A little more than a month ago, it was dark but not late, and I was biking home from my church’s choir practice when I was hit by a car. Don’t worry, dear reader: although the front tire of my bike was bent beyond repair, I didn’t fall. I wasn’t even scratched. The angels were policing the streets that All Saint’s Day Eve, something I later told the man who hit me.
The thing is, I was trying to be safe. I had my lights on, and I was riding more in the center of my lane than off to the side because I thought the cars would see me better that way. Moreover, I had had two chances to pass the car, but I refrained because I was afraid he wouldn’t see me. Had I been French, I would have thrown caution to the gutter and peddled peacefully on my way. But, no, I waited patiently behind, so when the silver hatchback Peugeot suddenly went into reverse, he backed into me instead of his intended parking space.
When the man got out of his car to figure out the source of the crunch, I stuttered, I’m not French. That’s obvious, he replied. Ignoring this blow to my self-esteem, I asked, but what do we do? Do we call the police? Because that’s what we are supposed to do in the United States, I managed to explain, my accent thick from shock.
After determining that I was completely unhurt and that my application for insurance was still in the works, we didn’t call the police. In fact, we didn’t call anyone: I had just sorted out my phone plan, so I didn’t have many numbers, and above all, I didn’t want to bother anyone—a ridiculous worry, yes, I know. Instead, I readily accepted the stranger’s offer to drive me home even though I’ve known since before I was allowed to cross the street without holding a grown-up’s hand that you should never get into any stranger’s car. Especially alone. Even when their better-than-candy incentive is to bring you and your crushed bicycle somewhere safe. But, for some reason, I saw no other alternative, so I helped stuff my bike in the trunk and then slipped into the passenger’s seat.
Maybe it was because of the jazz on the radio, maybe it was the lack of expected expletives—no matter: during the first few minutes, even though the man touched my wrist and my arm more than I would have liked, I trusted him completely, so when he asked if I wanted to get some dinner, I said yes. What could be more beautiful, I thought, than to break bread with the person who almost ran you over? The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The Christian American girl and the Muslim Ivoirian man will share a meal, both relieved only a tire was mangled.
But, that holy mountain moment didn’t even last the car ride: by the time we arrived at the kebab shop, I couldn’t believe that I had not only gotten into a strange man’s car, but that I had also agreed to go to dinner at who-knows-where. I didn’t recognize the neighborhood, and I knew I couldn’t retrace all of the dark, twisting streets we had taken. I became even more uneasy when I realized I was the only female in that fluorescently-lit hole-in-the-wall.
Afterwards, I did one more stupid thing: I tried and failed to politely decline his offer to have the customary after-dinner coffee at his apartment. When I told him that I was tired and wanted to go home, he tried to reassure me: I’m not going to hurt you. I’m not going to rape you. I’m a civil servant: that’s not worth my job! I’m here to protect you, he told me, as we were pulling into the parking lot of the apartment complex. So, I took a deep breath and followed him inside, afraid to be impolite.
Dear reader, nothing happened. I perched on the red Ikea couch and drank tea. He drank coffee, smoked a cigarette, and discovered my absolute ignorance of jazz. Then, I yawned, and he took me home.
Even though nothing happened, I have learned my lesson: I will not do something like that again. More than a few people have told me that what I did was not the best idea, and all the what-if scenarios that have spun through my head have made me realize what a precarious situation I put myself in. And yet, I do not regret getting into that car, going to dinner, or having tea. For was not a real hope in the kingdom-come at least part of my reason for accepting the dinner invitation? And, are we not called to choose communion over safety? I remember distinctly that, as I sat in the car, shaken by the near miss, I thought: here we are, I, the face of America to him, he, the Ivory Coast to me, and here we are, listening to jazz on a French radio station. Isn’t this the way world peace is made?
During these past few weeks, however, I have declined, both more and less politely, the man’s several invitations to grab a drink together after work. He dismisses my confession that grabbing a drink makes me uncomfortable, and his arguments are persuasive: we will only get a drink, we’ll talk a little, and then we’ll each return, alone, to our own homes. In theory, I do want to get to know him better; I want to be able to put more than a first name and a nationality to his face, but my landlord is right: had my landlord been on the bike instead of me, the man would not be calling him on weekends. And, if I say yes to a drink, what more will the man think he can convince me to say yes to?
So I let my phone ring, hating that now, in this world, it would be more stupid than good to grab a drink. I let my phone ring, waiting with an impatience similar to Amy’s for the day when we will all always choose communion over safety. O come, o come, Emmanuel.
Sabrina Lee majored in English and French and graduated from Calvin College in 2013. After a couple of gap years, she’s back in school at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, pursuing a MA/PhD in English.You can usually find her reading and drinking tea—and, once in a while, ballroom dancing.