It was very late, I could see it in the dashboard clock as the numbers twisted into 1:01 am. The radio news and traffic announcement cut into my Judas Priest CD. A male disembodied voice muttered, almost incoherently, the already known news reports. I didn’t listen, but instead enjoyed the darkness licking around me.
Road signs flashed by in my headlights and one of them declared the next services were five miles away. The wanting to stop tugged at me. I checked my mirrors, indicted to the car coming up behind me and pulled into the left lane.
Lampposts lit the way off the motorway as if they marked a heavenly path. I directed the car towards them, getting into lane and beginning to drop my speed. The car that had been behind me sped off, a lone traveller in a star speckled void. I slowed down for the large bend and entered a football field sized carpark.
I parked as close to the double glass front doors as possible, three rows away in-between a green Land Rover and red Ford Escort. I cut the engine and let silence fill the car like a deadly gas. Ahead of me I could see two people smoking beside the doors in the picnic table area. There was a large motorbike before them, but I couldn’t see the make.
Taking the keys from the ignition, I opened my door and got out. Stretching, I closed the door and locked the car. Orange lights flashed against me then I walked away. I took the shortest route to the doors, stealing a few glances at the two people, but they seemed disinterested in everything going on around them.
Warm recycled air hit me as I opened the door. I wiped my soft souled shoes on the welcome mat and headed straight for the gents. I passed three shuttered shops on my left and a large open canteen like area on my right. The toilets were placed at the back, inconvenient for the desperate travellers, but secretly planned out by the architect.
I opened the door and stepped inside. A dripping tap tocked like a clock and stale urine inflamed the lemon scented space. I paused and checked I was alone, before going up to the last urinal. I unzipped my black trousers and eased my manhood out. With a quick glance at the door, I wanted this to be a private moment, I relieved myself. After, I washed my hands twice and used some paper towels.
Walking out, I went over to the canteen area. Behind the counter at the end was a sleepy teenage girl, leaning against a cream wall and looking more like a mirror reflection. Before her were rows of empty blue and white plastic table and chairs. Four of the tables had a single occupants sat at them and the men seemed so far separated they were in parallel universes.
I picked up a brown school like tray from the stack and walked down the line. There was a select of four sandwiches in one section and a bowl of fruit next door. I choose mild cheese on white bread and a browning banana. Sliding the tray along the metal track, I came to a stop before her.
‘Can I have a coffee please? Milk and sugar,’ I asked.
The girl stared at me with distant eyes as if I was a figure in a dream.
I tapped the tray and fixed a smile on my face.
‘A coffee?’ she repeated and turned to the machine behind her as if she had never seen it before.
Nodding, I put my hand in my pocket and pulled at my wallet. Acting as if I was searching for money, I watched the girl make me a coffee. She reminded me of an automaton, just doing as she had been programmed and not caring at all. She plonked a white mug down on the tray and tapped away on the till.
‘Four-eighty, please,’ she stated and held out her hand.
I give her a five pound note and waited until she had dropped twenty pence in my hand. Turning away, I walked to the table closest to the doors and facing them, sat down. I peeled the wrap off the sandwich and selected a half. Raising the food to my mouth, a heard the door open and looked up. A young man with a brown leather jacket, dark jeans, black boots and floppy dark hair walked though and pushed the door back into place. He had a large rucksack strapped to his back and seemed to be more of a walker than a motorist. With a swift glance and grin at me, he walked towards the toilets.
I took a bite my sandwich and chewed on blandness and crustiness. Looking out of the window, but not watching anything, I let my mind churn over. So far, the night had not offered me what I was seeking. Maybe I would find it before dawn or maybe Mistress Moon would be unkind to me.
Sipping the coffee helped to wash some of the dry taste away, but left a bitterness on my gums. I finished the half and went for the other. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the young man repeating my trial at the canteen. It seemed he did no better than me with the automaton girl.
I watched him still as he carefully walked around the tables and choice to sit at one close to me. I ate my sandwich and sipped my coffee with my eyes wondering over to him every now and again. Scenarios began creating themselves in my mind. Somehow, I could get his attention and maybe offer him something. It didn’t matter if he didn’t swing that way, everyone still awake after midnight is lonely. These night-time searchers always hungry for something alive, something just out of reach.
He sped through his meal and was on his feet, before I had fixed a plan. I couldn’t help but watch with longing as he took his tray to a bin and abandoned it. He slipped through a gap in the metal barrier that separated the area and opened the door. He let himself out and a blast of air in, before disappearing.
A missed opportunity.
I finished up, the banana going down easier than the sandwich and the coffee grains cooling in my mouth. Abandoning my table, I left and stepped outside. Cold, damp air stroked me as if I was a lover returning to bed. I took a deep breath and let it refresh me. I noticed that the two men and motorbike were now gone and in their place was the young man. And he was waving me over.
‘You got a light?’ he called, a cig dangled between his lips.
‘No,’ I half-shouted back, ‘I might have some matches in my car though.’
‘It doesn’t matter,’ he responded and turned away.
I wondered closer as if I had meant to walk that way anyway, ‘where are you heading?’ I asked casually.
‘Nowhere. Wherever I can get a lift too,’ he added.
‘I could give you one. A lift to the next town, if you wanted,’ I suggested.
He eyed me and I knew he was weighing up my crumbled suit and open gestures.
To Be Continued…