The devil looked chic.
His car was low-lying and sleek. The skin perfectly tanned, the hair well groomed, and he wore an obviously expensive designer suit.
I recognized him instantly. We had crossed paths several times.
He had a strange combination of an inquisitive look and a knowing smile, but hadn’t recognized me, yet.
I climbed into his car and pulled the door shut.
‘Thanks for the lift’, I said, ‘I’m heading west too but my car broke down’.
‘Sure,’ he replied, ‘anything for the traveler in my direction.’
We drove in silence for a while.
Suddenly his arched brows frowned. ‘Hey, I know you! Aren’t you the guy from the desert?’
‘Yes,’ I grinned, ‘and the mountains, and the forests, and the rivers.’
We both managed an uneasy laugh. The devil had bright, even teeth.
We had never been friends, yet he cleverly disguised himself never to approach me as a foe.
I guess we were more like adversaries. He had his self-appointed job, I had my separate way to go.
Our last encounter had resulted in me evading him. He too had kept his distance. Perhaps he thought I was finished, maybe he permitted me to re-coup before our next inevitable bout. Either way, I resented his confidence, I detested his bravado.
There were so many unanswered questions, too many loose ends.
I had to get the answers, and I knew he would oblige. For, as I had once been, he was now confident and self-assured.
‘Listen, I’ve got to know,’ I began, ‘what really happened back then?’
He drove silently for a while, pondering.
In that tense silence, I could feel the reverberating power of the engine humming beneath my feet.
‘Well, look at it this way, you began building without a foundation. It had to fall apart.’ He gave me a dark, self-assured smile.
‘No,’ I objected, ‘I was just watering a plant. It had to grow its own roots.’
He realized I was right and squirmed uneasily. Instinctively, he revved up the engine, I could sense the real devil in him.
‘But there had to be other reasons.’ I prompted, distracting him from his menacing unease.
‘You under-estimated me so were caught off-guard’. He raised one eyebrow and flashed his teeth.
‘But I was weak. I guess you know I was too exposed.’
‘No,’ he dragged the word, ‘your mistake was you tried to make it all alone. When you began to think your strength was personal and not God-given, I struck you, and you got licked.’
Elated at the buoyancy of his argument, his foot pushed down on the gas pedal and the monotonous hum of the engine turned into a powerful growl.
It was a reckless display of power. There was no need for this irrational act, and I knew there was some weakness lurking deep within him.
‘But, I had lost! I had to save my ass.’ I drew him back into the discussion.
‘Well, I guess, yes. You are human after all. But who knows, if you held on a little longer, you might have made it.’
‘I don’t think so. Anyway, I don’t need leftovers!’ I replied indignantly.
‘That’s my boy, I see I have done a good job on you,’ he laughed. ‘But now.. aren’t you still waiting?’
‘Yes, I am... God knows I am.’ I confessed.
He simply shrugged in resignation.
‘Well, now what?’ I asked, seeing him quiet again.
‘Live with it.’ He gave me that devilish grin.
‘Shit!’ I sneered.
It was past dusk. We were approaching some kind of a town.
Even though we travelled in the same direction, I had to get away from him.
‘One last question. Where else did I go wrong?’
He took his time, deliberating within himself whether to say it or not. His newfound bravado finally got the better of him.
‘Listen. You take things as they come while it’s personal for me. Independently, you don’t mean a thing. You embrace either white or black. There are no grey areas.’
I silently let his words sink in, pondered over the enormity of what he just said.
Then I asked him to drop me off.
‘Why not continue to travel together?’ He invited.
‘No’, I replied, ‘No, thanks’.
‘Well.., knowing you, I am sure we’ll meet again.’ He gave me his long, dark look.
‘Yeah’, I nodded. Then I smiled, ‘I guess yes, but next time you’ll be running for that recluse!’
He mused at this momentarily, ‘It’s always the shades of grey where I’ll get you!’ And then he burst into laughter and roared off.
In that dark, deserted street, his laughter echoed longer than the roar of his car.