Puffer jacket, faded jeans and sunnys, leaning up against a sign, a baseball cap completed the ensemble. From a distance, I wasn’t quite sure, the silhouette was small, was this a child? No thumb out just standing by a sign at an on ramp, looking as if a taxi was due to arrive.
I haven’t picked up hitch-hikers for a while now, I am not sure particularly why, I think I have been feeling vulnerable perhaps, perhaps just the feeling that I have enough people in my world to look after and I don’t want to find someone else in need at the moment. Anyway it matters not, I nearly kept on driving, I had a twinge of guilt perhaps and pulled up. In an instant the figure was galvanized into action racing towards me. I lowered the window and asked where are you off to?Rotorua came back the reply, I offered a ride part of the way and they jumped straight in the car.
There was a distinct air of vulnerability about this hitchhiker, an unusual shape to her face, barely 147 cms perhaps less and no more than 40 kgs dripping wet I would guess. She carried a small backpack, which she hugged tightly on her lap. Jackie was her name. I could almost smell the fear on her, I told her who I was, what I did for a living, even gave her a business card. I tried to engage her in small talk but rather quickly gave up, as Jackie fixed her gaze firmly on the road ahead. I wondered what drove her to hitch-hike, she would not be able to resist if someone tried something on.
There was a hardness to her , a very determined set to her jaw. The hardness was accentuated by some rather obvious acne scars that were poorly concealed with makeup. the angular lines of her face and a sloping forehead didn’t help. Her oversized puffer jacket dwarfed her. When she spoke her voice had an almost child-like simplicity to it. It was as if she had victim written all over her. After a short time, I put Shania Twain on the stereo and drove on just thinking. Another time I would have driven her all the way to Rotorua, I just couldn’t face the drive today. I hope I made the right decision. I did take the longer way home for me, dropping her at what i considered a safer place to catch the next leg of her journey. She didn’t seem to know her way very well at all and when I asked her where she wanted to be dropped, she was very passive, saying wherever.
I wasn’t sure whether it was sadness, resignation or just plain scared that was on her face, I couldn’t see her eyes behind her dark wrap around sunglasses which almost seemed to be like a protective visor, her cap a helmet and her puffer jacket her suit of armour. I wanted to ask her what her story was, reach out to her soul in some way, put right whatever was broken, travelling so light I wondered if she was running away from something or somebody. I half expected her to ask for some money. the one anomaly was her perfume, it smelt expensive, not one I could name but it was really classy.
Jackie rode along in silence and then i noticed her beginning to fall asleep. She struggled to keep awake, jerking bolt upright every time she nodded off. I turned the aircon on for her. I could sense her discomfort at falling asleep and I wondered,it was only 2.30 in the afternoon… Perhaps drugs were the reason she was so thin, her wrists seemed so tiny. She fought sleep but eventually nodded off until we slowed for a turn off. Every now and then could sense a sour smell, not really body odour, but it was there, just under the radar….
I was worried for her, I thought I hope she will be alright but when it came to my turnoff I dropped her at the side of the road, I told her I was concerned for her safety, I asked her was she scared, she said she was. I suggested to her to text a friend the registration of the car she was being picked up by. She almost jumped out of the car after thanking me, quickly shouldering her bag and without looking back she started to walk, I looked back in the mirror and wondered, what her story was, would she be ok? Was I doing the right thing? I hoped so, I could rationalise my decision, Jackie was an adult, early 30’s I thought. I checked the online news, nothing about a missing person. I had regrets, I didn’t ask her if she was ok, I had no words for her really, I know I am only human, I showed her a kindness in giving her a lift, giving her advice. I can’t save the world, some things just are. I hope Jackie is ok…..