Don't Follow Me
When my wife saw me designing this bumper sticker, she smiled. She has a beautiful smile. She said, "You're not going to Hell. You're too nice."
course, I did not design this sticker for myself. I designed it for you, my
fellow American. I designed it for the ordinary person who works hard every day,
the person who loves his or her wife, the person who occasionally has impure
thoughts, and is warned by his or her priest or mother that they are going
straight to Hell.
you ever feel like you are being followed? Maybe you are being followed. Don't
look in the rear-view mirror. Haven't you seen that car before? Don't call the
cops. What if it is a cop -- in an unmarked car? He could ticket you for being
on your cell phone while driving. Check your speed. Is it reasonable and
prudent? What if it's somebody from the FBI -- somebody who's just doing his job
-- protecting the country? Act natural. If he asks you where you're going, say
you're going shopping -- doing your patriotic duty. Maybe it's your mother
following you. Unless your mother has passed on. Maybe it's the ghost of your
mother. That's scary. But the scariest part is, she's not using her turn signal,
as usual. Maybe it's your priest. Maybe it's your wife. Maybe it's that strange
guy from work who keeps hitting on you.
it's that guy -- no it couldn't be that guy. Doesn't he ride the bus to work?
Does he even have a car? You steal another glance in the mirror. You see a city
bus. Isn't that the same bus that was behind you two blocks ago? Maybe he has
friends at the Transit Authority. Maybe you should just call him up and tell him
to go straight to Hell. Isn't he married? What would his wife think? She
probably thinks he's too nice.
you should confront him. Yes, take the battle to the enemy. You see a bus stop.
And look, there's a parking space -- or a place to park anyway. A red curb must
mean emergency parking only, and this is definitely an emergency. You park and sprint the half-block to the bus
stop. You're not even winded. You climb the stairs and fumble in your purse for
your change. "How much is it?" you ask the driver.
Fridays, you ride for free," he says.
not sure if he means everybody rides free on Friday, or just you. The bus is
crowded. Just one empty seat. And wouldn't you know, it's right next to him --
that strange guy from work. He's watching you. It seems like everyone is
watching you. It's not everyday they see a woman as lovely as you get on the
bus. You consider standing, but the driver is waiting for you to sit down. You
take a deep breath, bite your lip, and take your seat.
saved you a seat," he says quietly.
you," you try to say, but your voice is barely a whisper. You don't look at
him. You swallow and try to compose yourself. After the bus gets going, you try
again to speak. "Are you following me?" you ask, in a voice that
almost sounds like your own.
looks at you, his mouth ajar. He is speechless. Then he says, "Do you want
me to be following you?"
don't look at him. You hadn't really thought about it until now. "What are
you talking about?"
once saw this lady, she was wearing a T-shirt that said, 'Are you stalking me,
because, that would be so cool!'"
trying not to laugh, or even smile. This is serious damnit! "You're not
answering my question."
I'm not following you."
looks at you questioningly. "Well let me think. Maybe I am following
nod almost imperceptibly. You knew it all along.
do you live?" he asks.
none of your business." You refuse to look at him.
let's say you live on the east side, just for the sake of argument."
glance at him nervously.
live on the west side," he says. "So I guess I am following you."
he's definitely nuts.
see what I'm saying?"
don't, and you don't move.
the Earth spins on its axis, I have no choice but to follow you.” He tries to
illustrate this by holding up his fist, and drawing a circle around it with the
index finger of his other hand. “You move east - I follow - whether I want to
or not. As the day follows the night."
get it now. He's a clever fellow. But you're no fool. "Or as the night
follows the day," you say flatly.
who's following who?"
following whom?" you say. But you immediately regret the remark. He'll
think you are trying to impress him with your language skills. Are you?
what I want to know. Who's following who?"
of the corner of your eye you can see that he's smiling. "Anyway, you're
the one who followed me onto this bus."
because I thought you were following me."
is a pause. The driver turns on his radio. It's the Police. Sting is singing the
band's big hit. You try to tune it out.
wrote a poem once,” he says. “About the day following the night -- or
whatever. Let me see if I can remember it." He scratches his clean-shaven
cheek with his long fingers. He has nice skin. A nice face too. His features
remind you somehow of the man in the moon. You're trying to decide if it is more
like the round full-faced moon face or the quarter-phase pointy-chinned moon
face you see in children's books.
is a lonely street," he begins softly,
dusk and dawn can never meet.
dusk and dawn can never meet.
You look at him. He's grinning, proud of himself.
"You wrote that?"
long time ago."
thanks you. "What time do you have?" he asks.
show him your watch.
you excuse me for a moment?"
cell phone rings as he pulls it from his shirt pocket. He answers it.
There is a short pause. "Yes," he says, and then flips the phone
was that?" you ask.
week I get a call right about this time. They ask me if I want to participate in
a poll. When I say yes, they hang up." He says this as if he is a little
strange. What if you say no?"
know. I think someone is checking up on me."
thought it might be you -- or one of your friends."
suppose you're right. It's probably just the Department of Homeland
is a long pause. He turns to the window again.
are breathing a secret sigh of relief. You did have a friend call him once -- or
twice. But it was a survey, not a poll. You just wanted to make sure he wasn’t
following you. You didn’t know he had a cell phone. Anyway, you really have no
idea who just called him. You’re going to have to talk to your friend. Maybe
she misunderstood. Maybe she thought you said to call him every week.
he turns to you. "I like you," he says.
look at him. "You don't even know me."
fault is that?"
right about that. You have been trying not to engage him, though you have been
tempted at times. "How can you say you like someone you don't even
know enough." He sounds so sure of himself.
what?" What could he possibly know about you?
you have beautiful eyes, like the stars in the firmament.”
roll your eyes and try not to laugh.
a great nose, sculpted to perfection; and lovely hair, like an angel. I like the
shape of your ears, like two roses in bloom, and your exquisite chin, and the
gentle curve of your neck. Your skin is like –- oh what’s that word? It’s
on the tip of my tongue. It starts with ‘A’ or ..."
you interrupt, even though you are curious to know what your skin is like.
You're afraid that if you don't stop him, he will say something stupid about
he's not finished, "Anyway, let's just say that the sight of you is almost
enough to make an atheist believe in God."
don't know it but you're blushing. "Almost?" You look at him
questioningly. He is looking at you adoringly, as if he might like to say more,
but he does not. Finally you say, "Haven't you ever heard? Beauty is only
he says. He is looking right at you, or into you. You're not sure what to say.
do you get off?" he asks at last.
don't say anything. That's none of his business. Where does he get off asking
you things like that? Anyway, you don’t really know where you will get
off. You turn away from him.
he won't give up. "Come on, you can tell me. I'll pull the chain for
turn to him. "You've been pulling my chain quite long enough, thank you
laughs. It is a gentle laugh that comes from the heart. Then he smiles
sheepishly and seems embarrassed.
you've been too hard on him. You should change the subject. "Where does
this bus go?" you ask.
doesn't really go anywhere. It just goes around in circles. All the time. Never
why do you ride it?"
doesn't answer immediately. He looks out the window for a moment. Then he turns
to you. "I enjoy the ride. Watching the world go by. People are always in
such a hurry to get somewhere. But it's really about the journey. Getting to
your destination is over-rated. Sometimes I imagine that a pretty girl comes and
sits next to me." He smiles and the dimples show in his moon face.
what happens?" you ask.
looks at you. He's thinking. "I don't know. You tell me."
don't know what to say and you turn away.
you see that man over there?" He gestures toward a middle-aged man wearing
a pale-blue button-down shirt. He is reading a book.
the pocket-protector and the glasses?"
nods. "That's Ralph. See that woman?" He gestures toward an attractive
woman sitting across the aisle from Ralph.
Anne. Ralph has a crush on Anne. I think Anne likes him too. But Anne won't talk
not?" You find this interesting.
Friday afternoon they ride this bus. But they never speak. They used to speak.
Sometimes Ralph still tries to talk to her. Ralph wants to have an affair, or
part of him does anyway, but I don't think she's going to do it. I think she's
afraid his wife would find out. He says his wife would die of a broken heart,
and I bet she thinks he's right. That book he's reading -- it's a bunch of short
stories about affairs. There's a good one in there called ‘The Painted
do you know all this?"
gave him the book. We’ve talked. If you ride the bus enough, you get to know
think this over for a moment. "How do you know she likes him?"
a hunch. Something about the way she looks at him when he's not looking."
you're reading too much between the lines."
don't think so. Ralph thinks so too."
of course he does. What else is he going to think? He's a man!"
smiles at your joke and you feel satisfied, even though you know the joke is
looks at you. "Don't you think she would say something if she did not like
it would be the right thing to do, right?"
look at Ralph. You're thinking. "Maybe. Or maybe she's afraid of him."
that guy? With the pocket thingy?" He sounds incredulous.
you never know any more. People are so weird. He looks nice enough, but he could
be a serial killer."
mean a cereal killer. You mean the kind of guy who sits alone at the breakfast
table and kills off a whole bowl of Lucky Charms and wonders when he's going to
get lucky -- if the next box will have a secret decoder ring in it."
are illegal now. Banned by the government."
whole thing about Ralph does seem a little sad. "Well do you think his wife
would die of a broken heart?" you ask.
don't know. Maybe. She sounds like the sensitive type."
maybe he could tell her that he wants to have an affair. You know, get it out in
the open. Maybe she would understand and be OK with it?"
we talked about that. He won't do it. He really doesn't think his wife would
take it well. I just think he loves her too much."
can you love somebody too much?"
know. You’re right."
what do you think is going to happen?"
doesn't answer at once. He scratches his cheek again and looks at Ralph. "I
don't know. It will probably keep going like this for a while. But I think
eventually Ralph and Anne will get together."
think they'll have an affair?"
It's possible his wife could have an affair. Then he might feel like he could be
more open with her."
would he know if his wife were having an affair?"
thinks he could tell -- or that she would tell him."
what if he couldn't tell, or if she was afraid to tell him?"
I guess he would feel he could not be open with her either. She would have an
affair, but maybe he wouldn't."
think this over for a moment. "That seems unfair."
why they call it cheating." He smiles and you notice his dimples again.
"By the way, do you want to go on a cruise with me?”
look at him, taken aback. "What?"
was going to go on a cruise with my wife and my mom and her boyfriend, but I had
a falling out with my mom. So my mom’s not coming. I have these two extra
tickets.” He pulls an envelope from his knapsack. “So you could come. Bring
a friend. Are you married or something?”
then we’re all set.”
a second. You haven’t even told me where this cruise goes.”
don’t know where it goes.”
it was a discount deal. They don’t tell you where you are going until you’re
underway.” He is opening the envelope with a small pocket knife. He glances at
you. “It’s about the journey,” he says.
a strange man he is. You watch him fold his knife. “They let you bring knives
on this bus?”
that’s illegal. But letter openers are allowed.”
says this with a straight face. You’re thinking he’s a darn good liar.
reading the itinerary. “Yes, we fly out on Tuesday, change planes in Las
Vegas, and then we sail from Long Beach on Wednesday.” He gently takes your
hand in his, and then whispers in your ear, "Do you want to go to Vegas
with us on Tuesday? It’ll be fun. I promise."
think maybe you should pull your hand away but you don't. Maybe you don't want
to make a scene. Is that it? Or is it something else? You look at him. He looks
serious. You've never been this close to him. What are you supposed to say? He
just said he was married. And you were planning to go to confession on Tuesday.
The last thing you need is something else to confess. Finally, you say,
"I'd rather go straight to Hell."
too," he says quickly. "I never liked Vegas."
why don't you?" you ask.
looks genuinely puzzled. "Why don't I what?"
don't you go straight to Hell?"
can't. I'm not allowed in."
smiles devilishly. "I'm too nice."
the radio, Bob Seger sings, "...someday lady you'll accomp'ny me..."
look down at your hand clasped in his.
holding my hand," you say.
whispers in your ear, "Is that okay?" You can feel his breath on your
okay,” you say, nodding, and you put your other hand on his as if to keep it
there. Maybe you could skip confession, just this once.
he says suddenly and rather loudly. “Your skin is like alabaster.”
turn to him. “My skin is like a rock?”
smiles at you. “I mean the color. It’s a pretty color, and smooth. Maybe I
just like the word, the way I like you.”
You can't help smiling. It's a beautiful smile.
Dan R. Frazier