The Summer Drive
Martin Hooijmans | Lars de Ruyter
Many summers ago, I was at a crossroads in my life. I had no job, no education and no future wishes. In short, I was trying to figure out what to do with my life.
Desperate for money, I decided on taking a temporary job called the Summer Drive. For a number of weeks I joined Mike, a middle-aged truck driver who delivered parcels for a few weeks while the regular mailman was trudging around Europe with his family. Mike was a well-known face around town, having driven the Summer Drive for as long as I could remember. The man, however, only appeared in summer. Any other time of year nobody would even catch a glimpse of the man, an occurrence which had granted him the nickname ‘Summer Santa’. The comparison didn’t stretch far, though. Sure, he had a pretty long beard, dark blond with patches of grey in there. Sure, he had a big belly. In personality, however, he couldn’t differ more from the bellowing, jolly man in red. Mike didn’t talk much. Most of the time, we would simply sit in the truck, listening to the country music radio station the man liked. Or, rather, which I thought he liked, because he never showed any signs of emotion. We would just drive, pull up to the addresses we had to visit and deliver the parcels. To be honest, I can’t say I cared much about it at that time. It was awkward, sure, but my own mind was filled with questions, the main one being how I was going to make my fortune. Little did I know that the answer would present itself to me soon.
On the final day of our drive, Mike drove us out of town, leading the truck over many miles of dirt road, straight into the middle of nowhere. I had never seen the place, and soon began to doubt that there would be anything out there when a lone farm house appeared on the horizon. Mike pulled up to it and turned off the engine, something he hadn’t done before. “Open the back, will you?” he said. I was a little suspicious already at the time, but did what he said and went around the back to open the doors. To my surprise, there was only one little, rectangular package tucked in a corner. I leaped inside and retrieved it, then found Mike a little distance away from the truck, perfectly composed as always, but somehow different.
“Please open it,” he said.
“I can’t, it’s not mine,” I replied.
It occurred to me that I hadn’t checked the label yet, which clearly stated my name. The whole thing was getting stranger by the minute, but thinking it might be Mike’s idea of a nice parting gift, I cut the tape and opened the cardboard box. I immediately dropped it, astonished to say the least, and staggered back. The package contained a pair of gloves, a stack of money and, the thing that really scared me, a shotgun.
“What do you want?” I said. My voice was out of control.
Mike didn’t move an inch. He just stood there, perfectly calm. “I want you to put on the gloves.” Then, at my obvious reluctance to do so, he added, “Please.”
To this day I don’t know what drove me at that point, but my body leaned over, took the gloves and put them on.
“Good,” Mike said, “now take the shotgun.”
I did. The weapon felt heavy in my hands, like a true burden. It felt wrong. “What do you want me to do with it?” I asked.
“I want you to shoot me.”
Maybe I had grown used to the situation already, since my reaction wasn’t nearly as extreme as I would have expected it to be. “Shoot you?”
“The money in the parcel is yours, whatever you decide to do. However, in my breast pocket I hold a key that will give you access to the house, and a combination lock that will open a safe. You won’t ever have to work again.”
My mind swam, hardly registering the untold riches Mike spoke of. “You want to die?”
“I have my reasons. You have yours to take the money.”
“Why do you want me to do it?”
“I don’t have the guts to do it myself. I’ve tried. Now, if you will, raise the gun up to my chest or take the truck and go.”
Now, any sensible man would have jumped in the truck straight away, but as I mentioned at the very start of this tale, I was at a crossroads in my life, unsure of who I was and who I wanted to be. Believe me, there was a strong pull inside me that wanted me to drive off into the sunset. However, there was another very strong pull that liked the idea of untold riches and urged me to raise the gun. It told me that it would be a clean crime, that out there it would be easy to dispose of the body. Nobody knew or cared about Summer Santa. His disappearance would just turn him into a bit of an urban myth. And besides, the man wanted to die himself. Where was the crime in giving him what he wanted? These thoughts raised the gun for me.
I vividly remember Mike’s eyes at that point. They were light blue, wide open, and I could see fear in them. Fear of dying, even though he wanted to depart this world. Fear that kept me from pulling the trigger and taking my reward. We stood there for what felt like at least an hour, none of us talking, none of us taking action. It sounds strange, but up to this day I have never felt closer, more connected to anyone than this man. We did not speak, but in that hour we became more than colleagues, more than a victim and his killer, more than an old man and a boy. We became brothers.
“Why?” I finally asked him one more time. And that time, he gave me an answer.
“Look around you,” he said, voice trembling in the first real display of emotion I had seen from him. “Look around you and tell me this is worth living for. My wife is dead. So are my children. This godforsaken place is all I have left.”
“But you have money. Why don’t you use it?”
“I can’t,” and with that, the conversation was over. The tone Mike used in these final two words said more about his history than anything else could have. Before me stood a broken man, a man who had made sacrifices he could never atone for. All he wanted was a way out, a thing he could not provide himself, not because he didn’t have the guts for it, like he said, but because he wouldn’t allow it.
I did not fire the gun that day. I also did not take the money. I left Mike on the spot, placing the gun at his feet and driving off into the sunset. As far as I could spot him in the rearview mirror, he never budged. Maybe he was caught in disbelief. Maybe he had never been that close to death. Maybe he was once more considering to do it himself, only to come to the conclusion that he couldn’t. Maybe.
Throughout my life, I’ve thought often of the man. I wonder if he ever found a kid on his Summer Drive who did pull the trigger. I wonder how he got his hands on all the money, and how it caused him to lose his family. I wonder how life would have been for me if I had made the other decision.
Mike taught me a valuable lesson about life. On the drive home that day, I pledged that I would always work hard and honestly, and I have held myself to it. Life should be lived in full, not lived in regret. That is what my Summer Drive taught me.