I am going to die in leopard print shoes.
The rasta on the London-Bristol bus who molested me when I was 21 and then grabbed my palm and told me I was going to die aged 62 in a car crash got his dates confused thanks to all the weed he’d just smoked in the piss pot cubicle that passed for a National Express toilet. He meant 37.
Don’t look, I tell myself. Better to just close your eyes. If you meet your oblivion in the form of a herd of emaciated cows or a Coca-Cola lorry best do it with eyes shut.
But I can’t. My eyes flash open… just in time to see the driver swerving out of the way of a chundering, belching bus.
Dear god, Jesus Christ… I invoke every Christian saint, archangel and then the whole trifecta of God one more time, before starting on the Hindu deities. But hang on, is it wise to call on Shiva. Is he not the god of destruction? And what about Kali? If I call on them won’t they just want to join the fun and throw in some extra carnage?
Vomit calcifies in my throat. It’s like that Universal Studio Mummy ride I took Alula on by mistake that time that left us both mute and whimpering. Foot to the floor rocket-fuelled acceleration is interspersed with whiplash inducing braking when the driver chickens in his game of chicken with the lorry that says ‘Blow Horn OK’ on its rear end.
Oh god. I have a chokehold lash mark across my sternum and a five-pointed bruise on my leg from where my fingers have been trying to twist off my own kneecap.
I’m usually laissez-faire about death. A your time’s up when time’s up kind of attitude. I’ve lived in Bali for five years where you take your life into your hands every time you get behind the wheel, but now, as the driver weaves his way over the central reservation and into oncoming traffic, my laissez-faire attitude wavers and dies. I want to live!
And I’m going to die.
I start crying. I actually start crying. I think of Alula’s perfect cheeks, her adorable double-jointed limbs. I say a prayer of gratitude for being her mother and then another prayer of thanks that I sent Becky the finished manuscript of my next book just before I left. The publishers won’t need to ask for the advance back from John, which is good as I’ve already spent it.
Then the tears dry and I feel an eruption of rage. At myself mainly to be fair. I am going to die because I’m too damn British and too polite to yell ‘stop the fucking car you utter lunatic and let me out!’
As the driver stamps on the gas, then the brakes, and fires his headlight beam into the faces of oncoming cars as though it’s a magic magna-ray that will whisk other cars into another dimension before they smash into us, I start making Faustian pacts with whatever gods are still listening. A person walking the steps to the guillotine or falling on their tortured kneecaps in front of Tony Soprano has never bargained so hard. Please keep me alive. I have so many more books to write… I want to move to California… I promise I’ll never say fuck again…
… Fuck! Please stop driving in the middle of the road! And that’s the fucking brake, not the clutch you moron! And that big metal thing heading straight at us is a fucking BUS!
Weeping, still weeping, still mute. Though in my head I rage and rage against the dying of the light.
And oh shit. An epiphany of just the wrong sort. My travel insurance just ran out. I junked the email not twelve hours ago. I’m an idiot. And now I’m imagining a tear-streaked John on his knees explaining to a bewildered Alula why he’s popping onto a plane to India to see mummy and what life support is and why it’s too expensive to keep it switched on.
And sob. If it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be. Stop focussing on the road I yell silently at myself. Take out your notebook. Write it all down instead. This inner monologue will drive you insane if the driver doesn’t drive you off the road and into an early grave first.