HE was sneaking a glance at his daughter in the rear-view mirror, listening to her talk about college and friends, when their blue family estate was broadsided by the Jeep.
Time suspended before a tsunami of shattered glass crashed in and he lost control of the steering wheel. The airbag deployed and the seat belt cut painfully into his shoulder as it absorbed the strain of his 15-stone bulk before boomeranging him back into place. What was left of the windscreen retreated as his body reacted like the lash of a whip and, in his confusion, he experienced that eureka moment... ‘Ahhh, whiplash!’
As the car skidded across the road he was dazzled by a kaleidoscope of bright lights – neon advertising boards, shop windows and street lamps. When his eyes adjusted it was as if he was watching everything in slow motion: A couple he had noticed walking hand in hand moments earlier ran in different directions, while a newspaper seller deserted his pitch, money pouch flapping against his pounding legs. Further along, a dapper-looking bloke in tweeds seemed in two minds which way to flee before settling on the safety of the Underground steps.
The visions tumbled from his mind as the car completed its 360-degree spin and he finally locked eyes on his assailant. Marooned in the stationary Jeep, the dark-haired woman stared through the windscreen vacantly, a thick stream of blood meandering down her face from a garish wound above her eyebrow. Devoid of expression, it seemed the shock had vacuumed all thought from her brain.
As soon as she appeared, she was gone, the car continuing to spin. Facing the pavement again, the driver’s attention was captured by what he thought was a bundle of blankets and rags in a shop doorway. With alarm he noticed startled eyes staring out from a face swamped in facial hair. ‘Get out of the fucking way!’ the driver mouthed as he realised one of London’s street dwellers was totally oblivious to the approaching danger.
The car made jarring contact with the kerb and suddenly it was the driver who was spinning, like a sock in a washing machine. His head bumped against the ceiling, his left arm smashed against the twisted metal of the door and his right leg sent jolts of electrifying pain through his nervous system.
Finally, the fairground ride from hell came to an abrupt halt, the car thudding against something hard. The heap of tangled metal that was once a solid and protective shell settled slowly back in an upright position, bouncing like one of those gangster rides with hydraulic suspension that featured in American movies. This wasn’t America, though, this was twenty-first century Britain and he wasn’t a teen gangster, just an ordinary Joe going about his boring, routine business.
New sounds invaded the void left by the disintegrated windows: horns blowing, tyres screeching, glass crunching, people screaming. His ears slowly acclimatising to the noise, he then detected an unfamiliar ticking and saw steam pouring from the bent and buckled bonnet. Performing calculations in his head, he tried to work out how much this entire calamity might cost him. What would the insurance company say? Was there any possibility the vehicle wasn’t a write-off and did his policy contain the use of a courtesy car? How the hell was he going to get to work? What the hell was he going to tell his wife?
Shit, his daughter!
‘You OK back there, honey?’
There was a pause during which his heart skipped a beat.
‘Yeah, I think so. I’ve a... pain in my tummy.’
Superficial damage. Nothing serious. Thank God. Relief flooded through him.
‘You?’ she asked.
‘My leg’s killing me but otherwise...’
His thoughts were interrupted by another sound. Looking to his left, he was surprised to see the passenger window still intact. Outside, a man in a navy-blue uniform and cap gesticulated wildly, but it was hard to make out what he was saying. The driver felt as if his head was submerged in that slime kids found all the rage.
Still, at least he was conscious enough to interpret the police officer’s manic, hand-waving gestures and detect the urgency in them. Shaking his head to free himself from the gloop, he felt needles of pain attack his nervous system as he shifted sideways, utilising every muscle necessary to reach out and press the button which released the window.
The car’s electrics made an uncomfortable, whirring sound as the glass slid down a few centimetres then stopped. Jammed. He continued pushing the button, but the internal workings were badly damaged. He watched as a gloved hand slipped through the gap at the top of the door and exerted pressure. There was another crunching noise and the window dropped to around halfway, the brute force almost certainly rendering the mechanism irreparable. Not thinking straight, his first reaction was one of anger and his mind made calculations about how much compensation he should claim once he was back on his feet.
The police constable battled gamely to get his point across amid a deafening ensemble of alarm bells and sirens. ‘We need to get you out of there, sir. No need to panic, but we have to make you safe before we can get the paramedics to check you over.’
‘Sounds serious, Dad,’ said his girl.
‘Thanks, Sherlock, always the optimist.’
‘What was that?’ The officer’s face seemed blurred as the driver tried to focus.
‘Sorry, it’s my ears...’ he shouted, the frenzied effort to make himself heard betraying his underlying fear. ‘I can’t... Is the car going to explode?’
‘Umm, I sincerely hope not, sir, but there is a lot of fuel around, the engine’s smoking... It’s best to err on the side of caution. We need to get you a safe distance away in the unlikely event that things escalate. The fire brigade will be here in two ticks and they’ll bring it under control in no time. Until then...’
‘Not sure I can move to be honest, son. I think my leg’s trapped.’
‘Ahhh.’ The policeman nodded. ‘Can you have a look around – see what the problem is? You might be able to free it. On second thoughts, hold on, I’ll come around to your side and see what I can do.’
Appearing at the driver’s window, he then brushed aside fragments of glass and leaned through, peering into the gloom of the footwell. ‘O... K,’ he said slowly. He wasn’t very good at disguising his feelings. It was serious. ‘We have a bit of a problem. A lump of metal appears to have wedged itself in your leg. I’m guessing it will take special tools to get you out of there.’
Shit! The Jaws of Life. Only the other day he had been watching a TV programme about the fire service and the equipment they used to cut people free from road traffic accident wrecks. The jaws had saved many lives, but the name alone was enough to send a shudder rippling through his damaged body. The sirens in the distance were getting louder as they announced their urgency to the world. Blue spinning lights roamed the darkness of the car’s interior, before a more permanent red glow encroached on the shadows. Was it getting hot?
‘Ahhh...’ said the officer.
There were snapping sounds followed by a crackle. Random memories of an old advert for cereal entered the driver’s head: snap, crackle, pop. Twisting as best he could, the driver realised the noise was being created by flames eating into the car’s paintwork. ‘No!’ he muttered through clenched teeth. Damn, he’d just forked out a small fortune on a touch-up job after some local punk had dug a thick groove right along the passenger’s side with a coin or a key.
‘Uh oh!’ said his daughter, looking over her shoulder. ‘They’re going to get us out of here, aren’t they, Dad? I’m scared.’
‘Stay calm,’ he replied, wishing he could practice what he was preaching. ‘I’m sure it will be fine. The fire brigade is on their way and will be here shortly.’
‘Ahh, they’re here,’ the policeman announced on cue, relief evident in his tone.
Moments later the driver heard a new voice, the accent pure Cockney. ‘Stay calm, sir, and we’ll have you out in no time.’
The driver twisted in the direction of the person speaking and another wave of pain rolled through him. On the periphery of his vision he could make out a tall man with a pointed jaw in a fire brigade uniform.
‘What seems to be the trouble, eh? Let the dog see the rabbit.’ The fireman leaned inside. ‘Rrrr...igh...t,’ he said before shouting some instructions to the rest of his crew.
Suddenly, the car was plunged into darkness. The driver guessed it was being buried in that foam the fire services used to bring a blaze under control. It felt strangely comforting to know they weren’t going to be burnt alive. Another sound, a screeching, grating noise soon invaded the car’s interior, setting his teeth on edge.
‘Cool!’ muttered his daughter as sparks sprayed through the roof. Moments later the metal was peeled back like the lid on a tin of tuna, bright lights invading the space, making them cry out and shield their eyes.
‘Sorry, mate, it’s got to be done,’ advised the fire officer. ‘Once we’re inside, we can hopefully remove the obstacle that’s holding you in place and get you out of there. Second thoughts, the best thing we can do, looking at it now, would be to remove the door, together with your good self. It should be easier to cut you free elsewhere, rather than in the midst of this, um, chaos. When we get somewhere a bit less volatile the medical people can assess the problem and hopefully free your leg from the door.’
As he said this, for the first time the driver realised that up until now the darkness of the footwell had prevented him taking a closer look at his injury. Shielding his eyes from the glare, he glanced downwards. A thick metal shard was protruding from his leg and a dark, sticky substance soaked his trousers. The limb looked like a theatrical prosthesis in a zombie apocalypse movie, the foot at a right angle to the rest of the limb.
He experienced an unfamiliar dizziness and passed out.
GLOVED hands grasped the limp body and gently carried it to the stretcher. The patient felt a needle entering the soft tissue in his arm and after that remembered little, sliding into unconsciousness as he murmured her name. The paramedic whispered to one of the fireman.
‘What did he say? Sounded like a name? Jane, was it? I think he said something about a daughter. Was there anyone with him?’
‘Nope,’ replied the fireman. ‘He was all on his lonesome.’
A colleague arrived at the paramedic’s shoulder. ‘Right, best get him to intensive care, lickety spit,’ said the new arrival. ‘I hate to be the prophet of doom, but it will be touch and go if he survives the night.’