I switched off my car’s headlights, opened the door and got out. The air felt heavy, wet, cold. I could feel it on my face and in my throat. I shivered and pulled on a jacket. I pressed the button on my keyring. The lights on my car flashed* and the car made a loud ‘beep’. The sound seemed very loud. It was too quiet, too still. I stood listening for a moment, hoping to hear another car. But there was nothing, not even a wind. I started walking but stopped. Did I imagine it? Was there a noise? I stood and stared into the blackness. ‘Hello?’ My voice sounded small and afraid. I waited. My heart beat faster.
I started walking again, my footsteps loud on the road. Every now and again, I turned and looked behind. The car was gone, swallowed. Ahead, I could see nothing.
I don’t know how long I walked for. Perhaps twenty minutes or half an hour. I looked at my watch. It was now 12.10 pm. ‘Merry Christmas,’ I muttered* to myself and thought about my wife. Right now, she was sitting at home watching the clock, worrying.
Was there a town nearby? Was there a phone? How long should I walk before giving up? I didn’t want to spend the night in my car, but I didn’t want to get lost either. I thought about my job. I was a fundraiser for ‘Roof’, a charity for the homeless. It always made me furious when I thought about the human cost of homelessness. The homeless had no homes for many reasons, but there were so many young homeless people. How could society be so uncaring? Why did it turn its back on them? What future did they have?
Of course, sleeping in a car was nothing compared to sleeping outside in winter, but I still didn’t want to do it. I decided to walk a thousand paces more, and then turn back. I watched my feet and counted my steps out loud. ‘One hundred and thirty one, one hundred and thirty two…’
Then I walked into something very hard. For a moment, I was stunned. I staggered back and fell. I looked up. A lamppost. Its faint, yellow light was only just visible in the thick mist. I looked around and saw the outline of other things too – some houses, some cars, a post box. I was in a village. I got up. My hands were bleeding, and they stung. I pressed them together, as though I was about to pray, and blew on them.
Perhaps now I could find a telephone or a taxi – something or someone – to get me home to Helen.
*flashed – shone briefly
*muttered – said in a low, unclear voice
*fundraiser – someone whose job is to raise cash for a charity
*charity – an organisation that relies on (cash) gifts in order to help others
*homeless – without a home
*furious – very angry
*turn its back – ignore
*stunned – surprised, knocked into a semi-conscious state