1. The first ride
At the very young age of 20, a very self-disciplined, curly-haired, intelligent, beautifully built yet sloppily dressed, nervously struggling to improve her family situation, girl, had been in university for 3 out of 5 years and was on track to get that prize: a Chemical Engineering Degree from the most prestigious Engineering faculty of Venezuela and a world-recognized institution of higher education. She was cursed with the intelligence and stubbornness needed to complete the degree, while avoiding her less-lucrative field of interest: psychology. She’s equipped to be the best scientific psychologist I’ve come across: a person with the talent to read the human mind, the compassion to want to heal and the resolve to question everything. Her family - and main source of pain and self-motivation - didn’t have a car. Because of the school’s remoteness, insufficient bus runs and general safety of the campus in an otherwise violent city, she often hitchhiked back home.
At the very same age, this extroverted, tall, sheepishly cocky, curly‐haired, rebel‐without-a-cause, resolved to live in as many countries as possible, boy, had been in the same university for the same amount of time, yet had never laid eyes on such an interesting woman, who was clearly his type (his head would always turn for two other curly-haired girls at campus). This boy is the luckiest man I’ve ever known and it shows: he seems to “know” that things are gonna turn out great, with absolutely no observable reason to believe so. Born from first‐generation university graduates ‐ an immigrant father and a Venezuelan mother ‐ and raised in the absolute middle: neither luxury nor scarcity. He had by then had the fortune to live in California because of his father’s studies and spoke English with ease. His not having spent the early schoolyard years in his native city had made him a somehow awkward outsider, not fitting the Venezuelan idiosyncrasy. But at the same time he was respected by his peers and elders, yet helpless in front of children. He was so lucky indeed that for college he had the old family car ‐ in a country where petrol is cheaper than water. However, he knew he was privileged and would always (unless in extremely unpleasant mood) give rides to his fellow students under a very precise code: no distinction of gender, nationality, race, etc. and no detours ‐ you’d be dropped somewhere convenient but not at your doorstep.
One afternoon in October of 1994, at the hitchhiking spot, she wonders if she did the right thing by risking not catching a good ride soon instead of simply queuing for the bus; the uncertainty bothers her, but she knows many people have cars where she’s going ‐ she just hopes they have the kindness to stop. Then comes a small white Chevette driven by a young man she had seen a few weeks earlier and who had caught her eye: “wow, that looks like an interesting dude. nice curls, and look at that green t-shirt ‐ isn’t that from the nature show Expedición?”. She erases any silly thoughts, completely uninterested in romantic pursuits that would distract her from her goal of completing school, finding a high-paying job, moving out as soon as possible, and hopefully one day being able to help the family heal.
In the car, as he drives by the hitchhiking spot with his only brother as passenger, he stops and hollers: “dos para El Cafetal!” and by mere chance, through a glance, saw this mysterious woman. Every neuron in his body restrained him from breaking the code and offering her - and only her ‐ a ride. But remember he is a truly lucky man: El Cafetal is a convenient spot for her.
So she boards the back seat of the small car and scans her surroundings as is natural for any person in Caracas: looking for threats ‐ human threats. In the forefront of her mind, she suppresses an impulse to stare at this interesting man. But she can’t avoid seeing his curls, today covered with a knit cap. As they exit the pearly, colonial, gates of campus their eyes meet through the rearview mirror. They both know it, but at the same time they don’t.
Then they take up to a steep hill that ends, shortly after, on a merciless descent into the polluted valley of Caracas. As they climb the hill, a small truck descending on the opposite lane goes on a complete skid head‐on into their trajectory. He notices, slows down, and dodges the truck by shifting into the opposite lane. Past the brief, anticlimactic, incident he’s looking in his mind for something clever to break the ice. In the back seat, she hears him tell his brother, loudly, almost clumsily: “man, it would have been a tragedy to wreck the car and injure such a beautiful woman”. He knew it wasn’t the cleverest of icebreakers, but she somehow responds with a smile.
On the way down to the valley they ask each other which cohort they joined in and what major they’d been studying. She’s visibly surprised he isn’t her senior and he’s shocked that he’s never seen her before in all these years. They have a friend in common: María Jesús ‐ closer to her, but classmate of his. As they small talk themselves into the drop-off destination, a thought crosses his mind: “what if I break the code just this once and drive her home?” But then he remembers one of the reasons for the code is to prevent making girls uncomfortable in this stressful city. In the back seat she thinks “wow, he’s nice and interesting, was he really smiling at me in the mirror?”. He’s still thinking about dropping her home. The destination is near and they both share the same secret, inner thought: “nah, no way such a mystifying person will find me attractive”.
As they part ways, he asks for her name: “Gabriela, and yours?”
“Igor, very pleased to meet you”.