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‘I-55’ by Shane Brown

Screen Shot 2015-08-27 at 3.45.35 PMI travel I-55 every other Friday. It’s my favorite road to travel whether I’m going north or south.

Driving the interstate south means I’m on my way to pick up my children. When I’m headed north it means I’m bringing them home. Each passing car holds a story that they could tell of work, vacation, an emergency, or a task. My story is the same on those days; happy, excited, and eager to see smiling faces. I’ll have my radio loud and will sing with it. Smoke from my cigarette and wind will dance in and out of my truck as I cruise down interstate fifty-five. It’s a routine that’s easy and it stays the same every other week. It’s my birthday on this particular Friday, which is different, and so is my travel to be.

I’m south of Grenada and I see a late model Dodge pickup truck broke down on the side of the road. It’s pulled over to the side of the emergency lane and it’s dark blue shines from the sun. Immediately my eyes bounce from it to someone pulling a suitcase about thirty yards ahead of it in a rapid pace. I start to think the one broken down is in a hurry to get somewhere and I pull over. I never thought about the someone being a hitch hiker. I don’t pick up hitch hikers. My Daddy told me to stay away from that favor and I listened. But that afternoon caught me in a decision and a judgement. A judgement I was nervous at first about…

I’ve pulled my truck over and the someone is getting closer to me and I yell out at him, questioning, if he was broken down. He replies that he is not and my mind cusses my actions that I have dealt before me. He starts walking, jogging; almost running to greet me. Cars and trucks are driving by us and wind and somewhat fear blow my hair, clothes and for sure my concerned good intentions. How could I have mistaken this? I thought this someone was broken down. He said he was headed to Jackson, but that he would take ten miles down the road or any offer I could give. I didn’t tell him I was headed to Madison nor to get my kids.

I’ve got the suitcase loaded in the bed of my truck. I’ve got this complete stranger sitting next to me as I buckle my seatbelt and he does too. I stick out my hand and tell him my name. He shakes it firmly and tells me his name is Quincy. I ask Quincy if he has plans to kill me and he pats down his pockets and chest and says he has nothing on him. I laugh and he smiles. Quincy has a great big smile that’s covered with a red beard. His eyes are as blue as the ocean water but I see more than that. I hear more too down I-55.

We start with small talk about where we are from and things like that; guy talk. It leads to different conversations and about every ten miles he tells me it’s ok to let him back out walking on the hot August asphalt. I reassure to him he is fine with his seat and to enjoy his ride. I think to myself that I have no plans other than not letting him ride all the way to Madison. Nothing against Quincy, but I can never make sure my kids are too safe. We keep easing down the road and I start to enjoy my company.

Quincy and I have traveled for over a hour and I’ve learned a lot about him. He’s been an Air Strike Director for the United States Air Force and he is homeless. He has fought two tours in Iraq and he is skilled. Quincy has been a husband and he is a Father to a beautiful little girl he showed me from his wallet. I told him stories of my past and some troubles and he reassures stories back to me. We talk about all of our good times too. He told me how lucky he was about finding a pack of nabs and four cigarettes on the side of the road. I know the distance he has traveled on foot and the pain in his heart. His plans are to start over. He wants to make a difference in his life at twenty-nine. I try to build his confidence and listen to his words. We are still driving down the road; we are still having “guy talk.” I give him a brand new pack of cigarettes, a couple of cold drinks, and he thanks me over and over.

I never payed attention to the road signs or mileage as I am pulling up to the city of Canton. I pull off onto the exit thinking this was the best spot before I got my children and close enough for him to decide on his way to the V. A. In Jackson. He starts thanking me for the ride and what a great day it has been for him. I tell him that it has been a great day and I pull out a twenty dollar bill. I start telling him that I was going home with my kids tonight, celebrating my birthday, and spending time with family as we would eat well. He looked at me and leaned back in his seat and said that he would not take my money. I told him that he was gonna take it because I wanted him to eat well and celebrate tonight too; that just because we are in different towns didn’t mean our minds were not on the same track. Quincy slowly took the twenty dollar bill and in the corner of my eye I saw him rubbing his right eye. He never looked at me but thanked me because he hadn’t eaten in three days. I shook my head in gratitude and pulled up to the gas station to let him out. Quincy walked around to the side of my truck as I got out and shook my hand and hugged my neck. I smiled and he smiled. He grabbed his suitcase from the bed of my truck and walked to a restaurant. I honked my horn and waved as I left him walking through the parking lot. He waved but I never saw his wave. I saw his eyes and his face. I saw his heart and his destination.

Right now I’m sitting under a roof from the drops of rain hitting the tin roof of my cover. I know where my kids are and I know where my immediate family is; I know where certain loved ones are. They’re all covered up in their beds on a good night’s rest. I’ll go home soon and crawl in my bed too. It’s the little things like a bed, or a refrigerated drink of water, or clean clothes that I have taken for granted. Maybe Quincy taught me to see the little things in life. Maybe Quincy is sleeping well somewhere tonight. I hope he ate well too. I wonder where Quincy is?

To be continued…

Shane Brown

Shane Brown is a HottyToddy.com contributor and the son of noted author Larry Brown. Shane is an Oxford native with Yocona and Tula roots. Shane is a graduate of Mississippi State University and works as a salesman for Best Chance. He has two children — Maddux, age 9, and Rilee, age 7 — and makes his home at “A Place Called Tula.” He can be reached at msushanebrown@yahoo.com.

Copyright Shane Brown, 2015.

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