I arrive at Morrison’s car park in a hurry and find that it is full. The whole world seems to have the same idea as me even though it’s not Christmas Eve or the run-up to Easter. Cars have not only taken all the allotted spaces but they have improvised, creating new ones of their own. I drive around four times and wait impatiently while people reverse out and other cars take their space.
Finally, I spot a gap which I head for before anyone else gets the same idea. It’s a squeeze but I manage to manoeuvre my 4 wheel drive into an area more suited to a Mini. The car next to me pulls away, allowing me room to get out and retrieve my shopping bags from the boot. I am aware of another car parking in the newly vacated spot. As I emerge into its path, there is a sudden roar of engine and the car lurches forward. It misses me by a whisker but accelerates into the car in front – a Renault Clio – which shoots forward several feet. For a moment I stand rooted to the spot, stunned by what has just happened. This is Morrison’s car park, a place where about the most exciting thing to happen is finding a pound coin that someone has left in a trolley, not a hit and run.
A white-haired lady of some great age and barely visible over the steering wheel of the offending car, stares at me with the same bewildered expression of someone who has failed to understand the punch-line of a joke. Keeping my distance, I signal for her to turn off the engine which is still revving furiously, then approach the driver’s side with caution, lowering my head to talk to her through the window.
‘Are you okay?’ I ask. There are various walking aids on the seat next to her. She brings a pale, veiny hand up to the side of her face and holds it there. I wonder if she might be suffering from shock.
‘I’m all right,’ she tells me. She has an American accent, her voice conveying more strength than her appearance. ‘I don’t know what happened. My foot kinda got stuck.’
I give both cars a cursory look and reassure her that the damage seems to be minimal. However, on closer inspection I see that both number plates have taken a battering and the front corner of the Renault Clio has a substantial dent. It’s hard to know if it’s old or as a result of the collision.
The old lady seems uncertain about what to do. Once I’m reassured that she is okay, I suggest writing a note with her contact details and an explanation of what has taken place.
‘You can leave it on their window screen,’ I say gently.
‘They’re gonna fleece me, aren’t they?’ the old lady says defensively.
‘I don’t think so.’ I try to sound reassuring. ‘People are pretty fair about this sort of thing.’
‘Not always,’ she says in a way that makes me think this has happened before.
‘Do you have anything to write on?’ I ask.
She seems unwilling to look, so I dig out an Ikea pencil and an old shopping list from the depths of my bag.
Then, because I’m running out of time to buy tonight’s supper and make my son’s train, I leave her to it.
I return from the supermarket ten minutes later to find the space next to my Landrover empty. The damaged car, however, remains were it is, the rear jutting out into the path of passing cars like a rude tongue. I glance at the windscreen but, tellingly, there is no note. My American friend has done a runner.
I peer through the Renault’s window for clues. The interior looks very clean. On the back seat are a number of pamphlets for what looks like a music concert. Perhaps the owner is a school teacher. I think about the fact that school teachers aren’t paid very much. I imagine how they will feel when they return to find their car in a completely different position to the one they left it in and feel my allegiance switch. Perhaps, I think, with a pang of conscience, I should have stayed to oversee the writing of the note, made sure it was delivered to the car screen. I think about how I would feel if I found the front of my car bashed in and no one around to take responsibility for it. Then I think about the American lady’s anxious face, of being old and too scared to face the consequences.
For a minute or two I hover, half expecting the Renault owner to materialise, but they don’t. Then, conscious again of the time, I get back into my own car, do up my seatbelt and drive hurriedly away.