Who Was That Masked Man?

Who Was That Masked Man?

From A 5th Portion of Chicken Soup for the Soul

Who Was That Masked Man?

Hurricane Bertha left me in a bad mood. I had managed to maintain my sour disposition for several days in spite of the attempts of almost everybody to cheer me up. I had leaks in my ceiling at the gallery, the floors were flooded, the showcases dirty, there was no air conditioning or electricity, and I had over one hundred artists calling me to see if their work had been damaged. On top of all that, I had to drive over to Jacksonville in the pouring rain and choking heat, and the air conditioner in my truck had quit working.

I was not happy.

As I motored along North Carolina’s Highway 24 to Jacksonville, my faithful truck was trying to tell me something . . . something important like . . . YOU FORGOT TO BUY GAS! For the first time in my life I had run out of gas. I’d always smirked at the friends and family who’d done this, as if to say, “How could you be so stupid? There’s a gauge on the dashboard to tell you that your tank is empty, and all you have to do is read it.”

I was right: There was a gauge, and it said EMPTY.

I was not happy.

I coasted to the side of the road, saying several things about my own mental abilities . . . several things about Hurricane Bertha . . . and vowing to sit there until the darn truck rotted and fell apart.

As I contemplated the possibility of getting a job with the French Foreign Legion, I heard a motorcycle pull up beside me: a big, throaty, rumbling, growling Harley-Davidson. I opened my door and was face to face with a throwback to the 1960s. Snakes were painted all over his face shield and helmet and tattooed all over his body. He wore the traditional Harley-Davidson garb: denim jacket, jeans and biker boots. Chains hung from every available hook or loop. His hair was so long that he had it doubled up and tied to keep it out of his wheels. The Harley was straight out of Easy Rider—extended front fork; suicide rack on the back; black, purple and green paint job, and the gas tank painted to look like a skull with glowing green eyes.

“S’wrong?” he said. His shield and helmet completely masked his face “I’m out of gas,” I whispered.

“B’right back.” And he rode off. About fifteen minutes later he returned with a can of gas.

When I offered to pay him he said, “Wait till ya get to the station.”

I started my truck and drove the two or three miles to the station as he followed along (in the pouring rain). Again I offered to pay him. He said, “Pay the guy inside. Everything okay now?” I said yes. He said, “See ya!” And off he rode down Highway 24 toward Jacksonville, hair undone and flying in the wind, Harley roaring and throwing up spray from the pavement.

After pumping twenty-four dollars worth of gas, I went into the station and gave the attendant thirty dollars. He said, “It’s only four dollars. The other guy paid twenty and said to tell you to ‘pass it on, Brother.’”

I will always remember the kindness of the snakes-and-chains stranger on the Harley with the glowing green eyes, and I will never again judge anyone by their looks (a promise I had often made to myself). And I will always wonder, “Who was that masked man?”

As for the twenty dollars . . . I passed it on.

Robert R. Thomas

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