06 Aug The Passenger
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"The Passenger"Written by Villan
Estimated reading time — 8 minutes
“So….” The voice paused. “What exactly happened here?” The rain had been beating down all day long. It was late by now and the weather reports had said that there was no sign of it stopping any time soon. Not only was it late, it was also wet and cold, and if those weather reports were to be totally believed, it was about to get a whole lot colder too.
There was just the deafening sound of the rain beating down and no answer to the question. “What happened here?” Again, there was just the sound of rain, if it wasn’t for that sound there would have been nothing more than a dramatic silence as the young woman looked up. In front of her was a tall man in his 40’s. He looked friendly enough. But it was hard to tell in the dark, in the rain and with only the light from his car headlights behind him illuminating him like something from a bad science fiction movie.
She had been sat at the roadside in half in the car, sat on the passenger seat with the door open, her feet on the tarmac partly shielded by the roadside and the metal barrier alongside the car, elbows in her lap almost hugging herself and her head bowed forward, her hair soaked by the relentless rain, droplets and streams of water trailing down her face, her makeup smudged and running down her cheeks. But now she was looking up, squinting into the light, against the water in her eyes, shivering and murmuring softly under her breath.
“I wasn’t there…I don’t know” Over and over.
He couldn’t be sure if she was talking to him, herself or if she had lost her mind. “Hello?” He said, almost asking if she was there in the same reality as him. She looked up again, shuddering as though she’d been slapped and bought back down to earth. She just stared at him through panda like blackened eyes, soaked and obviously distressed. There was that silence again, broken only by the rain, and as if by a strange coincidence a faint rumble of distant thunder.
She blinked a few times and gave a seemingly inquisitive “hmmmm?”
“So, what happened?” He asked again, his tone of voice was still friendly and warm. “Are you….”He paused before adding the word “hurt?” There was another crack of thunder. It made him jump a little and showed him to be not so much vulnerable but to at least have some humanity about him. He looked up and around himself and sighed at the weather. It had been raining like this all day long, and it had been a long day, uneventful and monotonous. It always was in this area, not quite the town, not quite the countryside but still within easy reach of those pounding nightclubs and the middle of nowhere. He wanted to get back home to his house, his dog, his TV to check on the football results as he’d missed yet another match due to work commitments. But it was just typical that the evening would get interesting right at the end of his working day. A working day that had seemed to last around 30 years.
The car she sat in was pretty much wrecked. It was an old blue Fiesta that probably should never have been on the road. And other than it’s now wrecked state it wouldn’t have taken Jeremy Clarkson to spot this car had seen better days. It was mostly still on the road, but was entangled in amongst a roadside barrier and a speed camera’s pole. Its distinctive yellow box looking very sorry for itself, scratched and scuffed on the road’s surface, just by the driver’s side of the car. It seemed this car had been travelling too fast and had taken out the camera designed to deter the boy racers that used this stretch of road regularly at night. He smiled at the thought of this, these cameras were
the bane of his existence as a taxi driver, and he tried to talk to the girl again. “I was never a big fan of that thing.” He motioned towards the sorry looking device, before looking at the girl again. She seemed not to notice his attempt at jocular conversation.
“I wasn’t there…..”She said, this time loud enough to hear over the rain.
The taxi driver sighed as she said it. To most it wouldn’t have made sense, but in his line of work he’d seen a lot. He’d seen different people from different walks of life, in different states of intoxication, inebriation and much, much worse. It seemed tonight was going to be longer than he necessarily wanted it to be.
The girl sat shivering, soaking wet. She’d stopped mumbling to herself now and was staring quite intently at the man in front of her. He introduced himself, he wasn’t sure she’d take it in, but thought he at least owed her that. “Dave” He said. “Dave Ferry”
“D-Dave?” she stumbled upon the name. “Everybody knows a Dave, Dave is a friendly name” her voice shook a little, sounded quite confused. She looked up at him, again that strange meteorological coincidence happening again, the thunder seemed to accompany his image as he stood there. He just smiled. At least she’d taken that much in. “So….” He knew he’d probably regret asking again “what happened here?”
She just shrugged, “Don’t know, wasn’t here.” She said.
“You can’t sit here all night, you should get to…” Another clap of thunder hammered through the sky cutting him off with it’s ferocious volume “anywhere that isn’t here really.”
She looked up at him, nodding in agreement but with a puzzled look on her face, it was as though she was forgetting something, maybe it was where she was as she was so adamant that she “wasn’t there”.
Dave saw her slowly get up from the car seat, looking around, she shrugged as she seemed to realise she’d never remember what she’d forgotten and decided trying to figure it out was useless. He put an arm out to steady her as she wobbled on her feet. “Come on, “ He said softly. “My cab, it’s over there.” He motioned towards his car, a taxi that looked even older than her Fiesta. It was a red Austin Maxi. The girl looked at Dave and at the car, surprised. She hadn’t seen one of those in about 20 years. Her dad had one back then, and even then it was almost ready to be scrapped. But this car looked well kept, certainly looking much younger than it’s 30 something years.
He helped her to the car, opening the passenger door and invited her to sit inside, it seemed familiar, that smell of leather seats combined with stale cigarettes. It reminded her of her father’s old car. She could see the taxi drivers badge hanging from the rear view mirror, and what seemed to be a prehistoric radio that was eerily quiet apart from the odd hiss of static and the odd little snippet of voice coming through. She looked through the windscreen as Dave walked around the car, the rain seemed to hammer down that little bit more as she wiped the hair back from her face, trying to dry her rain sodden cheeks with her coat sleeve.
He finally got into the car, sitting into the driver’s seat closing his door behind him. But he didn’t start the engine right away, he reached into the glove compartment, pulling out a box of tissues. He
looked at her with a solemn smile, offering her the box so she could dry her face. “It’s OK.” He said. “This happens a lot in my line of work.” He smiled that solemn smile again.
She took the box, brushing her finger against his as she did. He had big hands, rough hands, but they were cold. They weren’t clammy or unpleasant, just cold. It seemed a strange contrast to somebody so warm and friendly seeming. “Thanks.” She almost whispered. It seemed she was getting her mind back a little.
“You don’t know what happened?” Asked Dave after she passed him the box back, and sat toying with the wet tissue.
She sighed. “I don’t know. I wasn’t there.” She continued to play with the tissue for a while before talking again. “I was just sat there, I don’t know how I got there or what happened. I’ve been there for I don’t know how long. But I know where I am. I’m a few miles from home.”
Dave smiled. Again, the smile seemed solemn. He still had that warm and friendly air about him, but he seemed a lot more serious now. Most would say that he was procrastinating, that he had something to say, something important. And on seeing that smile, that solemn expression in his eyes even the girl could see this in her shocked and confused state. She stared at him, the first thing that came to mind was how convenient and coincidental it was that a taxi driver should have been on hand like this. She watched as he picked up the radio handset, it seemed to crackle into life as he did. Before he spoke into it he asked her softly. “Is there anything you’ve forgotten? Anything you need before I take you wherever you need to go?”
Wherever she needed to go. Such an odd phrase, but this was an odd situation, so as such she brushed off the comment, slowly shaking her head and shrugging as if she didn’t know but was saying no at the same time. “You’re sure?” He asked one last time. The rain pelting down outside even heavier. She nodded this time.
He exhaled a long deep sigh. “OK…” He spoke into the radio. It crackled as he did so. “I’m bringing her home.” She looked at him, totally shocked at the words he used. I’m bringing her home. He put a hand on her shoulder, comforting and motioned towards the window. Outside it was raining, and the world was melting away. The once quiet road a hubbub of life, the only thing constant was that rain, still heavier than before. The once quiet road was filled with lights, red, blue and the rain was drowned out by voices, so many voices and people.
The car was still there, still wrecked. But now it was surrounded by people, emergency vehicles and that’s when she noticed, in the back of the ambulance parked by the crippled blue Fiesta something that most wouldn’t. She stared right through the wall of people into the back of the vehicle and noticed the sheet being pulled over, the girl beneath it dressed the same, exactly the same as she was. She was speechless, transfixed, shocked wouldn’t even begin to explain the look on her face. A shiver of fear ran down her spine as clarity and confusion combined in her head. It was as though she’d just realised something she couldn’t explain. It was like she’d seen her own past present and future at the exact same moment. She carried on looking. At the man standing there screaming in anguish at the sight in the ambulance. At the sad face of the police woman who was talking to him, at the solemn, serious faces of the onlookers, who had that same look on their face that Dave, sat next to her had. He looked at her, there was a certain sadness in his eyes at the young girl sat next to
him. She couldn’t have been any older than 19, maybe 20 years old. And still through the sound of the rain, she could hear the anguished cries of that man, slowly approaching the ambulance.
Dave put back the handset to the radio and sighed. Reaching for one of the knobs on it, he turned it, static filled the car, drowning out the rain, the cries of the man who was now in the ambulance. The static wavered through a few voices, more static until finally a tearful, destroyed voice she instantly recognised came through with simple words “I’m so sorry, it should have been me. I love you” She mouthed the words back. “I love you.” She stopped as she saw Dave look to her and put a supportive, yet oddly comforting hand back on her shoulder, giving her time to say “I forgive you” before turning off the now hissing radio. She now knew that she’d been there all along.
Tears fell from her eyes as Dave started up the old car and slowly they drove away. He remained silent as she sobbed uncontrollably, hunched over in the position she’d been found in. Those words echoing in her head “I’m bringing her home.” “I’m so sorry” “I wasn’t even there”
She said it again. One last time. “I wasn’t even there.”
He turned to her and smiled as the car picked up speed. She wiped tears from her eyes and looked at him as he replied “Funny, 30 years ago…..neither was I.”