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by Nydas




  It was the job that kept Derek going day to day. He really enjoyed it. He worked for the local help-the-aged collecting people and taking them to the centre for the day so they could get a hot meal and company.  The old people were always entertaining and he was in good company with others who were often as lonely as him, so they all had something in common.  At 41, he lived alone with only the cat for company. Financially he had no worries, both his parents having died leaving him well catered for financially. He wasn't miserable by any stretch of the imagination although he would have liked someone to talk to at the end of the day. With a few exceptions he got on really well with the clientele and had had several proposals of marriage over the years from ladies who seemed to find him irresistible, unfortunately none of them under 70.  He looked at the list that morning and his heart sank, Wednesdays had been easy for a few weeks as his most difficult customer had been poorly and not made it in, but here was her name again and she was first on the list for collection so would be with him for the whole journey. 

He arrived at Mrs Forster’s house exactly on time knowing that the first thing she would do was complain about how long she had had to wait for him. As he rang the doorbell he could already hear her grumbling her way to the door and he waited in trepidation for her to open up. 

‘Bout time’ she commented looking him over, ‘put on weight haven’t you?’ 

‘Morning Mrs Forster, feeling better I hope?’ enquired Derek, caring not a jot and barely listening as she launched into a tirade about how appalling the NHS were and how she’d known all along what was wrong with her and no-one had listened but she’d been proved right in the end.  He made sympathetic noises as he bundled her gently into the van to the seat she always insisted upon, right next to him! Taking a deep breath and praying for patience, he walked round to his side and got into the minibus.  The next address on the list was a little out of town so would take twenty minutes to get to if the traffic was ok, but as it involved a bit of a jaunt out into the countryside he didn’t mind. It was a nice day and the sun would look lovely shining in through the trees lining the road. 

They had driven for ten minutes when the minibus started to judder. Derek couldn’t believe it, he was about to break down, in the middle of nowhere, with the woman he least liked in the world sitting next to him. He pulled over, then turned the vehicle off hoping he could figure out what was wrong and sort it out.  He fiddled about with the engine for a while then tried starting it again. Nothing, the minibus had died for now and showed no signs of springing back to life. 

'Great!' He thought to himself, 'how long am I going to have to sit here with this woman?!'   Feeling frazzled, he pulled out his mobile and called the breakdown service. His joy was further increased when they told him there would be a long wait as they were unseasonably busy that morning.  He got back into the bus with a heavy heart to sit it out as although it was a sunny morning the February weather was just too cold to stand out in. 

‘Well, would you believe it!'  Started Mrs Forster ‘What have you done? If you’ve broken it the money to fix it should be taken out of your salary….’ 

Derek broke in barely keeping his cool, 

‘Mrs Forster! I have done nothing to the minibus, as you well know vehicles break down without any help from anyone all the time. I don’t like this any more than you do and believe me if I have to sit here and listen to you moaning on for the next two hours I will not be responsible for my actions!’ 

Mrs Forster looked a little stunned, ‘Two hours? Will we be here that long?’ 

‘Probably longer according to the breakdown service, we shouldn’t really sit in the van but it’s so cold out there that we’d be risking hypothermia so we’ll take our chances in here.’ 

Derek glanced sideways at Mrs Forster and was surprised to see her, not only silent but looking very scared.  Quietly she said ‘Get out.’ 

‘But Mrs Forster..’ 

‘Get out of this van’ she shrieked barely in control and fumbling with the door handle, in vain as her arthritic hands couldn’t get a grip on it. 

Derek decided not to argue for now and grabbing a blanket kept under the seat for such emergencies he ran round the van to undo her door.  Luckily they had broken down not far from a bus shelter so he helped her over to the seat and then went back to close the van.  When he returned he was even more surprised to see her crying quietly and for the first time since he had known her he felt a genuine sympathy towards her, even though he could not imagine why she was upset, breaking down was hardly a disaster after all. 

‘Mrs Forster, are you ok, is there anything I can do?’ 

She looked at him and hesitated as if trying to decide whether to say anything. Her eyes were so full of sorrow. 

‘Nothing’ she said, ‘It’s been forty years since I last broke down, there’s nothing anyone can do.’ 

She looked at him again and then, seeming suddenly older than she did before, she started to talk.  She’d been 35 years old, the year was 1966 and she had been on her way to collect her daughter, then eight, from Brownies. Her husband rarely let her use the car as he did not trust her to drive it, but on this occasion he had been feeling unwell and after a hard day at work had given in to pressure. She loved to drive and despite his misgivings felt she did so rather well. Halfway there, with her three year old son in the back the car had broken down. Of course they were not members of any associations that could help out and mobiles didn’t exist then, so she had left her son warm in the car whilst she went to the phone box to call her husband to come and help.  As she finished the call she heard the screech of breaks, the crunch of metal against metal and although she couldn’t swear to it she was sure she heard a shrill scream which, although it only lasted a second would be with her for the rest of her life.  Slowly she turned round and saw her car, with her precious child in it, crushed unrecognisably by a huge lorry.

 The police had been very kind and understanding, they said she was not to blame, it was just very bad luck that the lorry’s breaks failed and the ambulance man said he would have been killed instantly and felt no pain. Her husband never forgave her and although they were married for nearly forty years by the time he died, not a day went by when he didn’t remind her that she’d killed their son. Her daughter, now nearly fifty, didn’t call often as she had always followed her father’s lead and still couldn’t bring herself to forgive.  Derek found himself all misted up and feeling very humble once Mrs Forster stopped talking, he had a newfound understanding of the circumstances that made her such a difficult woman. 


‘Now you see why we had to get out of the van.’ She said as she wiped the last of her tears away. Her words were drowned by a loud crash and Mrs Forster began to laugh, quietly at first then uncontrollably. Derek, now in shock, could hardly believe his eyes when he saw that the breakdown van had careered into the driver’s side of the minibus.  If he had been sitting there he would certainly have been killed. All the hairs on the back of his neck were standing on end. He looked at the old lady and smiled. She was still giggling. 

‘Mrs Forster, you saved my life!’ 

‘Call me Elsie’ she replied and in her eyes was a hint of healing, the thought that her little boy had not died in vain.





© Nydas 2011


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