The name Marla sounded familiar. It was an unusual name, and I was pretty sure I’d seen it before, but couldn’t place it. She was at a 7-Eleven in Virginia Beach.
As I pulled in, I saw three young people having what seemed to be a heated conversation beside a car in the parking lot. Two young black men and a woman. As soon as I stopped, Marla exited the store and made a beeline for my car.
Marla was striking. Petite and light-skinned, with a blonde wig and a bikini-model figure. Big bright eyes and straight white teeth. She wore short shorts and a revealing, brightly colored top like a vest, held together with black laces.
She spoke to the group in the parking lot as she got into the backseat.
“Call me when y’all done arguing. You know I can’t do it. I got sh– to do!”
She shut the door firmly and we pulled away.
“You came at just the right time. I was in the store fuming and ready to go.”
“So, I came to your rescue?”
“Yes, you did.”
“That one guy–we used to date. Well, I used to date both of them, actually–”
“Not at the same time, I hope.”
“No. Ha ha. Well, my ex-girlfriend’s baby daddy, who used to be my boyfriend, had a rap performance tonight and they had to push everybody’s time back and the guy before him took so long that there wasn’t time for him to perform and he was really mad. So, he made a big scene. He was yelling at the security guard, the promoter, everybody. It was embarrassing…”
Let me interrupt here. Marla was chatty. I can’t possibly recount the entire conversation. She spoke quickly but clearly and articulately.
She explained how her ex-boyfriend’s anger had ruined her night. She didn’t have time for his nonsense.
“Nobody knew I even called an Uber until you got here. I mean, I’ve got other things to do. My girlfriend keeps hitting me up. Lots of other friends are hitting me up, you know?”
“I’m a considerate person. That’s the way I am. And I don’t understand people who are inconsiderate. I guess it’s because they’re fire signs, and I’m a water sign. I don’t know why I like to hang out with fire signs.”
“What does that mean–fire signs and water signs?”
“Well, my girlfriend and my ex-girlfriend–the one we just left–are both Leos. That’s an earth sign, but earth and fire, they’re similar. They both are passionate and hot-tempered. They like to fight. Water signs are softer and like to just get along.”
“I’m an Aquarius,” I said, “So, I guess I’m a water sign,”
“Yes. The Water Bearer. And I’m a Cancer.”
“That’s like a crab, right? So they live in the water…”
“Got it. I never thought about it before. I don’t really pay much attention to astrology stuff.”
“Really? That’s all I do!”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, I’m a very spiritual person. I read cards and do astrology. I love numerology. If I hang around people long enough I can figure out their sign. I can predict how they’re going to act. And I know if I want to be around that person or not.”
“Do you make a living doing this stuff? Are you a medium or something?”
“No. I’m just a very spiritually sensitive person.”
She talked more about signs and how they reveal what people are like. And how it explains what happened back there with her friends. She talked about all her water-sign friends and how loving they are.
“Are you from around here?” I asked.
“No, I’m from Utah.”
“Utah? How’d you end up here? Are you visiting?”
“I am visiting now, but I used to live here. About four or five years ago, my mom got fired from her job in Utah. So, she looked on a map and just saw Virginia Beach and said, ‘That’s where I wanna go.’ So we literally packed up in one day and moved here the next day.”
“Wow. That’s crazy. How old were you?”
“Well, I’m twenty-four now, so I was like nineteen.”
“Okay. So, you were out of school by then.”
“Oh, yeah. Actually, I was in some trouble in Utah.”
“So, you came and got into trouble here in Virginia?” I kidded.
“Yeah, because I can’t keep these fire signs away from me!” she laughed.
“Sure. Blame it on the fire signs.”
“Actually, the girl I’m dating now, I met in Utah. We’ve known each other all our lives. But we were apart for years.”
“And you found her here in Virginia?”
“No, I sent for her.” She laughed. “She had moved to Denver and I was in New York, so I called her and said, ‘Meet me in New York.’ Then she moved with me to Alabama.”
“Wait, I’m lost. Alabama?”
“Yeah, six months ago I moved to Alabama. She came with me.”
“Okay. So, you’re from Utah, moved here five years ago, but then went to New York. And now you live in Alabama but are visiting Virginia Beach?”
“Yeah, sort of. I’m visiting my mom. She still lives here. But I’m about to move to Vegas.”
Marla laughed again. She laughed throughout the conversation, in fact. Sh was effervescent.
“I know, I’m crazy. I’ve always been kind of a Lone Ranger.”
“You’re a wanderer. A rolling stone.”
“Exactly. I’m a rolling stone.”
We were getting close to her destination by this time, which was an extended-stay hotel in Chesapeake. There are several hotels near each other, and I wasn’t sure which one was hers.
“Is it this hotel here?”
“No. It’s farther down. But I have a room here too.”
“You do? Why?”
“Oh, my friend got a room there, and we kicked it a little, but he left and gave me the key, so now I sort of have two rooms.”
“So, which one do you want me to take you to?”
“Oh, the other one. My snakes are there.”
I laughed. “Snakes? What? I have to tell you, Marla. You are the most interesting passenger I’ve had in a long time.”
We pulled up to her hotel and I gave her a blog business card. I told her there’s a good chance she’d make the blog. She seemed to like the idea.
“So, snakes?” I wanted to know more.
“Yeah, my snakes are here, and my German girls are here.”
“Your German girls. What does that mean?”
“These girls I met in New York. They are Hungarian, but they’re from Germany.”
“I know. That’s all I understand. They don’t speak much English. They speak Hungarian. But they came from Germany.”
“And they are in there with your snakes?”
“Oh, no. I have them in another suite. They work for me.”
I was even more confused. “They work for you? What do you do?”
Marla began laughing. “Nothing–”
“You can’t tell me?”
She paused, then shook her head. “I’m a madame.”
“No. Come on.”
“Yes, I’m a madame. I have girls that work for me. It’s weird. I’m really not trying to be doing that. I mean, I’m a working girl myself. My girlfriend from Utah actually got me started doing this. But I don’t know. There’s something about my aura I guess that just attracts women. They want me to help them, and they want to work for me. And I’m like, I just want to do me. I make good money, and they are sort of like competition, you know? But I can’t help it.”
“So, are you moving to Vegas because it’s legal there?”
“I mean, that too. I’m moving to a mini-mansion in Vegas. I’m gonna start stripping and I’m gonna have a girl there. And I’ll probably bring the German girls too because they got in some trouble in New York and they can’t go back to their country, so they want to stay with me. And I have a boyfriend, so there’s just so much going on…”
“You have a girlfriend and a boyfriend?”
“Yes. And we all live together.” She giggled. “I mean, she’s been my best friend forever, and I told her to come live with me and my boyfriend, and we can keep doing what we’ve been doing since we were little…”
“Since you were little?
“I mean, not little. Since I was like nineteen when she got me started working. She dropped out of high school to go to work. And these people took her to Vegas and–I don’t know–they turned her out. Then she came back to Utah and turned me out, and I started working. And we was running Utah. And then we started getting in trouble. Well, she did. I mean, she’s a Leo and that’s a fire sign, so she’s crazy. Started getting in fights, so she left. Then I left too.”
She told me that both she and her friend, who has kids in Denver, take care of their families financially. They both support their moms.
“My mom knows what I do. She helps me. She takes all the calls. She helps me out and I pay her.” She laughed again.
“This is all…I don’t know what.” I said.
“It’s all f–ed up is what it is. But I’m trying to keep it all together.”
She brought up the mansion in Vegas again.
“A mansion? Really? How can you afford a mansion?”
“Actually, we could have had it a lot sooner, but my boyfriend wanted a Benz, so I got him a Benz. But now we’re getting the mansion. I make really good money.”
“I guess so.”
After five or six minutes of her telling me her story, parked outside her hotel, she finally said goodbye. I didn’t know what to say, so I wished her luck.
I’ve driven strippers and prostitutes before. They all had some things in common. They were all broke. All desperate and a little sad. At least they all made me sad. Marla was different. She was bright and full of life. Smart, confident, and winsome. I had the impression that she could be a success at just about anything.
When I told my wife about Marla the next morning, she said, “You’ve driven her before.”
“Wasn’t she the one you picked up at the Oceanfront with the older guy?”
It didn’t dawn on me until that moment. And I still can’t believe I didn’t make the connection right away. The name Marla had sounded familiar because I’d given her a memorable ride several weeks earlier. At least I thought it was memorable.
I had picked her up in the driveway of a multi-million dollar house right on the ocean. When I pulled up, she was embracing a much older white man. He looked to be about sixty. He opened the door and helped her in.
“I love you, sweetie,” she had said.
“I love you, too,” he replied with a big smile.
“I left you some money on the dresser,” she said.
“You did what?”
“Never mind. It’s fine. I’ll see you soon. Give me a kiss.”
He leaned in and kissed her.
I only drove her a couple miles that night and wouldn’t have had time to ask all the questions in my head even if I could have figured out how to begin.
I don’t know how I didn’t recognize Marla the second time. But I sure got some questions answered.