“Why would anyone want to shift gears?” Harshan complained as we hiccoughed down the road. We just kept driving back and forth over the same stretch of road, passing the same old man sunning himself on a park bench. Harshan had gotten his driver’s license in mother’s car; now I was attempting to teach him the fine art of shifting gears.
“Because it’s more efficient,” I explained. Just a few more lessons, I thought, and my husband will be shifting for himself! “You can get automatic transmission to shift gears for you, but it wastes gasoline, and you don’t have as much control of the car, especially in snow.” I explained. I learned how to shift gears in an old truck on my grandparents’ farm in Wisconsin, and I’ve always preferred standard to automatic transmission. In high school it was a great way to impress boys who made fun of my eye.
“Hmph,” he remarked in exasperation as the car stalled again. “Why doesn’t some human invent a variable speed transmission, so that there aren’t any gears to shift at all?” The engine caught, and we continued hopping like a bunny down the road.
The man on the bench waved and smiled, but it just made Harshan blush with embarrassment.
A variable speed transmission, I thought wistfully, a very elegant and simple mechanical solution to the problem of shifting gears. That’s what all the cars on Homeland had. “I think it has been invented here,” I said, “but they haven’t made it practical yet.”
“Maybe we should wait,” Harshan said through gritted teeth as we lurched to a dead halt. “Or I could just drive your mother’s car, or something.”
“Never fear! It’s really an easy skill to learn,” I soothed. A blue car cut in front of us. “After all, even I could learn it, so it can’t be that hard!”
Harshan turned his head, and his eyes smiled at me, “Melissaleoma, laskedo kar...” he began. Bam! We hit the blue car in the rear.
Harshan uttered some Halakanian phrase as he pounded the steering wheel a couple times with his fist. I gave him the dignity of not requesting a translation. I looked up and saw a female figure get out of the blue car with exaggerated, sarcastic motions. She started to march towards us, but dropped her purse. It came open when it hit the asphalt, and several items rolled under the car. With a sarcastic glare, she got down on her hands and knees and retrieved everything. Then, clutching her purse, she stood up, brushed herself off, and marched up to Harshan’s window.
“I do believe that you need to call the police,” she announced sternly. “You do have a phone, don’t you?”
So we called the police, although I’m not sure why. It was a sort of non-accident; there was no damage to either car that I could see.
“Your car isn’t even scratched!” I protested as I got out of the car, “so what’s the big deal?”
“You rear-ended me, and that means that you are at fault for the accident,” she hissed, “I could have been seriously hurt!” We got into an lengthy argument until Harshan finished the phone call.
“The police are coming,” he announced. “Are you feeling okay?”
The woman was taken aback by his sincere concern. “Why, uh, I believe I’m quite all right.” It took her a moment to recoup her nastiness. “My husband is a lawyer,” she threatened, “and he’ll make mince meat out of you in court!”
“Why would he want to do that?” Harshan asked out of a genuine desire to know.
“Because you hit me!” the woman screamed impatiently. “I just bought this car last week!”
“Excuse me ma’am,” said Harshan, calmly interrupting her tirade, “but there is no damage to either vehicle or to any of the passengers. How can your husband possibly take legal action against us?”
“You hit me, and you’re at fault. Don’t try and get out of that!” She paused for a breath, “In a rear-end collision, the car in back is always at fault, except when the car in front is moving backwards,” she lectured.
“That only makes sense, ma’am,” Harshan conceded, “and you are quite right that I am at fault. I was trying to learn how to shift gears, and I didn’t pay attention.”
The woman was surprised to hear him admit guilt; and frankly I was alarmed. The basic rule of automobile accidents is never assume responsibility for the accident on the scene.
“At least we’re making progress,” the woman huffed, “this will make things very easy for us in court!”
“Oh, I don’t think we will go to court,” Harshan said quietly, rubbing the hood of the car absentmindedly with his hand.
“Why not?” the woman demanded sharply.
“Because you have one tiny little problem with your case!” Harshan said. He still didn’t look up.
The woman placed her hands on her hips and shook her head from side to side as she said, “Just what ‘little problem’ do I have with my case?” Her voice dripped with belittling sarcasm. “You’ve admitted guilt!”
“Only verbally, and without any witnesses, except for my wife,” Harshan said, indicating me. “The problem with your case is that you can’t prove that an accident even happened! There is no evidence, no damage to the cars, nothing!”
“You don’t know that,” she said resentfully, “I might have whiplash!”
Harshan pointed casually over to the old man on the park bench. “That man can’t hear what we’re saying, but he’s close enough to have seen you bend over, pick up your purse, and reach under your car to retrieve something,” Harshan looked at her straight in the eye, “We could summon him as a witness in court. So if you are thinking of faking an injury, that possibility does not exist.”
The woman was reduced to furious silence.
Finally, the policeman came and offered the opinion that the “accident” was of no consequence. The woman was clearly out for blood, but the policeman refused to get involved in an argument with her.
“As far as I’m concerned,” he told her flatly, “No accident has happened.” She stood there shaking her fist as he got into his police car and drove a way. Finally, she stomped off in a cloud of accusations, got in her car and drove away too.
Of course, we never heard from her again.
“I am so sorry that you had to go through that,” I apologized in Thorgelfaynese as I drove us home. We could learn to shift gears another day, and preferably in an empty parking lot. “Most humans aren’t like that.”
“That’s okay,” Harshan reassured. “It wasn’t really a very difficult situation to deal with.”
“How do you mean?” I asked, as I flipped the lever to signal for a turn.
“It’s just like dealing with an adolescent.” He leaned back in the car seat and stretched out his legs with a sigh. “Most human adults are adolescents by Homelander standards. You just have to make allowances.”