When Angels Jump Off
Passing Road Trains
Bill reclined in the row of seats in front of them, making no comment. Rob in the front passenger seat, dozed as he rested his curly mop on the passenger window.
Petrol at Orange and the youth filled their tanks with lollies, chips and soft drink.
I found the “ladies”, a grotty dive around the corner. Tania ignored me as she primped her ebony bob and patted her round cheeks with blush in front of the scratched-metal excuse of a mirror.
I sauntered back over the cracked pavement of the service station to the van crouching by the pumps. Tom sat there, in my seat, hands hugging the steering wheel and a grin on his lips.
“Right, we’ve wasted enough time, I’m driving,” Tom said.
“Are you sure that’s a good idea?” I asked. Tom was 18, full of testosterone and a sense of immortality. “What about your P-plates?”
“Pff! Who needs them, we’re in the country,” Tom replied. “The cops won’t care.”
My manager’s warning echoed in my mind. Don’t let the youth drive. This was a company van. “l think it would be better if someone else drives.”
Bill stretched out, comatose on the middle bench seat, while Rob leant against the bonnet, eyes averted and licking an ice cream.
“Rob?” I pleaded.
“It’s alright.” He bit into the cone. In a languid tone, he said, “I’m sure Tom’s a good driver.”
Tania planted herself in the front passenger seat. She curled her lip and snarled, “Better driver than you. At least we’ll get somewhere.”
“Fine then, I hope you know what you’re doing.
“Relax! I know what I’m doing. We’ll be at the conference in no time,” Tom said and turned the key. The engine puttered contented with its new master. “Anyway, we’ve wasted enough time with you stuffing around.”
I gritted my teeth and crawled into the dark recesses of the Toyota. I chose not to fight this battle. I needed a rest, but had an uneasy feeling about the next few hours.
Our new driver, engaged the gears, and catapulted the car onto the highway. Tyres spun on the bitumen. I smelt burnt rubber.
Bill rolled off his seat and woke up with a start. “What’s happening?” He rubbed his eyes, and then batted at the wads of sleeping bags, sweet wrappers and lemonade bottles. He craned his neck peering at Rob and me each side of the back three-seater bench with Karen holding her duffle bag in the middle. Confused, he pulled himself upright using the driver’s seat and eye-balled Tom. Then he looked back at us, eyes wide. “What’s going on?”
“Don’t ask!” I said. Reflector posts and shadows of trees flitted past. In the dim light, the whites of Bill’s eyes glowed. “You’re letting him drive?”
He jerked his muscular arms. “Do you know how fast he is going?”
“What?” I peered at the speedometer. The needle hovered between 160 and 170 kilometres per hour. “Oh, crap.”
The vehicle mounted a low rise and flew for a few seconds. The floozies strapped into their respective seats screamed as if they were on a roller-coaster ride.
Bill gripped my arm. “You’re in charge, do something.
I tried. “Hey, Tom, I think you’re going a bit fast, could you slow it down a little.”
Tom ignored my pleas and we watched the needle creep up to 180 km/h. “Tom, slow down,” Bill urged. He patted the lad’s arm. “You’ll get a speeding fine.”
“No, I won’t,” Tom said.
“We have to make up for lost time. We’re already three hours late,” Tania whined.
“So what if we are late?” I begged. “Better that, than dead on arrival.”
Tom’s Teutonic features hardened like flint, eyes staring through the screen, mouth a thin line set in grim determination, and his jumbo ears deaf to our pleas. The more we urged and begged, the more resistant he became and the more he pumped the accelerator. The more we feared for our lives.
“Come on, Tom. We don’t want to have an accident.” Bill put a strong hand on Tom’s shoulder. “The angels jump off when you go over the speed limit.”
“No they don’t.” Keeping his sight fixed on the road, Tom flicked the hand from him. “We have three hours to catch up. I want to get to Brisbane by the four in the afternoon.” The needle pushed up to 190 km/h.
Bill, Rob and I withdrew, accepting our fate and praying that the angels will hang onto the van for our sake. I was not sure how much time had passed. For a moment, time seemed irrelevant. All was clear, all was calm. I forced myself to stay awake. We pelted along the highway in the dark countryside.
Somewhere along the stretch of Tom’s speedway, we rearranged ourselves. Bill moved to the front passenger seat, and Rob and I sat in the middle row. The girls curled up in the back of the van, putting their full trust and unbelted bodies at the mercy of Tom’s driving. Titan-size trucks, sympathetic to our driver’s need for speed, waved us on and we passed the road-trains of travelling tonnes of steel.
“The angels jump off at this speed, Tom,” Rob said and then yawned.
Tom laughed and made the whole van wobble and swerve into the gravel. He then swung the van to the wrong side of the road and stayed there.
“I’m not happy Tom! What do you think you’re doing?” I batted him. Blinding lights bore down on us. “Watch out, Tom!” I pressed my foot on an imaginary brake-pedal and screamed.
“Calm down, Grandma!” Tom laughed as he slipped back into the left lane with only millimetres to spare. The van shuddered with the slipstream.
“God! That was close!” Bill wiped beads of sweat from his forehead.
“That’s nothing!” Tom pressed the throttle to the floor and relished the roar of the speeding engine.
The needle on the fuel gauge sank into the red zone. Hope. We would have to stop for petrol. Using my finger as a signal, I alerted Bill to the need for petrol.
[To be continued…finale next week]
© Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2023
Feature Photo: Road train at Dawn © L.M. Kling 2013
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