The Puzzler

This afternoon we went to pick up our vacuum cleaner from Mr. Vak. We have been taking our broken vacuum cleaners of which there have been plenty because of our dogs to Mr. Vak for thirty-five years. Not the same Mr. Vak, they change periodically but they are all Russian causing my husband to write Meester Vak on our Saturday to-do list. He does this because this is what he hears when he takes our broken machinery into the store: “Meester Vak will feex.”

We pulled up behind a car being loaded on to the back of a flatbed truck. A white guy in a white t-shirt and cargo shorts was pacing up and down the sidewalk. Across the street, a black woman and a couple of kids were standing outside a car talking to police. We didn’t make the connection.

While my husband was hanging with Meester Vak, I was in the car with our dog, the window rolled down because it was a beautiful day, and the guy in the white t-shirt came over and started sharing his distress. He had just bought the car moments before, from someone just two blocks away, and he was trying to cross from a side street on to a bigger street when the woman whose car was across the street broadsided him and wrecked his car.

“It was a birthday present for my son. He’s going to be heartbroken.”

I felt bad for him. It’s awful coming up short for your kid’s birthday. I should know, I’ve done it plenty of times.

“I don’t know how to get home.” The flatbed truck had just pulled away with his new car loaded up. My husband came back with our repaired vacuum cleaner pushing it down the sidewalk like he was cleaning up for his mother-in-law.

The t-shirt guy quickly said, “I wasn’t trying to bother your wife. I was just talking to her.” And my husband nodded and put the vacuum cleaner in the back of the truck. He got in the driver’s seat and I asked him right away if we should drive the guy home. He surprised me by not saying no right away. We don’t do a lot of stranger pick-ups.

We talked about where t-shirt guy lived – it was an hour from Milwaukee – and what plans he had to get home. None. He didn’t know anyone where he lived, having just moved there, and had only one number in his phone which was someone he had only just met whom he doubted would come to rescue him. But he might because he left a message. He didn’t know. So he didn’t want to leave where he was even though he didn’t want to be there in the worst way.

“I don’t know Milwaukee or this area. Is it safe here?” We told him it was safe enough but then we travel here all the time, our vacuum cleaner issues and all, but we knew what he was seeing was a black neighborhood. We offered to drive him downtown, maybe to catch a bus, or find better transportation but he declined worried that his acquaintance might come to the address he’d left on his voicemail.

There was nothing more for us to do. He thanked us for listening to him and we pulled away.

“Wait a minute,” I said to my husband. “How did he get there?”

We talked about turning around to ask but we didn’t. How did t-shirt man get from his town an hour away to Mr. Vak’s neighborhood in the first place? Who brought him? And why couldn’t they come back? Or did the seller of the car go out to t-shirt man’s town, sell him the car, and get a ride back to the neighborhood (this alternative just occurred to me this very minute). Why couldn’t he go back the way he came?

It is today’s mystery.

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