a part of our lives, they are simultaneously inconceivable. These are events that are only experienced through the separation of screens. People are horrified only to the extent that someone can be horrified by something they have never touched. They eat cherry pie while watching a report on a deadly car crash. Or mow down on a bucket of chicken tenders as a serial killer’s crimes are pornographically described. And here he was: guarding me against any attempt at escape, me the rape victim, me the maybe soon-to-be-murdered, devouring chicken in such a way that had been previously unthinkable to me in real life, that I had only seen in horror movies. I had crossed the line of it-will-never-happen-to-me.
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