This is a work of fiction. A short story of just over 1300 words.
Vanessa was in a hurry. Hugo had stayed over, and his being around had made her late. There was a book launch this evening, and the office was going to be buzzing with preparations, chasing up the faces who had to be seen, and the tired journalists who didn’t really want to be covering such events. She pulled on her stockings so quickly that she laddered one, so went bare-legged, intending to buy some new ones later.
“Have you seen my car keys?” He was standing in front of the bathroom mirror, admiring his flat belly.
“You taking the car, V? That’s a bad idea. I think they are in the glass bowl in the hallway.”
“I can park in the Soho car park. It’s expensive, but I need to get going. No time for buses.” She was edgy, but didn’t want to start an argument. After all, she was a little crazy about Hugo. She found the keys, and kissed him on his back. “Don’t forget the launch tonight. Free wine.” He lifted a hand, waving goodbye without turning round. Arrogant bastard. But so dishy.
Claudette was so tired, she wondered how she could even move. The kids were shouting at each other, the TV blaring, and someone in the block had already started hammering and drilling. Leon had kept her awake most of the night. He was complaining of toothache, but she had no time to arrange the dentist today. Getting them dressed and ready for school had left her drained. There was less than an hour to walk them there, and get to work in time for her shift. She couldn’t afford to be late again, as she was already on a warning for attendance. Rubbing her face, she wondered how she was going to cope today. She was just going to have to.
Reggie liked being a postman. Out in the fresh air, master of his own route, and nobody to answer to. He liked the mix of this area too. Dolly-birds in smart apartments, rich foreigners living in huge houses, and ordinary people at the far end of The Grove. If he got going early, he managed to get most things delivered, without having to leave those cards and carry too much back to the depot. And he knew people too, as he not only delivered the post, he lived a few streets away from his round. He stood out, with his huge knitted Rasta hat, brilliant smile, and jovial manner. Everyone liked Reggie, and he always seemed so happy.
Vanessa was already stuck, and she hadn’t even managed to turn out of her own street yet. Maybe Hugo was right. Perhaps she should have got a taxi, they seemed to get around without too much regard to traffic. She had already called into the office from her car, telling Trixie to fend off all calls, and estimating about an hour until she managed to get there. Just as well Trixie got in nice and early. She came all the way from some town in Kent, and caught the train when it was still dark. Looking out along the main road, nothing was moving. What the hell had she been thinking. Nobody uses a car in this part of London on a weekday. Long lines of buses stretched ahead up to the traffic lights. Like some enormous red snake, hogging all the space on the road.
Leon was having one of his screaming fits. Claudette was finding it hard to keep a hold on him. Passersby were looking at her. Some looked on with understanding, others with unconcealed disdain. She nodded at the smaller boy. “Stop it Leon. Look at Nelson, he’s being a good boy. Why can’t you behave like your brother?” Leon threw his backpack into the street, and sat down on the dirty pavement. She really was too tired to struggle with her son. Although he was only nine years old, he was a big boy, and strong too. She could feel the tears coming, and fought to hold them back. When Reggie appeared, she gazed at him like he was her saviour.
Reggie picked up the discarded backpack. Handing it to the boy, his deep voice was reassuring. “Come on now big man. Got to step up. Stop all this, help your Mum, innit.” Leon looked up at the tall kind man, suddenly feeling embarrassed. “I tell you what. Why don’t I walk a way with you, I’m heading in that direction.” The huge hand reached down to help him up, the row of shiny white teeth never breaking the smile. Claudette felt the relief wash over her as Leon stood up and replaced his backpack. She knew Reggie from school. He had always been playing basketball under the Westway. Tall and friendly, not like some of the others. Nothing like Sean, anyway. He was back in Jamaica now. No money for his kids, no contact, probably running with the bad men.
Vanessa pounded the steering wheel. “Come on!” She screamed from frustration, to nobody in particular. All this time, and she had only just got out onto the main road. The lights ahead kept changing, but no cars went through them. The junction was blocked by the inconsiderate bastards pulling across it. Nothing could move. She had worked for so long on this launch. Felicity had told her that it was her baby, and that she expected big things from it. If only Hugo hadn’t picked last night to pop round. She was furious with herself for letting him stay. He was her one weakness. This was no good. She was going to have to turn around and go a different way. No point trying to take the car back home. The spaces in the bays would be full by now, and she would be driving in circles trying to find a spot. She would stick with her car and go the long way, along the Harrow Road. That might be moving, she hoped.
Claudette felt happier, walking with Reggie. The boys were being good, as they liked the company of a strong man. It was a novelty to them. Leon said no more about that toothache, so maybe he was just pretending, to get to her. Reggie skipped along, joking with the boys. He asked them if they liked basketball, and pulled a funny face when they said they preferred football, and were fans of Arsenal. As they approached the junction with Westbourne Park Road, Reggie warned the children to wait for the crossing signal. “Green man boys. Always look for the green man y’know.” He reached down and picked up Nelson, easily scooping the small boy into his strong free arm
Vanessa managed the u-turn, tyres squealing on the Audi as she cut across a delivery van. He hooted his horn and shouted, so she stuck two fingers up against the rear-view mirror. Turning round seemed like a good plan. Most of the traffic was going the other way, and she accelerated up and over the hill. The road was still clear so she kept going, increasing speed. Still some distance away, she saw the light changing. “No way!” She yelled into the car’s interior, pushing her shoe down against the accelerator.
“Green man!” Squealed Nelson, pleased to have been the first to spot it. Reggie smiled, and walked briskly across.
Vanessa hadn’t noticed the impact. The airbag inflated into her face, and she didn’t even brake. The car collided with the kerb outside the pub, and mounted the pavement. Dazed by the bag, she clawed the plastic away from her face and looked in the mirror. People were running across the road. A woman was on her knees at the corner, her open mouth showing that she was screaming. A few feet behind the car, she could see a small boy lying motionless on the tarmac. A large woolly hat was next to him, the colours bright against the black road surface. She didn’t see the tall man of course, as he was underneath her car.
Hugo had been right. It was a bad idea.