I finished my shopping, paid for the coming week’s food supplies and other staples and then passed through the automatic doors and walked out of the store and into the waiting parking lot. As I turned the corner from the entryway, I passed an alcove or recess in the building’s architecture and was surprised to see a small woman-girl tucked into it. I was caught off guard, naturally, as I wasn’t expecting to encounter someone hiding there.
She was a smiling, brown-eyed version of that hauntingly beautiful, green-eyed girl from that National Geographic magazine cover those many years ago…and had a sort of soft falsetto type voice that somehow reminded me of the one used by a certain dead pop-star when he talked to the media and tried to be so convincing of his innocence.
It’s hard not to respond to someone’s greeting when it’s something that you normally do, even when alarmed out of your reverie or processing of thoughts about your day or whatever.
I wondered if she was going to step-out and ask for money…just enough to buy some milk for her kid or gas for the car…but her eyes were too bright and the skin on her face was too clear…and still, the “Hello sir” wasn’t empty. It felt like there was something more coming…as I kept walking away, pushing my cart. No footsteps followed, not another sound, just the rattle of the cart’s wheels over the cobbles and into the parking lot.
I turned to look back and found her still there, tucked into that small spot, hugging herself into the slight corner of the building, wrapped in her brown or black or whatever colored jacket or hooded sweatshirt or whatever. I kept walking to my truck, pushing my cart ahead of me, and then turned to look again and saw that she had left. I didn’t see her walking anywhere and assumed…I don’t know what I assumed. I figured she was just gone.
I beeped the remote on my keychain to unlock the truck and then opened the front passenger door to load the groceries. I looked again through the other window, and through the palo-verde trees in the parking-lot medians, and back at the entrance to the store. She wasn’t there, by the store…she was in the backseat of my truck, just sitting there, smiling with her medium dark eyes imbedded in their pure whiteness and further enveloped in her slightly darker skin. She might have been 13 or 21 years old, I couldn’t tell. She smiled an easy smile.
“What are you doing in my truck?”
I’m just sitting here.
“I can see that. Why? Who said you could get in?”
You left the door open.
“I unlocked the truck so I could put my groceries inside and then get in myself and leave. I didn’t open the…I didn’t unlock the door for you.”
Well you must have left it open then. It was open when I approached your truck.
“You just got in on your own. Now…what do you want? Who are you…what are you doing here?”
What do you want?
“I don’t want anything.”
“Yes, really, I don’t want anything.”
How can that be…that you don’t want anything?
She leaned forward a little and slowly slid her hand into her jacket and held it flat against her chest…looking at me with that little smile, white teeth peeking out from between her full brown lips.
“I have what I want…so I don’t want anything. Now get out of my truck.”
Why were you at the store this morning? Didn’t you want something, didn’t you came here to get it?
“No…I needed some things. My family needed some things, so I came here to buy them.”
And you didn’t get anything that you simply wanted and didn’t need? You needed everything that you bought today?
“No. I bought a couple things that we didn’t absolutely need, but that I decided to get anyway…or I wanted them, yes. Wait. Do I know you? Who are you? What…why are you here?”
She leaned back into the seat and turned to look out the window and toward the front of the store again. I was still standing outside of the passenger front door and slowly placed one and then another bag of groceries on the front seat. She turned back and met my eyes again.
What else do you want?
“I want you to answer my questions…why are you in my truck and what are you doing here?”
I’m here to see if you want anything…to see if you have any desires…in life. That’s why.
“Who are you? I don’t know you. I’ve never seen you before. You need to leave. Go on. Get out of here.”
You’re just uncomfortable talking about things you want…and you don’t want to confront yourself and your personal issues.
“Look…my personal issues? I don’t know you, ok. You followed me out to my truck and then got in without my asking, without my permission, and now you’re asking me about what I want, about my desires. I don’t know you. I don’t talk about those things with most of the other people in my life who I do know, so I’m certainly not going to talk about them with you…or…. Oh, I gotcha…you were talking about other wants and desires?”
She smiled and turned her head away again. She pulled her hand out of her jacket and started to reach for the door handle, hesitated, and then put her hand down into her lap where it found its mate.
Maybe I’m an opportunity…or a challenge? Aren’t you looking for a challenge…something to test you?
“Or to tempt me? Are you looking for a date or something? Trying to pick-up older guys in the parking lot of a store…so they can take you home or to a hotel somewhere and abuse you or share some of their own forsaken love with you, give you some money and then you go away and look for another person, another victim?”
Is that what you think, really…that I followed you out here to proposition you? You think I’m…a prostitute?
“I don’t know what you are, but I’ve seen it before. I’ve talked with young women or girls like you, or girls who conducted themselves like you just did, so…yeah, I guess that’s what I was thinking. You’re someone who needed some money and wanted to trade for it. I already asked you who you are and what you want and all you did was ask me what I wanted. You’re playing word games…like you’re trying to get me to ask you for something…all innocent-like.”
I’m just asking a question. What do you want? Is that so hard to answer?
“Are you in the habit of following strangers from a store and then climbing into their vehicles uninvited, simply to ask them what they want? That seems rather odd to me. Seems wrong, fake, misleading…certainly not on the up-and-up.”
“Yeah, like you’re up to no-good, trying to cause trouble…trying to get something…money for drugs or something. Or food, maybe, I don’t know.”
I had loaded all the groceries into the front-seat of the truck and still stood outside of it, talking to her through the open door. It started to drizzle again and the water drops were beginning to land on the inside of my glasses, blurring my vision of the little girl-woman sitting in the backseat. I couldn’t see if she was smiling or even looking at me, though her head was still turned in my direction.
You don’t know what you want, do you? You have no idea. You’ve got your nice life, your family, probably a couple nice kids and a good job that you might not even like anymore…and you don’t know what you want. You’re stuck and you don’t have a clue.
“What are you, my conscience…my soul…some undreamed dream or a ghost from a previous life…a guardian angel or an apparition from the future…coming back to save me from my own destruction or something?”
Maybe I’m you. Maybe I’m the question that you don’t ask yourself every morning when you look in the mirror…that question that haunts you as you sit in the nighttime darkness and wonder what you’re going to do with yourself…that quiet voice inside your heart or head that asks what you’re going to do with the next 20 years of your work-life…your career…and the other 30 or 40 years of your non-work life…maybe I’m your future. So…what do you want?
I was standing with one hand on the open door and the other on the edge of the door-frame near the top of the truck, kind of bowing my head to look into the truck at her. I looked down at the ground and kicked one of the pieces of landscaping rock or gravel that had gotten knocked out of the median.
She didn’t say anything, just kind of adjusted herself in the seat…maybe leaned forward a little.
“I don’t believe you. I don’t believe in this kind of shit.”
Again, she didn’t say anything. After a few seconds I looked up and she was gone. She hadn’t opened and closed the door, hadn’t made a sound…no smoke or vapor, no lingering scent, and no residue or smudges on the back-seat or window…she was just gone. I leaned into the truck and looked through the driver side front window toward the front of the store again, but she wasn’t there. I un-leaned myself from the truck, stepped backward and closed the door, and then walked around to the other side of the truck, looking out and through the parking lot, turned around a couple times and scanned the full distance of the store’s property that I could see…but nothing. She was gone.
I got in my truck and drove home. The store was less than a mile from the house, so the drive only took a couple minutes, even as I drove slowly and scanned the sidewalks and neighborhood looking for the girl.
After I put the groceries and other items away, I went into the bathroom and looked in the mirror. I took off my glasses and brought my face closer…and looked into my eyes, one and then the other…looking…searching…the brown was different than hers…the whites not as white…not as young.
“What do you want?”
I couldn’t answer her…couldn’t answer myself….