The Kudzu was wet and cool beneath her feet, but Cedered could not have known the name of the green roadside carpet on which she walked – it was as foreign as the plate of chicken gizzards she had walked away from last night, but not nearly as greasy. She only stopped to consider the slight film of oil on the ground cover as she neared a filling station that displayed a handsomely-handcrafted sign proclaiming “no gas”.
A thin, grey man was sitting on a wicker chair, and he glanced up as Cedered approached. “'Mornin', little lady. Where you headed?”
“Home, I guess,” said Cedered, glancing past him and looking far down the highway. The morning was starting to heat up, and she was not looking forward to a long walk. “Have you the time?”
“You talk kinda' funny. You ain't from 'round here. Where you from?”
“Manchester,” she replied.
“Well, hell...ain't no one from Manchester! I had a brother from up in Jasper. You know Jasper, I reckon.”
“I'm sorry,” said Cedered, “I'm not familiar with Jasper.”
“How on earth can you be from Manchester and not know Jasper? You gotta' get to Jasper now and again. Where do you go for buyin' your food and such?” asked the old man, incredulously.
“Tesco's or Sainsbury's, usually.” Cedered glanced with interest at the rusted old Ford pickup sitting nearby.
The old man just stared at her, and then smoothed out his newspaper, shook it with a bit of a snap of his wrists, and raised his eyebrows. “Well, what can I do you for, then? We ain't got no gas, and you ain't got no car, so I recon we're a right good match. You lookin' for a lift or a cup of coffee?”
“I'll make a deal with you, sir,” she began, “I will change your life and buy you a cup of coffee in exchange for the temporary loan of that old truck...assuming it has enough petrol in the tank to get me to Birmingham.”
The old man laughed and shook his head. “Change my life, eh? Young lady, I am old enough to be your granddaddy.”
“All the same,” said Cedered, “If I can whisper in your ear such a gift as to change your life, I will buy you a cup of coffee and thank you for the keys to that truck. It will be returned before nightfall. Deal?”
“Fair enough, seein' as how I can't imagine anything that would change all this...” he looked around at the bleak surroundings and the kudzu.
Cedered leaned close to the old man, whispered in his ear, slipped a small piece of paper into his hand, and touched him on the crown of his head. She stood upright and watched as the old man's eyes grew large. He swallowed twice, stood up, cleared his throat and reached into his pants pocket. “Well...thank you...thank you...The cigarette lighter don't work,” he whispered as he handed her the keys, bowing low.
“Cheers,” she said as she walked toward the truck. She pulled her shoes back on, opened the door and stepped up into the cab. The engine growled to life a turn of a key. With a friendly wave to the old man she pulled onto the highway. A glance at the gas gauge told her she would have more than enough to get to Birmingham.
This “Alabama” was a strange land, she thought. People here believe anything, as long as you claim to be royalty. She would fill the newly knighted man's tank with petrol before she sent it back from the airport, and there would be a gift card to Starbucks in the glove box.