The incident with the van was unnecessary.
It never really happened, of course, but that, considering how unnecessary it was, may be just as well. I had found myself on the edge of a village called Checkendon, waiting for someone to pick me up from the Cherry Tree Inn where I had spent part of the night. The other, earlier part, I had spent in a converted barn making up words to no end. These words were then taken by four or five individuals of varying degrees of expertise, importance and relevance to the task in hand, and essentially messed around with, much in the way I don’t like. Since it was a job I was being paid to do and that I had no emotional investment in, I kept a half-pained smile on my lips and retained some other words within, unspoken.
By 1:30 in the morning it had been decided, by one person or another who was in some way or other involved with the project, that it was now time to call it a night. So Timmah swung on his motorbike, and I was given a lift by someone else to a B&B somewhere in the countryside, where, having had only three hours sleep the previous night, I immediately went to bed but did not immediately fall asleep.
Instead, I lay awake for a few minutes pondering what my life had come to and wondering whether Timmah felt, as I did, that it would be comforting and reassuring now to hold on to each other, to curl up in one bed instead of the two and to rest in each other’s arms for a while. The option existed of knocking on his door and asking him outright, but I was too tired, and also—as so very often before—I felt that doing so might just jeopardise our easy and uncomplicated friendship.
I woke up amazingly refreshed. I am not good in the morning. I do not get up and trill a summery tune. I do not sing in the shower. I don’t (at this point in my life) yoga and I don’t jog. The only time I get to see dawn is when I’m still up from the night before. But the job in the barn appeared to demand that having left there barely six hours before, we return and continue the dance of irrelevance. Timmah and I had a hearty breakfast which—it later turned out—I enjoyed more than he did, and he then swung himself back on his bike, while I waited for the shortish man with the blonde eyelashes to drop by and pick me up in his car, as he’d promised he’d do the night before.
This took a little longer than I expected because apparently he forgot, and so after breakfast I checked out and sat myself at a wooden garden table outside the pub, enjoying the early sunshine and continuing to ponder the stark insignificance of my own existence.
I was just getting to the point where I thought there’s only so much pondering you can do without anything actually happening, when a rather large man in a larger still van appeared, not quite out of nowhere, but still unannounced. He drove up to nearly as far as he could across the gravelled parking lot—otherwise empty—and purposely decabbed, opened the back, took from it what looked like a plastic tray of something or other and carried it to what one imagines must be the tradesmen entrance or the kitchen, his protruding belly leading the way.
What happened next is, of course, pure fantasy, but what do you do when you’re in the middle of nowhere, called upon to go back to the outskirts of somewhere to pursue the pointless depletion of your brain at the hands of a bunch of people you have nothing in common or store with (except, most certainly, Timmah) and who drain your soul, talking and thinking and living in terms of things that are ‘key’, when in front of you is a getaway van. Stuff in the back, probably food to last for a week, or at any rate something that has at least some sort of value, intrinsic or not. Engine running. Cab door open. Driver at least twenty, maybe thirty seconds off guard. Possibly more. He’d never dream of somebody doing what I did next. A few seconds passed. Tic. Toc. Toc. Tic. No sign of him yet. Cab door open. Engine running. I would be caught within minutes. Or would I?…
I peel off the pub bench on which I had perched and pick up my backpack, not very large. I take two paces towards the van, maybe three. No sign of the driver. What is he doing? Probably having a chat with chef. Or with the girl at reception, more likely. Twenty paces, twenty-four. Thirty. I’m not really counting. I step up to the door nearest me, passenger side, on the left. The slide across to the driver’s seat will be awkward. I unsling my backpack, when: ‘Oi!’
Large man looms even larger as he strides towards me red-faced with rage. For once, my brain cells don’t desert me. Cool as a cucumber I reach across the wheel and turn off the engine. Slide back down, re-slinging the backpack, and look at him frankly, as he approaches. ‘Oh, I’m so sorry, I thought you might be a while…’
Fucking this bloody that and the usual, but my boldness, I believe, stunned him, into submission. He slammed the back shut, heaved himself into his driver’s position and, revving loudly, took off. He could have crushed me. Decked me or punched me. Nothing of the sort. He just made his departure loud.
I felt a little prouder that morning than I had done before. Not for infuriating a simple bloke, but for daring myself. Perhaps, I then thought, that’s my lesson today: perhaps I should simply adopt a more adventurous lifestyle and push myself further, a little, now and then, to the edge…