It is late when class is over and I am tired, the fogginess of sleeps starting to drift into my mind. The bitter cold as I step out into the inky black night takes my breath away; I can see a cloud of breath that comes out of my mouth. I stuff my hands in my coat pockets and walk down the pathway to my car, regretting that I parked it so far away. The inside of my car lights up and I look into the backseat row. Empty. I was taught to look into the backseat of a car when going in; you never know if a crazy person has been able to break in. I was taught to be paranoid.
I slide the key into the ignition and my car comes to life. It is freezing and the heater doesn’t warm the air fast enough. The road that I take to drive to home is mostly deserted. People are in their warm houses, the last hours of the day winding down. The stores on either side of the road are closed. All the stop lights I come across are green, I have to be aware of my speed; it is too easy to be overcome with the desire to be home, causing me to drive too fast.
The thick, heaviness of sleep is sinking in now. I am pushing it away from me, as best I can. If I give in, it will take over. Ten minutes. In just ten minutes I’ll be home. The stop light before the ramp to the freeway turns yellow, then red. I peer up into my rearview mirror. It’s like a ghost town, like a dream. The gas station to my right is closed, but all the lights are still lit. Green. There a few cars on the freeway and I wonder what they are doing out at this time. Drops of rain start coming down, splashing on the windshield. The orange light from the lamps along the freeway look like stars through the rain drops.
It’s becoming too hard to stay awake. I turn the radio on and raise the volume, trying to use the fast beat of the music as a way to keep the eyes open. If I had had coffee then I would have the opposite problem and been awake all night. The back windshield is soaked and making it difficult to see so I turn on the back wipers. I see the headlights of a car, quite a ways away from me. The car is driving really fast because soon it is right
behind me, pushing me to go faster. I check my speed, right on the speed limit. He’ll just have to drive around me. I turn on my right turn signal to exit the freeway and the guy behind me does the same. Oh great, I think. The rain has stopped for the moment and I turn off the wipers. We slow down at the red light. I look in the rearview mirror to try to get a look at the tailgating offender. The brightness of the headlights makes it impossible to see at the driver. The sleepiness I felt earlier has disappeared replaced by annoyance.
The light turns green and I deliberately take my time moving forward. If this guy wants to go faster he’ll just have to go around. The radio is blasting and I turn it down. The car is still right on my tail, if I were to brake he’d ram right into me. “Go around!” I yell at him, which is useless because he can’t hear me. Another car speeds by so fast that soon the tail lights are just tiny dots far away. Tailgater and I are the only ones on this lonely stretch of the highway. I look behind to see if he’s still there, even though I know he is; the light from the headlights partially illuminates the interior of my car. I’m still about three miles from my house.
I remember, suddenly, one night when my family and I were living in California. It was Christmas Eve, past midnight and we were driving back home from a family party. My brother and sister were both sleeping; I was in that strange fogginess between awake and asleep. My dad was driving. I remember him saying:
“Nos estan siguiendo.” They are following us. I was probably ten years old.
“Que?” asked my mom. Now I was alert. I sat up and craned around to see, but I couldn’t.
“Go back to sleep, honey. It’s alright.”
We were driving on our street, but we drove right past our house. My dad was taking us down random streets; the car behind us following every move. Eventually, we got a busier street. I remember my dad saying that if the car follows him after we make a U-turn for my mom to call the police. I felt like bursting into tears, I didn’t want to die, especially on Christmas Eve, of all days. All of us shifted to the right as the car sharply U-turned. Sure enough, the car did the same.
“Llama la policia.”
I remember how shaky my mom’s voice sounded as she spoke into her cell phone. The car behind us changed lanes and picked up speed, driving right beside us. The man driving looked right at my mom, making a gun signal with his hand and smiling before zooming ahead of us. The police instructed for us to meet them in front of a fast food restaurant. They told my dad he had been smart and done the right thing, too many people drive home, leading the criminals’ right to their doorsteps.
What if I was being followed now? What do I do?
…to be continued…