Waiting in Dover
The hitch down to Dover was uneventful. The metal flow and flash of metal, fumes and stolen air was interrupted by some Scottish rain then English rain. I was hitching down from near Dumfries over to Nancy in Northern France. It was a kid of sod it I’ve left university and I don’t know what’s next so let’s jump into something or stick a thumb in the dark.
I got a lift from one guy who was off to Brussels to pick up a German Porsche. It was fine but veered to the right once it went over 100mph. He was looking forward to the reverse journey up the M1 once he had it across on the ferry. The last leg was to Dover. A Scottish truck from a Borders company picked me up in the north of England. Halifax, I think it was.
So here I was cooped up like a sardine with a few centimetres above my head. I was in the other bunk bed with Laurie underneath me in the other bunk. In the days before the Twin Towers fell and illegal (western) wars I was okay to be signed in a Driver’s Mate on the cross-channel ferry.
There was a ferry strike in France-not unusual and we had missed a ferry. Thus being crammed in like a malt biscuit in a packet was the order of the day. I was thinking about my time in France to come when there was a loud metal crack. It wasn’t Laurie’s rig but it was near.
We were next to a few empty lorries. The drivers had headed off to the comforts of a pub. I had had a shower and rummaged in my dad’s ancient rucksack to get a book.
This time a whispered echo of voices that were hiding something seeped into the cabin. This time Laurie trundled out a comment.
‘I’m going to have to have a gander at what’s going on. It’d be what I’d want done for me.’
I could hear he was slipping on some clothes. I couldn’t believe it when I’d seen the Long Johns. Grizzly Adams in the deep English South. Laurie’s whippet like frame hadn’t fitted that image.
‘Andrew, I want you to switch on my headlights if you hear an “Okay”, from me-right?’
He went out in the dark. The pathetic light from the lorry parks high lamps had a swing of light rain run through them. I felt a long way from Fife and a Pittenweem fish supper.
I switched on the lights.
In the semi-dark to the right of Laurie’s side of the truck.
Laurie was standing-a small knife in his right hand. He flew it to his left hand and kicked the front leg of a tall, young guy.
His right leg. The heavy tawny-coloured boot was up and down quickly. There was a pivot with the left foot. It seemed slow. But all his weight had gone in.
He was down and in pain.
Bet over with both arms around his knee he still faced Laurie. The other small but older man seemed to move from foot to foot to the others’ right.
Laurie said nothing. He flicked his fingers and put the knife back to his right hand. The white top of the Long Johns seemed to make that more, not less menacing.
The romantic notion of baguettes and French beauties disappeared. I felt every breath draw in and out.
The small man moved to crouch down near the other man. Both looked at Laurie.
Laurie closed the blade into its sheath.
Later in the Driver’s Lounge Laurie told me about his new house-his wee one only a few months old. The time as a squaddie in the Rhine army and the time in Northern Ireland we barely touched upon. He became that chatty and food-mad truck driver again.
On the open French highway I opened the window on my side, seeing everything from my truck throne. I passed a map to another company truck. At 50 mph and two trucks going side by side it must have been some sight.
Continuing the journey after that relay he looked straight ahead. And the silence between us and in him was an easy one.