The rain came down fast and hard, the wind whipping it sideways as I walked across a parking lot toward University Drive. My jeans were soaked and my sweater glued to my body. The walk from campus to my apartment would be a long one.
A battered yellow station wagon pulled up beside me, and the driver rolled his window down. "Do you want a ride?" His face was friendly but not overly so.
"Are you a rapist?" I asked, immediately regretting the question.
"No, " he said, laughing. "I'm a corrections officer. I work at the prison."
He opened the door, and I dropped my wet backpack under the dash and climbed in. The car was old but clean. I noticed the man's own backpack on the back seat. He wasn't much older than I was.
If my grandmother had found out I'd accepted a ride from a strange man -- a strange black man, no less -- she'd have been furious. I wondered if I should be afraid. I'd always relied on my intuition to judge people, and it hadn't failed me so far, but eventually I was bound to make a mistake.
The man and I talked about school. He was studying for a criminal-justice degree during the day and working at the prison at night. When we arrived at my building, I thanked him and dashed off through the rain. I never saw the man again.
Twenty-five years later I am the adoptive mother of an African boy. As my son is growing older, I see the fearful way white strangers sometimes look at him, and I find myself wondering why that man ever stopped to help me. I understand now that he and I both took a leap of faith that day when we trusted each other.
This essay was previously published in The Sun.