Fiction

Hitching

Photo from the Unsplash collection. CC0/Public Domain license.
Photo from the Unsplash collection.
CC0/Public Domain license.

I went home once, in the middle of the night, between Manchester and some small place in the Pennines, with a man in a blue metro who said he’d put me up for the night. I had a bed on the sofa while he went upstairs with his wife. I was tired and Sheffield was far away. Where was I going? Who knows? Who cares now? I left in the morning, said thank you and waited for a bus.

Wind-whipped hair and the flash of lights racing past – standing on a Friday night watching traffic on distant, frequented roads. The junction of the M1 and M62 deserted in the rain, high in the landscape so I could see miles of lights heading busily to places I would never reach, for reasons I didn’t have. No one knew where I was that night – there was no-one to tell because I had already severed my ties. You might see me or you might not. A slip-road between motorways – illegal to stand on, illegal to stop on. I was there a while, only visible, only existing when occa- sional cars went by, a bright cardboard cut-out with outstretched thumb, surprising them. It was a lonely night. The first dim perception that life was to skip from spot to spot like a skimming stone, everyone thinking that it was occurring elsewhere.

Sun shines on newly harvested fields, a sky pale with late afternoon heat floats above the hedges. There is the deep drone of trucks, the rushing passage of cars, wheels moving. They sound like the sea. Glass glints, metal shimmers. Over the scruffy tarmac forecourt hangs the smell of diesel and hot oil. A girl stands at the curbside facing south.

A car goes by, family saloon with little heads in the back seat. A lone man in a Jag gives her a brief glance.

A white luton van leaves the pumps, its dusty sides bare; the dark eyed driver slows but she is gazing elsewhere and bends to fiddle with the catches of her bag so he accelerates away. The girl straightens slowly and looks towards the few parked trucks, hearing a fully laden artic moving. The flatbed with the steel plate is pulling out and she holds up a cardboard sign, as he comes along the slip-road. He reins in, the cab bouncing, and she climbs up.

Little filling stations like this one are best left when the going’s good – richer pickings elsewhere…faster rides, better destinations.

The cab is grimed with the working greasy dust of years and the driver’s brown plastic bag with flask showing through its open top is wedged between the seats. He calls her “Pet” and has fatherly advice. The cab is noisy, bare and bare-boned, no plastic trim, no fascias or carpet. Off-white uppers and plate metal base with seats bolted directly onto its dark surface. Gear-stick and brake rise like home-made accessories, and the dash is endearingly simple.

He is a raw man, rangy, dark and needing a shave. His clothes are ingrained with oils and grease, brown and workman-like and he looks as if he could fix any kind of trouble and probably has. Practical. Down to earth. He is going home as usual.

Wide smile and a wave, turning towards the next trucks, holding up her sign, putting on her hopeful face.

The cushioned door closes on the outside world and the sound of engines is a smooth and furry thing, the cab undulating like a ship meeting the tide as he goes through the gears, clicking up through the box, checking mirrors, indicating. The stubby gearstick is a solid, chunky phallus and just as familiar. He is younger, blue-eyed and slightly wary, neatly groomed, wearing a quality watch; the cab is clean and smells of freshener.

Practical. Efficient. Expensive truck, clean fridge-van. Times met, schedules kept, procedures understood.