You don’t notice him until you pull away and drive for a few blocks. That’s when he alerts you to his presence.
You don’t respond at first. You just keep driving.
That time you hear it loud and clear. You turn your head and make out his blue jumpsuit, curled up on the floor of the backseat. He’s still holding a dirty white rag.
“Don’t look man!” he whisper-shouts. “Just keep driving like you’re all alone, okay?”
He’s Latino. Probably eighteen or twenty years old. And he’s scared.
“Just drive me towards the bay, okay man?”
You ask him if he knows how to get to the bay. He says to take a street you never heard of, and you tell him so. He carefully lifts his torso up off the floor of the backseat and looks around to see where you are. Then he says to make a left and plops back down on the floor.
When you ask him what he’s going to do when he gets to the bay, he says he’ll hope on the first big ship that happens to be leaving the port at that moment.
“Stowaway?” you ask, turning your head around to look at him.
He says well they probably ain’t gonna be selling tickets. Then he shouts for you to keep your eyes on the road. “They might be following us okay?”
You tell him that you’d be happy to take him to the police, or to some kind of non-profit group that helps fight human trafficking. “If you’re forced to work at that car wash to pay off your passage into this country,” you say, “there are people who can protect you.”
He says he was born here. He’s running because he just got his girlfriend pregnant. Her dad owns that car wash, and she’s going to tell her Dad the bad news this afternoon.
“He’s gonna make me marry her and work at that car wash forever. I gotta get outta the country, okay? Just get me to a boat, okay? And try not to look suspicious. I’m telling you the minute she tells him he’s gonna hop in a car and come looking for me.”
You keep your eyes straight ahead. You wonder whether this hopping onto the next boat out of the port isn’t a bad plan for you too. Maybe you and… Wait, what’s his name?
“Ralphie. Rafael, but call me Ralphie.”
Maybe you and Ralphie could travel the seas together, him on the run from his family obligations, and you on the run from your Netflix queue and your internal debate over what takeout place to order dinner from every night. You could stowaway on a merchant marine vessel or some kind of tanker that’s already populated with outlaws who are better off keeping away from dry land. They’ll at first want to throw you overboard, then they’ll just give you jobs, the kind of tough manual labor that covers you in black grime from head to toe. Eventually, you’ll both be accepted as part of the crew and they’ll invite you out with them to solicit whores when they dock the ship on East Asian islands. Never again will you have to spend a moment wondering what you’re supposed to do next, because when you’re living and working on the sea the only thing on the agenda is to keep the ship afloat.
You can see the bay just about six blocks up ahead.
“We’re almost there,” you say.
Ralphie pops his head up to see, then shouts, “Oh shit turn man turn here!”
You make a quick turn right. You aren’t sure what at first, then in the corner of your eye you spot a car on the other side of the intersection covered in suds. That must be Ralphie’s boss. He got the news and hopped in the first car waiting to be rinsed off after a wash, leaving the driver stranded in the waiting room staring at a vending machine wondering why his car is taking so long.
“Oh man he knew where to find me. He’s gonna be waiting for me at that dock. How am I gonna get on a boat now?”
“It’s okay,” you say. “From what I could see, the only boat out there today was a garbage barge. I don’t know how long you’d be able to stowaway on that.”
“What now man?!” Ralphie says.
“You need to lay low for a while,” you say. “Come back to my place. I’m unemployed and I don’t have too much going on right now.”
You take Ralphie home and the two of you try to find something to watch on cable for a while, then you have a long conversation about whether you want to order Chinese or Indian food for dinner tonight.
Happy One Of The Guys Who Works At Your Car Wash Is Hiding In The Back Seat Of Your Car Day!