by Antonia Markou
“What’s wrong with these people? Anyone can get a driver’s license nowadays.” Larry Hopkins, a man in his eighties, is shaking his head. “It’s a disgrace, a DISGRACE.” Another driver is flashing the headlights at him. Larry changes lanes. “Can you go any slower, grandpa?” someone shouts from the car window while passing by.
“Criminals, they’re all criminals. They should be locked away, keep our streets clean for decent people who follow the rules.”
He hears honks, then more headlights flashing. More honks. “Are you all crazy?” He turns on the radio so he doesn’t have to listen to all that honking. Luther Vandross’ soft voice fills the entire car You will always be, my endless love. The old man thinks of his late wife Barbara. He remembers one particular day when he had tried to fix the kitchen sink. He was too proud to pay another man for such a simple job. Barbara was standing next to him, trying to get a glimpse of what he was doing while he was on his knees beneath the sink. “Larry, dear, did you fix it?” she asked. In that moment water came shooting out of the faucet, all over Larry’s wife. She was soaking wet, but laughing and laughing. That’s what he loved about her, she never got mad.
His eyes start to tear up, so he dries them with his spotted hands. Barbara loved those hands, they made her feel safe, she always said. And those hands loved to hold her. “Oh Barbara,” he mutters.
He turns left to get on the highway. He hates taking the highway, but it’s the fastest way to his son James and his family. He loves visiting them, especially now that his granddaughters are around. The little twins are adorable and they love their grandpa. Larry smiles.
He’s on the highway now, this time of day there’s not much traffic, thank God. “What in God’s name…?” He cannot believe what he sees. A car is rushing towards him. “Good God! What do I do, what do I do? Don’t panic, Larry, stay calm.” He decides not to do anything. He keeps driving. The other car honks like crazy but the driver switches lanes to get out of Larry’s way. “Ha!” Larry exclaims. “You crazy bastard. I should call the police; people like you shouldn’t be driving around.” His heart is racing. That was frightening, yes, but also exciting. He had forgotten how that feels. He lets out an audible breath. “That was close.” In his sixty years of driving he has never had an accident, not even one speeding ticket. He smiles but not for long. Eyes and mouth wide open, he grabs the wheel even harder than usual. “I don’t believe this. What is wrong with everyone today?” More cars arrive and they all drive in the opposite direction of the road, they all come towards him. Again he decides to stay where he is and force the lunatics to dodge him.
“You’ll get through this; you will make it out alive.” And he does. His face and arm pits feel uncomfortably wet. The first thing he will need to do when he walks through his son’s door is take a shower. “What a crazy day.” He slowly calms down, thinking of how Barbara would have loved to hear this anecdote. Because that’s what this whole ordeal would have been hours later – just a story they would have laughed about in their kitchen, Barbara’s favorite room in the house, while she massaged his tensed shoulders, the scent of fresh coffee in the air.
Luther Vandross is interrupted by a breaking news report. The announcer warns about some lunatic who is driving on the wrong side of the road. If it were just one, he thinks. The next ten minutes no car is coming his way, he has the lane fully to himself. He notices some cars still driving in the opposite direction but they all use the lane on the far right.
His ears are not as good as they used to be, but he hears sirens approaching. Yes, it’s definitely sirens. The police, finally. It took them long enough. What were they all thinking, that they could get away with their mad behavior?
“That’s strange”, Larry says after a short while. He sees police cars in the distance in front of him. Why are they also driving on the wrong side of the highway? He takes a peak in his rear view mirror: more police cars, slowly coming closer. A voice from a loudspeaker says something but Larry can’t understand the words. They’re very close now and their lights pierce into his eyes: blue, red, white. … THE VEHICLE. … REPEAT STOP THE … NOW!
Larry slowly hits the breaks, and his car comes to a halt. He is confused, why are they treating him like a criminal on the run? Did he forget to replace the left turning signal light?
“Sir, please step out of the vehicle.”
“Officer, I don’t understand. With all due respect, but shouldn’t you be catching all those wrong-way drivers, they could have killed somebody.” The officers exchange some strange looks, and then one of them, a man in his forties with blonde hair, speaks.
“What’s your name, Sir?”
“Mr. Hopkins, I’m afraid there’s only one wrong-way driver here.” All eyes stare at Larry.
Larry is flabbergasted. “Me?”
The policemen nod sympathetically.
“I’m the idiot they were talking about in the news?”
A young policeman chuckles, but the other officers ignore him.
“Sir, is there someone we can call?”
Larry hesitates. “My son. He lives in Corona. But I can call him myself, I’m not senile,” he snaps.
“Mr. Hopkins, we will need to go to the station and talk about what happened. It’s a serious matter.” He looks at Larry with kind brown eyes. “You don’t have to feel embarrassed, Sir.”
“I’m not embarrassed,” Larry yells. But his red face says otherwise.
“Please come with us to the station and we can talk,” the younger cops says impatiently.
“I don’t want to talk. I want to see my grandchildren. Can you take me there?” he pauses. “I suppose you won’t let me drive.”
The young officer sniggers and his older colleague gives him a warning look.
“What? He could have killed innocent people.”
The blonde officer takes a deep breath and focuses his attention back to a now silent Larry who is fiddling around with his wallet.
“Yes, Mr Hopkins, I’m afraid I can’t. It’s for your own safety as well.”
The young policeman shakes his head and gets into Larry’s car. “I’ll drive it to the police station,” he says more respectfully.
Larry isn’t even listening. He has taken out a picture of his wife that he always keeps in his wallet. That beautiful smile, those kind eyes. He is gently rubbing his thumb over the photograph and is wondering if Barbara would have laughed about this incident too. Oh, Barbara.