I ran in front of the speeding truck and held my hand up in the ‘halt traffic’ gesture, closing my eyes in abject terror.
The screech of air brakes nearly deafened me. But a split-second later the quivering metal engine was rumbling a few feet from my nose, the world a seething aroma of burnt brake linings. I turned round and saw that the girl behind me was no longer dancing about in the middle of the busy road and seemed finally aware of the danger.
I managed to catch a glimpse of her face before turning back.
“What the fuck are you playing at?” demanded the truck driver, who had jumped down from the cab, white-faced and furious.
“Look!” I pointed behind me, towards the woman. “I knew you couldn’t see her because of the bend in the road, so it was the only way I could stop you in time.”
“Christ!” he agreed, as he looked beyond me and saw the girl, now once again weaving and capering around in the traffic, drivers coming from the other direction, stopped in the road, sounding their horns.
Suddenly, she seemed to snap out of her trance and raced back onto the pavement and ran out of sight.
“Bloody hell!” The man was shattered, his hands shaking visibly. “My God, you’re right. I could never have stopped in time.”
He was staring at me, dazed with shock.
“Are you all right?” I grabbed his arm because he was swaying, as if he was about to faint.
“No mate, I’m absolutely shattered, this has shaken me up real bad. Blimey, if you hadn’t jumped out and stopped me I dread to think . . . Do you reckon she was drunk or on drugs? Or just raving mad?”
“Look, there’s a caff up the road, I gotta take a break. Fancy joining me?” he asked.
He gave the finger to the hooting car drivers behind us as he climbed back in the cab and I jumped up into the passenger seat, ducking down as best I could to tuck my six-foot eight-inch frame into the space designed for normal people.
“What’s it like, being so tall?” he asked, making an effort to start an ordinary conversation in these weird circumstances.
I shrugged. “You get used to it. Ducking under door frames, almost kneeling down to use a sink. Getting nicknamed ‘Shorty’ wherever you go. It beats being a dwarf, but I’d sooner be normal.”
The transport caff was tailor made for big trucks and big men like us, and as we entered the cheery interior and joined the queue, I noticed his hands were still shaking.
“Look mate,” he said quietly, “I’m really sorry I shouted at you. You’ll never know how grateful I am for what you did just now. Took a lot of courage.”
“I just acted on impulse, and got lucky, that’s all,” I told him. “I’m Greg.”
“Good to meet you, Greg. I’m Tony. Tony Bardello.”
We already knew each other on some deeper level, for an unspoken bond had formed between us.
Sitting at the table he stirred his coffee reflectively.
“Can I tell you something really off-the-wall?” he asked.
“It’s crazy, you’ll think I’m mad. But that girl…” He was staring into the distance. “I dunno what it was. It’s beyond ridiculous. I didn’t get a proper look at her, but I can’t help feeling there was something about her that was familiar. Tell me, did you get a look at her face?”
“Yes,” I answered. “For a second, just after you’d stopped.”
He stared at me. “Can you remember it?”
“Oddly enough I can. In fact…”
“Well as it happens, Tony, faces are my thing. I teach portraiture at the art college in town. I could draw her face right now if you like.”
Tony found a large napkin, and I did my best with the pencil I had in my pocket. It was just a very quick sketch, but I surprised myself at the way I had managed to capture her expression. Large eyes, wide mouth, small slightly retroussé nose. Not a smile, not a frown, just an ‘I’m me’ expression.
“Oh Christ! It can’t be!” Tony put his face in his hands. When he removed them, there were tears in his eyes that he batted away with a thumb. “I don’t believe it!”
“Do you know her?” I asked him.
He shook his head, as if to clear his thoughts. “Greg, let me tell you a little story.” His voice was hoarse, dry, emotional, choking. “My daughter was at the university in this town, right near where it happened in fact. She was mentally ill, we didn’t know just how ill she was, and last year, she hung herself. It pretty much destroyed my family. My wife is religious, she’s managed to adjust to her death, but I never will. I’ll never stop blaming myself for not being there to help her. Of course I hate this town where it happened, I’d never have come back here voluntarily, as you can imagine, but I can’t pick and choose my delivery loads, you know? After it happened I longed to get some sort of sign from our poor little Abby, some sign to know that her life hadn’t just ended like that. See, my Abby was special. She was kind, she was always helping people: tramps on the street, waifs and strays, anyone in trouble and our Abby was on their case trying to help them in any way she could. That was our Abby. So if there’s anything in all this religious mumbo jumbo, my Abby deserves to go on to something better if anyone does. See, Greg, I wanted to know that at least she was at peace, happy or gone on to the next phase of existence if there is such a thing. I wanted to have just some sort of contact with her spirit or whatever. But nothing. Not a trace of Abby ever since it happened. She’d gone without a trace. And now, this.”
“What do you think? What you saw – what we both saw – wasn’t a live young woman running around in the road. It was. . . . Well, I dunno what it was. You tell me. My daughter died a year ago, yet you saw her just now.”
I shook my head. “I can’t believe that.”
“But you saw her face, I didn’t. And you just drew her. How would you know what her face looked like when you’ve never met her?”
I went on thinking about it all through the day, long after Tony had dropped me back in town. I was really glad I had been able to give him a bit of comfort, but unable to accept that such a fantastic thing could have happened.
To be honest, in one way I felt a bit cheated. After all, this morning I had risked my own life to save that of some unknown young girl. Had I risked being squashed into the tarmac for a figment of my own imagination? Or had I jumped in front of a ghost, who Tony could have happily ploughed into with his tons of truck?
But it was all ridiculous. There are no such things as ghosts, are there?
Then, in a flash of realisation, the obvious explanation came to me.
Telepathy, or mind reading, is a controversial subject, but I had heard that twins can often read each other’s thoughts, as can close family members. Nobody questions that conversations on mobile phones exist thought the ether, so is it really much more of a stretch to believe we can sometimes read other people’s thoughts?
After all, Tony had been driving past the university, he would have been thinking about his poor daughter, and the horrible circumstances of her death. And when I span round to look at the girl, I had obviously somehow picked up on his thoughts at that moment: he’d been seeing his daughter’s face in his mind’s eye. And I, in a heightened state of alertness, had picked up on it, and transposed that image onto the girl who was dancing in the road.
That evening I went back to the spot where it happened, curious to see the road again, to try to remember precisely how things had occurred.
There was something familiar about the woman who came up beside me, but I certainly didn’t know who she was.
“Hi, I recognised you from this morning,” she said, grinning awkwardly as if she was embarrassed. “I want to thank you for saving my life – afterwards, when I remembered all that had happened, I realised it was you who stopped that truck. You see I’d taken some pills my mates had given me, and I had this really freaky reaction, I just ran out into the traffic right into the path of that truck. If you hadn’t stopped him, I’d be dead right now. I don’t know what to say.”
“Forget it,” I told her, staring at her face.
Then, with a surge of relief I realised that my ‘telepathy theory’ had to be the correct one. For, while her height and build were the same, this girl’s face was completely different from the face of the girl I had seen this morning.
“It all happened so fast, how did you recognise me?” I asked her.
She gave me another I feel awkward standing here smile. “How do you forget the face of someone who’s just saved your life? Plus I suppose with you being so handsome, and nearly seven feet tall makes you pretty memorable too.”
We chatted about this and that. I didn’t tell her about Tony, or my strange vision of his daughter’s face, for none of it seemed relevant, and so after my pompous lecture about the dangers of drugs, she assured me that she’d never experiment with narcotics again.
“From now on I’ll just stick to getting smashed on vodka,” she joked as we parted.
We shook hands.
Which was when I noticed the bruising on her wrist.
I looked at the black-and-blue skin. “What happened?”
“Oh God, don’t ask!” She gave that irritating mock-grin for the millionth time. “It was this morning when I was fooling about in the road. This girl came out of nowhere, grabbed me by the arm and dragged me back onto the pavement.”
“I dunno. She was there when you first turned round to look at me. Didn’t you see her?”
(image by Joel Genhart from Pixabay)