Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Left Behind

Early on in in my vanpooling, my biggest fear was being left in the city with no way home. So far, it hasn't happened. To me, that is.

Last Thursday, Minh was at the wheel. Minh, whose obsession with finding shortcuts means that I'm never quite sure from which direction she will appear when she picks me up.

She barely rolls to a stop as I jump in. We sit through three cycles of a traffic light and Minh's right eye twitches along with each click of the van's turn signal.

When she finally clears the intersection, she veers away from our normal route.

"What about Neo Pompadour?" I ask mildly.

"Ooh, I never see this bridge before!" gushed Minh. And that was that.

She made the rest of her pick ups and pointed the van homeward. I was stretched out on the rear bench with earbuds tightly in place thumbing through a library book when my phone rang.

It was a number I didn't recognize so, of course, I didn't answer it.
A minute or so ticked by before I became vaguely aware of some excitement at the front of the van.

I popped out my headphones in time to hear, "...forgot Neo Pompadour!"

After the initial shock, the vannies started to laugh. "Poor Neo Pompadour," someone jeered. There was a chorus of questions and blame before Minh accused me: "vAnnie! How could you let me forget him???"

To which I responded, "I asked you about him. And you said 'Ooh, I'll take this short cut!'"

More laughter.

"What kind of unit are you running, Minh?" I asked, "We don't leave a man behind."

More laughter.

The laughter subsided as we u-turned back into traffic, but it stopped completely when everyone mentally calculated the additional commute time this oversight would cause.

I've always thought the expression about cutting tension with a knife was dumb. That is until I felt the dread welling up inside me, my lungs straining to breathe air as thick as Velveeta watching Neo Pompadour approach the van.

He looked sweaty. Sweaty and pissed. No one dared look at him, except me: "H-h-h-hey Neo Pompadour," I stuttered.

With eyes full of rage, yet tinged with disappointment he said, "I tried calling you vAnnie."

Great. So now I feel guilty and partially responsible for The Incident. It's my fault that Minh is easily distracted and can't take a decent head count.

I settled back into my seat, turned the pages of my book as quietly as I could and thought about how one day he'll see the humor in all this.

The rest of us do.