Four From The Night, Four From Anywhere

1. Traffic Light

When I slow to a stop at the traffic light, I notice a police car flashing blue into the darkness. A few feet away, a man stuffs his hands in his pockets and leans back against a dented trunk. I stare at this man with skin like mine. This man in a posture of waiting for the police officer, the hoodie of his sweatshirt protecting him from the cold. The blue continues to pulse, and the traffic light remains red. What’s happening, I think first and then say. The light changes, but my foot stays on the brake. The man—he notices my stopped car, looks at me, and motions to the bright, green arrow. He curls his four fingers to his palm, raises his thumb, and sticks out his arm in my direction. I nod my head at his gesture, tap the gas pedal, angle the car to the left, and drive away.

 

2. Suburban Highway

My friend Jon grips the steering wheel. My other friend Tony sits on the passenger side, and my roommates and I are squished across the back seat. Still, I can see the slight black waves of Jon’s cropped curls and his hands positioned at a precise 10 and 2.

Just before we left Jon’s house in the suburbs, his mother glanced at our group of college students, all the same color as her son. She then told Jon, “Keep your hands on the wheel. Don’t stop until you’re back on campus.”

“Yes, ma’am,” he said. Now he sits with a straight back, no slouching, eyes always ahead, the wheel’s texture imprinting a pattern against his palms. He shifts the wheel in slight movements to the right, to the left, driving us down suburban roads and joining the late-night rush of red and white lights on the highways. Back on campus, we pour out of the car doors into the midnight hours, all of us alert and so very wide awake.

 

3. Parking Lot

I spot the silver house keys on the ground near a truck’s back wheel, the metal shimmering in the final strand of waning daylight. “Sir,” I call to the older white man opening his door. He doesn’t answer me, maybe doesn’t see me or hear me calling. I persist with the metal jangling in my hand. I walk around the vehicle, leaving my husband’s side. “Sir,” I say again despite the stranger pinching his brows when he spots me. “Are these yours?” His creased forehead, his squinted eyes, these soften into a smile at the sight of his keys between my forefinger and thumb. He stretches out his hand.

The pick-up truck backs away and my husband returns to my side. “I don’t do things like that anymore,” he says.

I mention the first look on the man’s face and then the transformation. “He was thankful.”

“With you, he’s initially annoyed. With me, he’s initially afraid,” my husband says. I loop my arm through his as we walk toward the grocery store, the keys and their owner long gone in the now dimness of night.

 

4. Rural Road

In the final burst of late afternoon, the back roads charm me with wide fields and an occasional brick home. “I hope the wedding finishes before dark,” I say to my husband. He agrees and maybe he envisions what I imagine I might see: these fields and forests masked beneath dusk with us alone on a deserted road.

Later when there is pop music and a sky of stars, when there are slices of cake and lanterns aglow, I try to laugh when I tell our white friends what I said in the car. “Do you want us to follow you to the highway?” they ask when my husband and I decide it’s time to go.

I start to shake my head, but then I stop because I want to say, “Yes, please,” instead of defaulting to, “Thank you, but no.”

Patrice Gopo

Writer at HarperCollins
Patrice Gopo is a 2017-2018 North Carolina Arts Council Literature Fellow. She is the author of All the Colors We Will See: Reflections on Barriers, Brokenness, and Finding Our Way (August 2018), an essay collection about race, immigration, and belonging. She lives with her family in North Carolina.

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