I was going through some old files on my computer when I found this. It is just titled ‘New Book – Title Unknown’. I thought you might like it…
The first time I saw him he was peering under the bonnet of a car, pulling at wires and whistling “Blowin’ Free”.
“Wishbone Ash,” I said.
“You know them?” he asked. He neither looked my way, nor ceased his wire pulling. I took a couple of steps backwards to stand alongside him. “Every note,” I said.
He lifted his head from his work and peered at me. He had a smudge of oil across the bridge of his nose that I wanted to wipe away. He didn’t speak. I fidgeted, unnerved by the silence. I looked down at the engine. “You got a problem?” I asked.
“Just looking for something,” he said.
“Anything I might know?”
“I think there’s a sensor.”
“What kind of sensor?”
He straightened his back and looked at me properly for the first time, swatting his hand across his face, aiming for something that as far as I could see, wasn’t there. And then he leaned back under the bonnet and recommenced his wire pulling, but I noticed that he’d shifted over a little, just enough to allow me to stoop down at his side. I peered inside.
“The lights,” he said finally.
“The lights. They know when I’m coming. They turn red… always.”
I stared at the engine, uncertain whether he was serious. He could have been psychotic, or neurotic, one of them, I’m never sure. He turned towards me, his face now only inches from my own. I realised he wore spectacles and it struck me as strange that I hadn’t noticed them before. Underneath his beard his face was tanned, not overly, but he had a weatherworn skin that actively defied any attempt to age him. There was something, I don’t quite know what, but there was something in his eyes. Was he mocking me? I felt uneasy and I realised that he hadn’t blinked. I don’t know why I noticed that. Why should I notice that? He turned back to the engine and pulled enthusiastically at a wire that might just have been very important.
“I don’t know too much about cars,” I said, “but I don’t think you want to go pulling too many of those.”
He grinned, suddenly and fleetingly and I wondered whether I had imagined it.
“Don’t worry,” he said, “I know I’ll never find it, but it’s important that they think I’m looking.”
He shook his head in a theatrical way and eased himself upright. I followed and he closed the bonnet.
“I don’t drive as much as I used to. Don’t seem to have much of a place to go these days.” We lapsed into silence again.
“Well,” he said, wiping his hands on his trousers.
“Yes,” I said. “Well…”
He held out his hand and I shook it. “Better be going, I suppose,” he said.
“You have oil on your nose.” I pointed and he wiped across his face with his sleeve. The oil spread further, the stain became paler.
“OK?” he said.
I continued on my way and he wandered off across the road ahead, when a thought struck me.
“Your car,” I shouted after him.
“Your car, you haven’t locked it.”
I could see the amusement bubbling across his face as he slowly turned away. “Don’t worry,” he said. “It’s not my car.”
© Colin McQueen 2019