Thursday, 23 October 2008

True or False?

It's about midday and I've pulled into Leicester Forest services on the M1 to put some air in one of the tyres of the Chrysler I'm delivering to a trader in Sedgeley. The tyre does not look remotely flat, but the fancy warning system on the dashboard is most insistent that it is only about half the recommended pressure (and it turns out to be right.)

While I'm inflating the tyre a guy, probably in his fifties, with a flourescent jacket on wanders over to me. He asks if I'm heading south. He has obviously seen the trade plates on the car and decided that I'm a fair bet for a lift out of here. He has no plates of his own or even a hitching sign, just a packet of tachograph discs held prominently against his chest to show that he is a lorry driver, or at least knows enough to pass himself off as one.

He tells me he's making his way from Inverness to Headcorn, in Kent, a staggering journey of at least six hundred miles, which he claims has been forced upon him by his lorry catching fire in Inverness. He also claims to have been hitching since yesterday afternoon and to have only seven pence to his name.

Every aspect of his story seems improbable, but he does not look dangerous so I give him a lift anyway, down the M69 then up to Corley services near Coventry. This won't put any nearer to his destination but will give him more chance of getting another ride in the right direction.

As we drive he adds more details to his story, which begin to whittle away at its preposterousness.

I notice that his left hand is so tightly wrapped in bandages as to look like a fingerless stump. Apparently he did not realise his wagon was on fire because the blaze was on the underside of the cab. The first he knew of it was when the police pulled him over to point it out to him. As the officer opened the cab door the air rushed upwards and inwards, and it was at this point that he found himself in trouble.

He spent the night in hospital with burns to his left side and suffering from smoke inhalation. The latter problem meant that he was not allowed to eat anything during the whole time that he was there, and he had been unable to eat anything since due to his wallet having gone up in flames.

The police had tried to arrange a flight home for him, but since all his photographic ID had been in his wallet he would not be allowed to set foot on a plane.

He also turns out to know a bit about one of the HGV plating firms I used to work for, and claims to pick up platers himself, which explains his decision to hitch - an idea that would not have occurred to most people no matter how stranded they found themselves.

By the time I drop him off at Corley I'm halfway to believing him and feel moved to offer him my sandwiches. He unhesitatingly removes them from my hand, telling me he could 'murder' them. I'm not even sure what was on them - my girlfriend made them. I hope he liked them anyway.

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