Veterans Day Out - Season 3 Bonus
- Johny Paul
Martha loved the soft caress of the evening autumn wind as it weaved through the maze of her auburn hair. The rhythmic rumble of her Harley engine drained out the dull hum of the tyres on the tarmac. Still full of life, orange-yellow pines flanked the desolate highway. After a tiring day, the ride back home always calmed her. It was the oncologist’s fifth year at St Luke’s Hospital in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Death and life were woven into her daily routine.
As she neared her usual smoke stop by the rest area along the highway, a strange sight greeted her. A man in blue overalls, probably in his nineties, stood waving a lion-headed cane. The setting sun shone off his bald pate while a clutch of white hair played around his floppy ears.
“Howdy, ma’am. Could ya drop me at the next town, please?” implored a shaky voice in a familiar Texan drawl.
Who? Why? How? Her left brain argued with her right. “Hello, sir. How did you get here?” she enquired with a smile.
“Honestly, I don’t remember much. However, I recall getting into the pickup truck with my boys after lunch. I must have dozed off.”
“Where do you live?”
“Yeah, the next town,” he said, pointing West.
“Okay, hop on. Put this on and hold tight,” said Martha, handing over her spare helmet.
Her mirror showed a sad, wrinkled face with flabby cheeks, twisting and turning against the headwind.
“So, what’s your name, sir?”
“I think it’s a Friday,” came back an unrelated answer.
It was nearing dusk. Rural Pennsylvania. A senior citizen. Probably demented. Alone on a deserted highway. As Martha probed for a diagnosis, he enquired, “What’s yours, ma’am?”
“Eh? I’m Martha.”
“Well, ain’t that a coincidence? My wife was Martha too. God rest her soul,” he quipped. “She loved the outdoors and was a rider like you, ma’am.”
As she neared the next town, a hand touched Martha’s shoulder, “No, not this one, ma’am. I think it’s the next one.”
A WWII veteran, he had seen death and life up close in the trenches of Normandy, unlike Martha’s bedside view. He vividly described wartime stories from nearly a century ago but had no recollection of what had transpired a few hours back. The vagaries of the human mind are extraordinary!
Five hours had passed. It was dark. The man kept insisting that his Home was on the very next Exit. Alarm bells tolled in Martha’s head. They had driven some 250 miles out of her way.
However, she had not called 911 and had continued to oblige him, engrossed in his reminiscences of a life lived to the brim.
But it was getting quite late now, not that she had anyone waiting for her at Home. Her social circle was limited. Her mom had passed several years back, and the lone child had not kept in touch with her ageing dad, who now lived alone at their Texas ranch.
A voice rasped through her headset radio, “This is a State-wide alert for a Caucasian male in his nineties, reported missing since noon today from the Seniors Home at Harrisburg. He is dressed in blue overalls and carries a cane. Please call 911 if you have any details.”
How did this man end up so far away from his sanctuary? Wondered Martha.
A pensive crowd was waiting as she entered the gates of the Senior Home near the highway.
“There you are, handsome.” chirped a visibly happy lady. “We were worried about you. Let’s have you cleaned up and ready for supper, dear. A good night’s rest will do you great good.”
The matron took Martha aside, “Frank wanders off on Fridays, hitching rides from strangers. He relives the day from over a decade ago when his sons had abandoned him by the highway. A patrol car had found him, and Social Services had brought him to us. A few good Samaritans sponsor his expenses. His family’s whereabouts are unknown, and his flaky memory doesn’t help either. We are his family now. Thanks a lot, ma’am, for bringing him back safely.”
As he walked away, lion-head wrapped inside the withered palm, Frank turned around and looked back at Martha, a grateful grin embroidered across his slack face.
He had enjoyed his veteran’s day out. In some ways, she had too.
As she rode back home that evening, Martha voice-dialled a number from the deep recesses of her memory and spoke into her headset, “Hello, Dad….”