The Hitchhiker

Stuart Vail

In her life
she had given a lift to many—
some rides were short,
others were longer.

But all guests
were dropped off at their respective destinations;
none overstayed their welcome—
well, except one.

They say she
was on her way to her sixties
when she saw him
on her right.

He sprawled lazily
in the passenger seat, lighting a smoke,
foot on the dash,
perfectly at home.

An unexpected stranger,
but well known to many of us,
“Get out,” she ordered,
but he stayed.

“Where you going?”
she said to that familiar malignant smile.
“To the end of the line,”
was his answer.

She took detours
and tried every back road, every alley
she could think of
to delay arrival.

The unlikely companions
journeyed many years together, seeing the countryside
from the radiant glow
of her being.

While she drove,
the hitchhiker slept, awakened, grew tired, strengthened—
yet she continued on,
incessantly, never wavering.

Mother always said,
Remember, my darling, never pick up strangers,
a powerless warning against
what’s already inside.

In the end
no weapon could protect her: knives, chemicals,
the rays of Röntgen—
all were impotent.

It’s ironic how,
in killing her, the hitchhiker killed himself.
The wind whispers: beware
the rider within.


©2002 Stuart Vail

Rev. Sara Allen Balcomb died at the age of 64
after a long and defiant bout with ovarian cancer.
In spite of her illness, she never relinquished her
humor and her love of life, and she continued on
with her remarkable ministry to the end.