April 21, 2021

No Good Deed

The windshield wipers were on full and droning out a song of discontent that was giving me a headache. The swoosh of their unrelenting battle against the never ending rain, a cheap metaphor for life in general and mine in particular.

I was exhausted, another long night. Lost in contemplation and waiting for the light to change, I realized I was staring at this tiny old lady who had obviously been caught by surprise by the early evening downpour. She was standing precariously on the edge of the sidewalk, two shopping bags in each hand, looking like a battered and withered scale that might tip over from all the rain.

Watching her, I had no doubt that she was a hundred years old if she was a day. It wasn’t just her shrivelled face that made her look ancient, or her old lady skirt and shoes or even the old lady plastic napkin she wore on her head like a hat to protect her stringy grey hair from the rain. It was that she radiated that thing that really old people radiate; a combination of helpless, hopeless and harmless that bombards your senses and overwhelms your intellect. Watching her stooped over, vulnerable and soaked to the bone, I thought of my grandmother and felt an immediate sense of guilt and shame.

As if reading my thoughts, she turned her gaze towards me, her eyes stained with the kind of sadness only lost puppies can mirror. Before I could stop myself, I was smiling foolishly at her, a gesture she clearly took as an invitation to shuffle towards my car and speak to me.

“Excuse me sir, do you think you can help me?” she asked. Her voice was soft but not meek, a hint of hardness under a red velvet glove. Up close, leaning in through the passenger window as she spoke, I thought I detected a latent hostility that caused me to tense. Looking into her eyes, I quickly dismissed my reaction as nerves, an occupational hazard, and chided myself for being so jumpy. She was clearly harmless, a caricature of every old person I had ever met.

“What’s wrong?” I said, trying to muster enthusiasm by smiling weakly at her.

“Well, I’ve been waiting for my bus for 20 minutes but I think the schedule changed and it doesn’t run after 6:30. It’s too far for me to walk and now with the rain, well, I just wondered whether you might be able to take me to 3rd Avenue.”

“A fancy car like this, you must have somewhere important you have to be. Sorry for having troubled you. I’ll just wait for the bus. Maybe it will come along in a minute. I sure hope so since I’m just soaked from this rain.”

I would have thought it was obvious that I wasn’t driving a cab but perhaps the old girl didn’t see too well with her coke bottle glasses drooping off her pea sized nose.

“Sorry, no. I’m not a taxi. Probably be one along in a minute,” I said.

“Oh,” she said. “I just thought — well, with this big car, and the dark windows and fancy wheels, I thought you might have room. If you were going that way, I mean.”

“Nope,” I said. “Wish I could help out but I can’t, sorry.”

I expected my brush off to put an end to the discussion but the old girl seemed to know she had guilt on her side.

“Well, of course you can’t. How stupid of me,” she said. “A fancy car like this, you must have somewhere important you have to be. Sorry for having troubled you. I’ll just wait for the bus. Maybe it will come along in a minute. I sure hope so since I’m just soaked from this rain.”

She stood rock still and continued staring at me, her puppy dog eyes etched with resolve, the rain pouring down the creases of her face like a waterfall of pathetic sadness that was drenching my leather seats and drowning me with shame. Cursing myself for being weak, I gave in.

“I suppose, maybe, I could make a small detour,” I said.

Her face lit up with obvious satisfaction. “Oh, thank you sir. You’re an absolute angel. When I saw you there I just had a feeling. Now, do you mind helping me with these?” she said pointing at her groceries.

I groaned inwardly but knew there was little point in arguing. I got out and came around, soaking myself in the process. I tried projecting my irritation as I loaded the old girl into the car, to no avail. She simply closed the door with an oblivious smile and left me standing there in the rain, a victim of her elderly charms. I clambered back into my ride and was immediately assaulted by her old lady smell, a combination of lemon cleaner and church basement, musty and wet. It was going to take a month to get her smell out of my car. As I eased forward into traffic, she began fiddling with her purse, eventually finding a purple handkerchief that she used to dry her face.

“There that’s better,” she said. “Now Billy, shall we get to know each other a little bit?”

Her sudden familiarity caught me off guard and before I could react, she drew a snub nosed revolver from her purse, leaned forward, put it to my thigh and pulled the trigger.

The hammer clicked with a whisper that barely registered, but there was no mistaking the excruciating pain accompanying the bullet as it tore into my flesh or the acrid smell of burnt gunpowder and agony that filled my head and pushed out all thought except survival. My first instinct was to jam on the brakes but the old bag was having none of that. Brandishing her gun, she barked at me to keep driving. Her words barely registered over the ringing in my ears but her gestures made it clear she had another bullet waiting if I stopped. Not being a complete fool, I followed her instruction and kept going.

Once we were moving again, she put the purple handkerchief in my hand and forced my hand to my thigh. Apparently, she wasn’t just a psycho, she was also an MD. Satisfied that she had my undivided attention, she leaned back, took out the plugs from her ears and began to speak.

“Don’t worry Billy, you’ll live. It’s just a flesh wound. I didn’t want to shoot you but I needed to make sure I had your full cooperation. I do, don’t I Billy?”

“You crazy ass bitch,” I said.

“Mind your manners, Billy. I won’t tolerate anymore incivility.”

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