Evanescent hitchhiker

It had been raining all day. By evening, we were bored and restless. So, my brother and I devised a devilish game and with much laughter and screaming were enjoying ourselves, much to the consternation of our parents. But, as is the wont with all wild games, it soon ended in disaster. My brother fell and hurt his head and began bawling. My father brought the car around and we rushed off to the hospital. The doctor did not find anything seriously wrong with him, but advised that he should spend the night there. So, my mother stayed back, and my father and I went home.

The steady drizzle of the evening had given way to thick swirling mist. The yellow halogen lights cast faint shadows on the tar road. The tall cypresses cast dark shadows on the roads. The mist had come down like a heavy blanket and we could barely see beyond the windscreen. At a particularly dark and lonely stretch of the road, the car, which was old and troublesome, shuddered, spluttered and stopped. The wind howled around us. As my father opened the door to get out, the wind buffeted against it, almost banging it shut again.

A lone figure was silhouetted against the car headlights. As he walked, we saw him hunch up against the cold and hold his umbrella firm as he battled the gusts of wind.


After what seemed an age, my father shut the bonnet and scrambled back into the car. He turned the key in the ignition and, much to our joy, the car started. A bone-chilling cold swept into the car.

We started off, the engine making a peculiarly groaning sound, in a hurry to get home to warmth and comfort. The man with the umbrella seemed to have disappeared.

“Where could he have gone?” I wondered. There were no houses anywhere close by. With the windows rolled up, the sound of the howling wind was shut out.

In the silence of the car, I heard something rustle in the back seat. I mentioned it to my father and he said it was my imagination. We heard an aching, heartfelt sigh. I looked at my father. He was impassive, but he did increase his speed. The car sighed and groaned at every bend and with great difficulty we reached home.

When my father parked the car in the garage, I surreptitiously looked back and thought I saw some movement…a flitting shadow. And, again that long, yearning sigh. I screamed.

To assure me that there was indeed nothing there, my father opened the back door and found a puddle of water on the car mat. One similar to that left by a wet umbrella.

The next morning, the driver arrived and as he usually did, began to wash the car. He saw the puddle of water. He took out the mats, scrubbed them clean and dried them.

Before driving my father to his office, he replaced the mats. To his utter surprise, when he put back the mat the puddle reappeared and he was not too sure, but he thought he heard a sigh. And, it was cold in the car.


The puddle is always there. No one sits in the back seat now. Actually, we never use the car these days. My father tried to sell it, but the puddle puts off prospective buyers. Oh, and also the bone-chilling coldness inside the car and the constant long, anguished sighs…

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Printable version | Sep 27, 2020 8:01:32 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/children/evanescent-hitchhiker/article32210215.ece

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