He spoke into the microphone, “Roger, I am coming home.”
Once he landed, the one helping him out of the plane asked, “How come you’re early?” He smiled, “I have another mission today. I’m going to meet my daughter in LA. I have three hours…”He figured from Mojave to LAX, with traffic, takes about three hours.
He was excited since he hadn’t seen her for a long time. He couldn’t even remember how many years it’d been, it was at least ten. It was an ugly divorce, when it was over everybody scattered around. She was in her early twenties and went to New York. He visited several times, helped her when she was struggling, and spoke with her on the phone time by time. But being in the Air Force made him move frequently and he lost communication with her.
Recently he got a call unexpectedly from her. She said, “Major, I am engaged and coming to see you.” He congratulated her, “What a pleasant surprise, but I have to confess…Besides happiness, I am a little embarrassed.”
He took a quick shower, put on his civilian clothes and jumped in his car. It was noon and the Mojave Desert was vibrating with heat. He turned the air conditioner on full blast. There were hardly any cars on the highway, only a few trucks passed by. This stretch of the road was empty, with no towns or even houses around.
He drove for about 100 miles through the desert when he heard a noise coming from under his hood. He tried to ignore it, the car was brand new with very few miles on it. But the noise got louder. He pulled over to the shoulder and popped his hood. He inspected the engine, but everything seemed to be in order. When he started the engine again, there was no noise. But as he continued driving the noise came back. That was when he realized it was coming from the moving parts under the car.
He cussed and swore at the dealers for their carelessness, and worried now about the time. It was almost two hours before his daughter would arrive. If he kept driving, he could make it easily, but now?…
There was no town or service station around for miles. The closes gas station was about ten miles down the highway in a small mining town. He called AAA to have the car towed there, but it would take an hour for them to reach him. He knew he couldn’t afford to lose that much time, so he decided to take a chance and drive there. Besides, waiting for an hour in the sun there would be difficult. He got in his car and started driving.
He was familiar with operating less than perfect engines, and he felt comfortable knowing at least he was on the ground. He managed to get to the gas station, a small storefront with had no brand name in front of it. There was a pump and a service station next to it. All the doors were closed and he didn’t see anyone around. He anxiously walked towards the building and he noticed the door was locked. Knocking, he yelled, “Is there anyone here?”
After a while a middle-aged lady opened the door. The Major asked for the mechanic, but she just looked at his face and didn’t say anything. He had to go into his explanation: “My car broke down, I need help. Is there a mechanic here?”
“Yes,” she said, “my husband. But he doesn’t feel good…”
“Let me talk to him,” he replied. “It’s a small job.” They went through the door and opened the service area where there was a middle-aged man sleeping on the floor over a blanket. Next to him were some nachos and a half bottle of Corona. The woman went to him and said loudly, “Hey Jose, wake up. There’s a customer here.”
Jose opened one eye first, then the other. He barely caught a glance at the Major, then closed his eyes in the same order. “I told you, he doesn’t feel good,” his wife said. The place was dark, hot and humid with the smell of beer and marijuana. The Major bent down and put his mouth to Jose’s ear. “Look Jose, the job is not much, but I’ll pay well. I’m in a hurry. Get up.” He had a military tone in his voice, definite and ordered. But Jose didn’t move, he didn’t even open his eyes this time.
The Major realized the situation and looked at his watch. He turned to the lady, “OK there’s no point trying to wake up this drunk. this lazy bum. Can I use some of your tools? I can repair it myself.” Without waiting for the woman’s response, he picked up some tools hanging on the wall and got the jack out of his trunk. The woman left the garage. He took his shirt off, lifted the car’s front up with the jack, and went under. The problem was exactly as he thought. With the tools in the garage he repaired the car in less than twenty minutes.
While getting out from under the car, he noticed the jack slipping and the car about to drop on top of him. He yelled out “Help!” first, then tried to hold the car up with both his hands. “What a lousy way to die,” he thought to himself. Then he noticed a pair of feet in front of the car, and the car started to lift. As the Major pulled himself out from under the car, he saw they were Jose’s legs. His face was flushed, mouth open like a weightlifter’s. The Major slipped out before Jose dropped the weight.
They looked at each other for a while. All their past feelings were replaced by joy and thanks. The Major couldn’t believe this Hercules was the same man sleeping in the corner. When he left the wife some money, she didn’t want to take it. “For what,” she asked. “I was the mechanic,” he answered, “but your husband was the hero. He saved my life.”
The Major arrived at the airport half an hour late. He found his daughter at the baggage claim. It was then he realized how much he had missed her. After huggings and hellos, he asked where her fiancé was. She told him he was bringing the luggage.
Then she asked him something unexpected. “Dad, I wanted to ask for your understanding, for your tolerance.” She was hesitant to say something, which made him wonder to himself.
“About what,” he asked. “About the man I love, my fiancé. Promise me when you see him, you won’t react. Promise?” Many unusual ideas now filled his mind, but he told her, “I promise.”
She looked through the crowd and saw someone. She yelled in their direction and waived, “Jose, here we are!” Jose was a medium-sized young man with big tattoos on both arms. He had a big smile as he shook the Major’s hand. She was happy seeing them both together. “Jose, this is my dad.”
“I’m glad to meet you, Jose.” He stopped short of saying “again.”