…We'd just landed on the other side of the province when daughter 17 called sobbing hysterically. 'I’ve been in an accident.' Immediately you pictured her crushed and broken in a tangled steaming wreck on the side of a deserted road. She’s rung to choke out her last words …
Are you hurt?
No, I’m fine.
I breathed a huge parental sigh of relief.
He called me a stupid fucking cunt, Mum. I’m in a parking lock but I’m terrified he’s going to come back and beat me up.
Lock the doors, I commanded. Mother lioness. Don’t lay a finger on my child. What happened?
It was so stupid, I was looking behind me to change lanes and he slowed down. It happened so quickly. I went into the back of him. He wouldn’t stop swearing. I said I was sorry and he said:
You’ll be fucking sorry
Are you fucking kidding me
I hope you’re fucking insured
So fucking stupid.
You need to calm down, babe. You can’t drive the four hours home in that state. I pictured her in the twisty parts, taking a corner too fast ...
He wouldn’t stop swearing, Mum. Nothing happened to my car, it’s just got a bent number plate.
Did he drive his away?
Mum, I’m so scared.
Did he have anyone in his car?
At that point I was incredulous. A female was present and allowed this yob to swear at a young woman.
We both pulled over into a parking lot and swapped names and numbers.
Please don’t cry, darling. The main thing is you’re okay. You’re insured. Don’t worry. The guy’s a wanker. Call me when you’re about to leave.
I was so scared, Mum. I hid behind my car door.
Please don’t cry. You’ve got a long way to go. You need to calm down. Take deep breaths. Are any of your friends still there? Can you call them? Go to a dairy buy a drink. Have you had lunch …?
From that point on every minute felt like an hour. What if the bozo did come back?
Thirty minutes later: His wife just called me.
Did she apologise for her aggro husband?
No, she said you can understand his growliness he needs a car to get to work. She said, they need to know our insurance company within half an hour! She said while his car is getting assessed your parents need to arrange a rental car for him to get to work.
I rang their landline. His wife answered. I introduced myself. My daughter was involved in an incident. Your husband verbally abused her. She’s 17.
She said you better speak to my husband, Russell.
Look, I could’ve called the cops. She was speeding. I could’ve got her done for dangerous driving.
Suspect you might need witnesses to prove that. Plus eyes in the back of your head. I wished I’d pulled him up. Asked him if he realised he’d threatened a school girl. That she hadn’t broken down in front of him but as soon as he drove away she’d balled her eyes out, convinced he’d return and assault her.
I’m with Youi, said Russell, as though all those annoying TV ads gave him cred. He gave me his claim number. Got his wife to go outside and check his rego. Maybe he sweated? He told me his car started clanking on the way home. He repeated that he had to leave for work at 3am on Monday morning and needed a rental car sorted.
Man up I felt like saying. I’m not a babysitting service. I know this is inconvenient but catch a bus. Ask a mate to help out. I said nothing except, I’ll speak to my insurance company.
My daughter still had a very long drive ahead of her. Alone.
My daughter still had a very long drive ahead of her. Alone.
Time stood still. I paced. I followed the road from Dunedin to Queenstown in my mind and tried to distract myself. I folded washing. I toasted pita bread with Edam cheese. Peeled carrots and scooped supermarket hummus into an eggshell blue pottery bowl and set the table with crackers and cherry tomatoes for the four fifteen-year-old belles I was soon to deliver to a surprise party.
She texted: Just passed Millers Flat.
Two hours to go, I replied. Don’t text and drive.
My stomach churned. I remembered a solo trip I’d done from Auckland to Hawkes Bay at a similar age. I’d spun out on a corner on the Napier-Taupo road. A spectacular 180 across an uphill passing lane. Halting in the grass verge with the stereo blaring. My mum had rushed out on my arrival immediately checking the underside of the car. I knew something had happened to you she said pointing to a clump of grass and earth stuck under the wheel hub.
I willed a safe journey. No tourists straddling the white line. No bozos sitting on her tail forcing her to drive beyond her comfort zone.
I wandered outside into afternoon sun. It was nearly 5pm. In the orchard I plucked six cox’s orange from high branches, using my t-shirt as a basket and walked over to the horse paddock. Star nickered and gobbled the tangy fleshy orbs one after the other. A froth of apple juice lipsticked his lips. I kissed his velvet nose and blew into his left nostril. Our greeting. However, it was a momentary calm sniffing his apple sweet grass horse perfume. I went back to the kitchen and tried to think what to cook for dinner. Mainly, I paced.
Daughter finally drove in. I can’t tell you the relief. The hugs. The kisses.
Half an hour later. Russ the muss rang again. The H answered. His story was developing. He’d recorded the accident. On his Go-pro. His car was a write-off. Had we organised his rental yet?
The H said, I’ll speak to my Insurance Agent.
I half expected a lynch mob to appear. Really. If you’re going to rear-end someone (the most common accident statistically speaking nowadays) chose someone with manners.
Was this guy young? I asked.
No, he was your age. His arms were covered in tats. He was big. He looked like one of those people who hated his job. Hated his life and drank every night to forget.
Did they ask if you were okay?
His wife asked if I was a student
I said I was at high school
She asked if I was okay
I said I was fine.
Russell didn’t ring again. I was really hoping his would. I would point out that in the heat of the moment he’d crossed the line. “Intimidation, threats and harassment” (All terms cited under “Psychological Abuse” in the Domestic Violence Act 1995) are not acceptable in any situation public or private.
The Insurance companies did their job. Life moved on. Few lessons were learnt.