She had just flown into Heathrow and I was the guy with a name, apparently her only name, held up on a sheet of paper in the Arrivals hall. Typically someone had missed off the flight number but amongst the crowd of crumpled smoke-dried chauffeurs she found me. Briefly our lives would intersect like brain cells in a passing thought. We pushed our way out to where I had parked the big 500 SEL Mercedes..almost new in 1977.
"No luggage?" I asked.
"It was just a day trip" she said.
I could tell that she was friendly but formal and she sat behind in the darkness. To be honest I couldn't tell you what she wore or the colour of her eyes. The way things turned out a lot of that evening got lost or confused.
I nosed the big Merc' out of the airport and headed in to London. I loved this car and had risked everything to set up my chauffeur business. I loved this car...the smell of leather, the badge at the horizon end of the bonnet, the effortless Pavoroti push of the tenor V8. I loved this car. In those days you could guzzle without guilt.
I had found that if the client wanted to talk you could respond. Often the social gap was just too huge and I was invisible or they just wanted some peace or to enjoy a city wildlife safari with air con and leather.
We chatted for a while about this and that. Banality was us.
"You know my name but I don't know yours" she said.
Her accent was short cropped with mid Atlantic highlights.
"I'm Joe" I said.
Her manner was self confident but gentle. You get these types in business - smooth but full of power. Really I was overstepping the conventions and I just spoke to her as if we were equals..you know -I felt pulled.
"What do you do in the world?" I asked.
"Oh, management consultancy..fly in, meeting, fly out."
"What do people consult you about?" I asked
"It's always decisions and choices" she said.
"Big decisions?" I said
"Big decisions are easy because you have to make them. It's the small ones that are tough" she said.
"Did you ever get stuck buying a candy bar? Mars, Twix, Bounty, Boost - you could spend your life in an oscillation of trivial choice, living for ever in a corner store"
"I do get a bit tongue tied in Mcdonalds" I said.
The Merc purred on towards the City. The lady fell quiet and tried to relax back into the leather. I noticed she was fidgeting as if she were uncomfortable or had a bad back.
"You Ok?" I asked
"Fine - it was a tough flight" she said.
I just loved the night time city, the swirl and bustle of the Marylebone Road, a trace of fried chicken, a jolt of eau de parfum.
"So the big decisions are easy?" I asked.
"Well tell me - you bought this car OK?"
"Just before you bought it...let's say the night before - how did you feel?"
"Anxious I guess" I replied, slipping aquatic chamelion style into mid Atlantic.
"But after you had actually bought it..did you feel better?"
"It was a relief" I said.
"Right again" she said "And when you got it home and looked past the tyre gloss and the wax job you found a few problems."
"Well there were a few things..but it was the right decision." I said.
"Exactly - because once you had made the choice eveything you did and thought was reinforcing your decision and so it was the right decision." she said.
I laughed a little. "Can I be a consultant now?" I said.
She laughed a little too.
"Nope..we gotta keep the prices up" she said.
By this time we had cruised into Aldwych.
"Anywhere here will do fine" she said.
"Don't you want the Strand Palace hotel?" I said.
"I'll be Ok - I'll be flying straight out again" she said.
I pulled over and turned to look at her.This was strange.
"What will you call that little girl?" she asked.
I caught my breath and stared at her. Had I said anything to her about that? I do gabble on..it's my job.
She did not blink and said gently
"I must go now..give me one of your hands - either one"
I held out my left hand and she took it in hers. She continued "Sometimes we reach a fork in a road and there is no way of knowing which way to go. In my consultancy we would advise you to go left"
"What if I had given you my right hand?" I asked as if all this were the most natural situation in the world.
"Then we would advise to go to the right" she said. I saw a slight frown. "But you must go to the left" she said.
Then she was swept away in the anonymous crowd outside the Strand Theatre. I selected Drive and pulled away. Bloody Hell she was an odd one..probably making millions.
It was true about the baby on the way. I'd only known for two days. Just between you and I the decision was far from made. We were renting a one bed flat, I had just started the business. Baby? did I need a baby? You can have a baby any time.
I lived west of London and so I headed out onto the motorway. I was tired and gratefully smoked a Players No 6. Traffic was light and I stoked up the Merc to about 90.
I spotted a small shunt on the Eastbound and a queue was starting to build. I saw the smoke from the tyres of a 38 ton Leyland locking up to avoid smashing into the tail end. The trailer began to snarl round into the jack knife.
I watched a fuckin' great 38 ton fuckin' truck doing 60 slam straight through the fuckin' barrier. Excuse my language..but I've gotta tell you how I saw it. I killed some speed and then pulled left. Hey - do you know what I was thinking? "How the fuck did that woman know it was a girl?"..........
All this was years ago and since then I've had a good life. I rolled the Merc but ended up on my wheels on the hard shoulder. The artic ploughed on broadside across three lanes for about 200 yards.By the time I climbed out the ambulance was there. No one died and I spent just a night at the hospital.
My little girl Angela grew up to be a nurse.
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