“Spoiler Alert” is a serialized short story, coming in 13 parts every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. “The Man by the Side of the Road” is part thirteen. It’s best if you know the end first, so go to part one if you haven’t read it yet.
Of course, that wasn’t going to happen. It couldn’t. So I told him he needed to take this trip alone.
I didn’t answer for fear I’d say the wrong thing. If David didn’t take that burning bus north, would I never meet the pregnant, kiss-blowing love of my life? How fragile were these things?
David grabbed my hand — a gesture almost too tender to take. “Oh, no. He told you, didn’t he? Something happens on your next bus trip?”
David’s voice trembled a little, his sympathy towards me palpable. And when I looked in his watery eyes, it felt like I was looking at my own son. I had to give him some hope. So I lied. “Yeah. You need to stay away from me.”
He held my gaze for a long time. A little too long. I thought maybe he saw through me. But then he offered me one last gulp of his water bottle. “I guess I couldn’t break you out of prison after all.”
Buses were leaving for Belize with surprising regularity. We bought separate tickets north. Mine left ten minutes after his.
“You know,” David said, just before embarking, “the old man was a liar.”
“You mean Abuelo?” I thought he might be referring to his own father.
“Yeah. He told you some version of the future. But there’s a good chance it was a lie.”
“I doubt it, but yeah, it’s possible.”
That’s when he patted me on the back. “Doubt is a wonderful thing,” he said. And I saw him no more.
Later, after the explosion and the black plume of smoke, and an hour or two spent on the side of the road, the flavored ice man made another pass. He was dressed in a ridiculous blue jumpsuit with a matching bandana over his mouth and a large, straw sombrero, so I didn’t get a good look at him. But he was about David’s size, and though he said nothing to me, his shouts of “Helados! Helados!” as he walked down the roadside sounded familiar.
He couldn’t have been David, of course. It’s nearly impossible. I know in my gut that David’s gone.
But I hope I’m wrong.