The driving rain assaulted the windshield, rendering the wipers useless, limiting the visibility of the road to a few feet. Chris, on his way home from work, noticed the roadside ditches and culverts rapidly filling with water. When he finally approached the entrance to Heather Hills, the modular home development where he lived, the streets and yards were already flooded. Cars were turning around to avoid stalling out or taking turns driving through at least two feet of water. Chris located a knoll just outside the entrance of his development. He parked his car and started walking the half-mile to his house.
Chris lived alone with his cat, Molly, a stray he had rescued many years ago. He had recently relocated to Florida from Virginia for a new job as production manager at a bottling plant nearby. In Virginia, he had been involved in two long-term relationships, now over. Chris, a loner, enjoyed spending time at home, creating electronic music and competing in computer gaming. He was happy when at least half the residents of Heather Hills vacated their Florida homes in the summer and headed north. He did not look forward to the “snowbirds” returning in winter because the quiet streets would be bustling with traffic, bicycles, and people walking.
Slogging through deepening water toward his house, Chris saw an old pickup truck stopped in the middle of the flooded street. A black man was sitting in the driver’s seat in water up to his waist, using a cell phone. It was an unusual sight for a black man to be seen in this neighborhood. Assuming the man was calling for help, Chris continued home, a block away. After checking that there was no water in his house and that his cat was safe inside, he changed into dry clothes, opened a beer, and sat on his covered porch to relax. It was still raining, and beginning to get dark. Ominous storm clouds continued to dominate the sky. After an hour had passed, Chris noticed the truck was still there, and the rain hadn’t let up. He felt the urge to do something to help, but was concerned about how the man would react. Maybe he wouldn’t want his help. In spite of Chris’s reservations, he decided to go check on the stranded driver. He grabbed an umbrella and headed down the street. Chris knocked on the truck window. The man was sitting in water and was still on his cell phone, “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” the man answered after partially rolling down the window; “A wrecker is coming.”
Chris hadn’t seen any tow trucks in the area, and the water on the street was rising. Unsure how to handle the situation, but concerned about the man and the truck, he continued, “You need to move your truck out of the road onto the shoulder. I’ll help you.” The man closed the window, placed his phone on the dashboard, and stepped out into the nearly thigh-high water and drenching rain. He appeared to be in his late fifties, skinny and un-kempt, like a crack head or a homeless person. Chris yelled, “Put the gear in neutral and turn the steering wheel to the right. I’ll push from behind. You push from the driver’s side!” Chris threw the umbrella into the truck bed.
“Okay,” he answered, and pushed, straining to turn the steering wheel. Chris groaned as his shoulders and leg muscles burned. He hoped that his years of weight lifting would pay off. Together, their efforts to move the truck prevailed, and despite the driving rain and deepening water, they were able to steer the truck to the shoulder; “Thanks for your help,” the man yelled as he got back into the truck.
Chris was astounded, “You can’t stay here! Your truck is filling up with water! Why don’t you come sit on my porch until the wrecker comes? I live right up the street.” The man hesitated as if contemplating a decision. He nodded, removed his key from the ignition and stepped out of the truck, slamming the door closed. Standing for a few moments, he studied the surroundings before moving away from his truck. Chris sensed his uneasiness as he surveyed the unfamiliar area. Then with a sigh of resignation, the black man in an all-white neighborhood, walked home with Chris.
They were both soaked, but not cold, as it was summer in southern Florida. When they arrived at his house, Chris left him standing on the porch while he went inside and returned with a beach towel, “Here, dry off with this,” he said, tossing him the towel; “Have a seat.” Chris pointed to a white plastic chair on the porch. We can watch for the wrecker from here. Do you want something to drink? A beer … or a soda? ” The tension in the man’s face and body visibly disappeared.
“Soda! Hey, you from the South?” The man laughed.
Chris smiled, “I was born in Virginia. Does that count?”
“It sure do. I’ll take one of them beers. You don’t have any weed do you?”
“Sorry, I can’t help you there,” Chris replied, on his way to the refrigerator. When he returned, he handed his visitor the beer, popped one for himself, and pulled out his cell phone; “I’m calling to see if we can get you some help with a tow.” The two of them, each on his own cell phone, occupied themselves trying to contact towing companies.
Suddenly, the man slammed his flip phone shut in frustration. “Damn, I’m out of minutes!”
Chris looked up. He had noticed that the man was using one of those inexpensive phones that require buying minutes ahead of time, “Mine’s working. I’ll keep trying. The problem is, the lines are all busy!” Finally, after numerous attempts, Chris got through.
Turning his phone off, Chris said, “Well, it looks like you’re stuck here for the night. The police are not permitting tow trucks or any traffic here because the streets are so flooded.” Chris got u,. “I’m going to get another beer. Do you want one?”
“No. I’m good, still working on this one.”
Chris returned from the kitchen with a beer for himself and a box of saltine crackers. “Sorry, I don’t have anything but these to eat.” He offered the box, “Because of the storm, I didn’t stop to pick up food on the way home.”
The man took two crackers, “This is all right. Thanks.”
Chris looked at his watch, “It’s getting late. I have to leave for work at six tomorrow morning. Want to come inside?” Pointing to the sofa in his small living room, he said, “You can sleep here. It doesn’t make into a bed, but it’s long enough for you to stretch out on. I’ll get you a sheet and a blanket.” The man stood looking around the room. There was a TV, a coffee table, a rocking chair, and a small dining table that held a computer keyboard and a large computer screen, “Here you go.” Chris tossed the bedding onto the sofa. The bathroom’s over there,” he said, pointing to a short hallway; “I’ll give you a ride in the morning on my way to work.”
Chris locked his front door and disappeared into his bedroom, leaving the door ajar. He lay in bed, unable to fall asleep and began questioning the wisdom of bringing this stranger into his house. He rationalized his actions, reasoning that the man did not appear threatening and seemed perfectly harmless. But, knowing that things are not always as they appear, he remained wide awake envisioning possibilities. What if this guy was a drug user? After all, he did ask for weed. Would he try to steal money from him? Chris wondered if it would have made a difference if the man was white. Would he have been as paranoid? Probably, he concluded. It wouldn’t have mattered. He was a stranger. Chris didn’t know a thing about him except he needed help, and Chris was there. He hoped he wouldn’t regret his act of kindness.
With these unsettling thoughts, Chris got up to check on the man he had taken in. He crept into the hallway and saw him asleep on the floor, curled into a ball beside the sofa, covered with the blanket. How odd, Chris thought. Was he used to sleeping on the floor? Was he trying to avoid getting the sofa wet? Feeling a tinge of guilt and a great sense of relief, Chris went back to bed and slept until the alarm woke him at 5:30. While he got dressed, his visitor sat on the porch and waited.
By morning, the rain had stopped. The water had receded. The streets were muddy with deep puddles, but drivable, “Where do you want me to take you?” Chris asked as they walked to his parked car; “I can drop you off at a gas station, or…”
“Just let me out at the 7-Eleven.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah, yeah. I’m sure.”
Chris’s car started without a problem. He drove out of his neighborhood onto the busy main street and turned into the 7-Eleven parking lot.
“Thanks for helping me out. You’re a good Samaritan,” the man said getting out of the car.
“I hope you can get some help with your truck. Good luck!” Chris called out as he began to drive away. The man smiled and waved before he turned to head into the store. Chris figured he was going to get something to eat and put money on his phone card so he could call someone for help with his truck.
As Chris drove to work, he reflected on the past few hours and his unexpected guest. They never learned each other’s names. In retrospect, the brief encounter seemed surreal to Chris. It was an unlikely series of circumstances that turned out okay. He felt good as he entered the plant parking lot. A peaceful feeling settled over him as he made his way into the building.
When Chris returned home from work in the afternoon, the stranger’s truck was gone, and the sun was shining in a cloudless sky.