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The Hitchhiker

The old man looked sad standing on the edge of I 75. I don’t usually stop for hitchhikers, but this guy looked close to 80 and I figured if he were a serial killer, I could take him. He had his head down and I don’t think he saw me when I pulled over so I got out of my truck and walked the few steps back. He seemed startled, like he hadn’t really expected anyone to stop.
“Need a ride?” I asked.
“Sure, sure,” he mumbled.
“Where are you heading?” I asked.
“I’m going to Florida,” he replied.
“Well, I can give you a lift to Valdosta.” I tried to sound cheerful, somehow feeling guilty about not being able to take him further.
“That would be just fine,” the old man said as we walked toward the truck. I noticed that he had a small backpack on his scrawny shoulders and when he walked, he hunched over as if to keep his balance. The weather was a balmy 95 degrees in the shade in South Georgia this fine summer day and I was aware of the fragrance of sweaty old man in the close confines of the cab. I’m sure I didn’t smell too good either, but I was used to my scent. At first we were both quiet, as if we both had secrets to keep and were afraid we might let something slip out if we weren’t careful. We were just outside of Macon and we had a good two and half hours of drive time to endure. I’m from Valdosta and I had been in Macon for 3 days on business and was ready to be home with my family. I knew my wife would be upset that I had picked up someone so I didn’t intend to tell her about it. After a few minutes the old man slung his backpack into his lap and began to fiddle with it. I was watching somewhat covertly out of the corner of my eye. Just making sure he didn’t pull out a weapon or anything. You never know these days. After an hour or so of the quiet, I said “My name’s James.” Trying to be friendly and have a little conversation to make the trip go faster. “I’m Sonny,” the old man replied. It must have been with an o because Sunny didn’t fit him.
“So you’re heading to Florida?”
“Yes, my grandson’s there”.
“What part?”

“He’s in Tampa.”
“You’ll have about 4 more hours to go from Valdosta.” He nodded his head. Sonny reached into the backpack and pulled out a picture of an eight year old boy. “That’s my grandson, Nathan.” It was a picture of a cute kid riding a bike. “He’s been diagnosed with leukemia. “ I felt my eyes water.

“My son has more to worry about than how I’m going to get there and eventually I’ll make it, God willing.”

I thought about my schedule for the rest of the week, and somehow things didn’t seem that pressing. I called my wife when I stopped for gas and told her I had a meeting in Tampa and I was going to be a few hours late.

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