(after Lu Hsun)
Let me tell you about something that happened while I was in N____ton some while ago on business. N____ton is a bit of a dump but that’s not really the point. We’d had a meeting about establishing a new branch and I’d gone with the other four for a few drinks. It was a Thursday and I had a room in a decent hotel but I wasn’t driving. My train was due to leave early the next morning, a Friday, so I didn’t want to be too late to get my beauty sleep. The others all lived in N____ton and had their commitments so I went for a solitary meal of pasta with clams. I had a bottle of Barolo as well and, while I was waiting for a taxi to take me to my hotel, I had a large Glenlivet.
The taxi was driven by a small, quiet man. He spoke English with a heavy foreign accent but simply drove through the town I had never been to before. I asked where he was from. He told me Poland and mentioned that he thought N____ton was a decent place to live.
“Yeah right,” I thought and snuggled into the seat. Perhaps I yawned. I thought I might have a nightcap when I got to my hotel. As I considered this comfortable idea, the taxi’s headlights picked out and hit a dark, hooded figure. There were screeching, squealing, screeching sounds. The car stopped. The driver wiped a hand across his brow.
“Oh no,” he said. “I hit bicycle.” He said it as ‘biss-ickle.’
He got out of the car and I watched him bend down, one hand on the bonnet. After a moment, I also got out and went to the front of the car. There I found the taxi driver on his knees in front of a boy in dark clothes. He had a cut on his face and his eyes were almost closed but he made a sound as though struggling to breathe. His black bike lay on the ground, the front wheel folded like a mussel shell, and one of his legs was still under the saddle.
“I not see,” cried the taxi driver, “until too late.”
There were no lights on the bike, either at the front or back.
“Serves him right,” I said. “He should have looked where he was going.”
The taxi driver glared at me. “That is not point,” he said.
“You couldn’t see him because he’s dressed entirely in dark colours and he’s got no lights.” I made a move to pick up the bike. “Probably a drug dealer, anyway. See, he’s got his hood up. Plus the little bag.”
The taxi driver turned to the boy. “OK? You OK?” He spoke softly.
The boy made a positive noise and tried to raise himself. “My chest hurts,” he said.
By now, the taxi driver held the boy under the armpits and hoisted him to a sitting position. The boy squealed. I picked up the bike and slung it on the grass verge.
“Help me get him in car. Hospital is no far.”
Did he really expect me to help him carry the boy to the infirmary? I didn’t know him from Adam. And the hospital would surely ask questions. Was this a case of dangerous driving? He could easily lose his licence. Anyway, I didn’t want to get blood or oil or whatever on my coat.
“Call an ambulance by all means but leave everything here,” I said. “Let’s go.”
The driver ignored me and helped the boy into the front passenger seat then went to open the back of the car. He lifted the crumpled bike into the boot but couldn’t close the lid.
“I drive like this,” he said. “It only five minutes.”
“This isn’t a good idea,” I said.
“Stay if you will,” he said, “I know what I must do.”
I got in the back seat and fastened the seat belt around me. By now it was almost eleven o’clock and the nightcap seemed to be disappearing before I’d even poured it.
“Fuck it.” I hit the roof of the car with the flat of my hand.
The driver paid me no attention until we arrived at the hospital.
“I go find invalid seat.” He strode away towards the main entrance.
As I sat in the back seat, listening to the boy moaning, I saw other cars and buses arrive and leave, people walked around on crutches and a couple of overweight nurses smoked and laughed. I wondered what an ‘invalid seat’ was. But the boy’s moaning really got on my nerves until I got out of the car, swished open the front door and unhooked the seat belt. The boy slumped forwards, one arm across his chest. He gritted his teeth and pinched his eyes as I took hold of him under his arm. I lifted him from the car so the taxi driver’s job could be made quicker and easier. I pulled an arm over my shoulder and kicked the car door closed. He whimpered and limped but, with one arm round his waist, I half dragged him towards the entrance. It was very slow going. After about ten yards, the taxi driver emerged from the door. He pushed a red wheelchair. The two of us helped the boy into it.
“Thank you,” said the taxi driver.
I took out my wallet and gave him a twenty pound note. He shrugged. I simply turned away. On the door of his vehicle was an advert with a company telephone number. I called it and was soon on my way.
Twenty quid was a lot of money for a taxi fare in those days. Looking back on the affair, I must have thought the taxi driver deserved a tip for his actions. It’s hard to say through time and my drunken haze at the time didn’t help but I must have seen the humanity of the taxi driver and taken pity or perhaps I felt charitable. I didn’t want him to be out of pocket for taking so long over his good Samaritan act.
As for the boy, well, I will never know what became of him. Was he a drug dealer? When I see black bikes ridden by boys wearing hoodies carrying those tiny bags slung across their shoulders I think they are involved in such business. They may not be of course and I should be more charitable in my outlook. The fact remains I cannot get that incident out of my mind. I should not jump to conclusions. I need to be more patient and show respect for others.