Y’know, we started calling him St. Mina, cos’ of his long, morose face which adopted this weighed down, grey kind of look. His shoulders were slumped, like a scholar’s, and his hands moved in a heavy motion, turning the wheel like he was steering a cruise liner down the long, lazy lines of an African river. We didn’t really see the back of his head, only the frames of his hair around the raised neck rest.
He hadn’t spoken much, we reckoned he was shy, but he did give out a nervous little grin every time we called him a saint/pretty sure he was an atheist – he had that kind of look about him; he was too pale to believe in much of anything, and he handled the car a little too well to be a virgin. He’d picked us up, Machiavelli and me, a few feet on from a bridge we’d been thinking about throwing ourselves off.
He’d been trying to tell me that, once you tried to kill yourself out of hunger, the police’d definitely give us a meal, at least. I said they’d probably just lock us up.
‘Great!’ He said, his handsome blue eyes reflecting the Irwell. ‘That’s three four meals a day! At least! After what’s been going on, they can’t afford to get anymore bad press! Seriously Bull, we’ll be living like kings!’ I didn’t get the American obsession with royalty. He called me Bull cos’ that’s what I was, to him – A bloody John bloody Bull – he called everyone in this country Bull.
We spent about half an hour watching the river, and the optimistic Yank tried to convince me to drown myself for some yellow paste in a tin tray in a four-walled room with a wide door and metal bars in place of windows. I couldn’t stop thinking about Bob Dylan’s solicitor’s pig and a four-star general with a personally engraved bazooka and a plan to murder Jesus. I gotta say, Machiavelli was persuasive, but I’d seen him turning that cheerful charm on more than one woman in the few days since I’d known him, and it’d stopped working on me. Just the night before, he’d been sleeping between some student’s legs, and they only let me crash under the table after it started raining.
Anyway, this lad pulled up and asked if we knew how to get on the northbound motorway and Machiavelli said sure, where are you headed bull and he said Edinburgh and he’d said great bull we’ll show you the way bull and we were cruising along with a Saint in the driver’s seat before we knew it. Machiavelli asked him if his shoulders were hurting and he said no and we laughed and he didn’t know why and he asked us our names and Machiavelli told him and I said don’t you know I studied under Adrian at Canterbury and I told him he was a rip-off of amen hallelujah and Machiavelli howled his laughter out the window.
The American slept after a few minutes and I told Mina not to worry, that he thought he was Paradise and he was just looking for Professor Moriarty. The saint asked me what I was doing following him and I couldn’t think of an answer. I think he forgot I was there, cos he started spit shouting his thoughts like he was singing along to the radio.
‘Oh, these dry, dark days!’ He coughed his way onto the M6. ‘Can you not feel it, feel the heat rising from the cobblestones, feel it warming the palms of your hands? Can you not sense the illicit lightness in the air, and the vague sense of guilt held by those who remain indoors? It is on days like these that the office workers feel trapped in the chairs, that the men and women with good jobs pull at their hair and gnash their teeth and dream of the weekend. In fact, can you not hear them? Listen to their woeful cries; that this weather holds out just a few more minutes, a few more hours; just a few more days! Of course, it will not.’
And I said; I get what you’re trying to do, man. You just need to get yourself an accent, cos’ no one cares for English anymore – hey, maybe that’s what I’m looking for; an idiolect all of my very own; a language for the road, to make the miles bleed into one small room, on the first floor of a terraced bed.