The phone rang. One of the kids had been messing with the damn thing so I wasn’t immediately aware what was going on. The CD was belting out some fine blues and there was this thin weepy sound running below, just on this side of conscious. A mild arrhythmia over my heart finally helped me put it together – the damn mobile phone in my shirt was vibrating and… yes… actually crying to be answered.
Which was a relief in one sense, I’m not going to keel over the steering wheel with a cracked pump and disappear with the old banger over the cliff. At least, not today.
Talking on a mobile phone is illegal when you’re driving. Like many other agreeable activities which one can get up to behind the wheel, yes… many agreeable activities (dreams for a moment)… Whoa! I almost left the road there. Jeez – that was close.
So, since I don’t have a chauffer like the head of the traffic department, a political oaf called Pere Navarro, and therefore can’t answer the phone and plan my next piece of business; and, unlike Mr Navarro, who is concerned about the heady mixture of saving lives, pissing people off and furthering his brilliant career in the PSOE, I just want to sell another set of encyclopaedias… Shit! I'll have to pull off the road.
There’s a handy lip on our roads, called the arcén. That’s where you go when you need to stop the car and do something else. You don’t want to spend too long on the arcén as it can be quite dangerous, with truck drivers thundering past your narrow ledge of safety or perhaps, nodding off as the tachometer clicks into the red, they drive straight in, through and over you. The sod never even noticed.
Then, there’s the road-cops, los primos. The cousins.
You can’t loiter with your vehicle on the arcén unless you have your emergency lights on, are wearing a kind of psychedelic pyjama top and have placed your warning triangles both fifty metres before and behind.
Unless it’s a motor-bike. They haven’t figured out where you can carry the triangles yet.
If they show, the cops are going to want to see if you carry spare light bulbs, a driving licence and the rest of it – and they will be looking for illegal immigrants hiding under the spare wheel, traces of narcotics in the ashtray and an illegal radar trap apparatus stuffed down your jumper.
Pere Navarro has introduced the ‘points system’ now. You start with twelve on your licence and the police are under instruction to start the carving. Aggressively. They take any more and, shit, I’m walking home. It’s all right for Pere, he can always get another chauffer.
All this to answer the phone, which has stopped ringing by now anyway.
So, I pull the stupid yellow day-glo number on, over my head. The price tag is flapping on my chest so I wrench it off and (no one looking) throw the bloody thing into the undergrowth.
To the boot of the car to get the triangles. You need to carry two of them – one for ahead and the other for behind. They had better not blow over, the cops might think I just threw them onto the road in a petulant rage.
I take the first one up the road and pace out fifty metres, forty-nine, fifty. Then back to the car and repeat the same process the other way. I will have walked over a quarter of a kilometre by the time I'm through with this but, anyway, I’ve dumped the second warning sign on the ground here on the curve and I've brought the phone and am now gonna…
There’s some bloke up-road from me. He’s standing a hundred metres away, just by my front triangle. It trembles in the slight wind. –You wanna buy this thing off me, he shouts.
-You fuck the fuck off, bastard! A huge trailer rumbles past and the triangle, grateful for the distraction, is blown off the border and flitters down into the valley below.
I’ve picked at the phone now for the re-dial and am walking back to the car, one eye on the gypsy and the other out for the cops. I’ve got my surviving triangle tucked under my arm where it gently rips my pyjama top.
It was a wrong fucking number. But you knew that.