Today's Reading

He rubbed his eyes, startled. He pulled himself out of his chair and seemed to grow and grow. He was so tall he had to duck as he stumbled to the window, putting on his mask only as an afterthought. He had a thick brown beard, with hefty shoulders like a boxer's, and his hands were so large he had a problem undoing the catch on the window. He slid it open and crooked his neck sideways as he blinked and stared down at her.

"I'm not going to pretend. I'm lost. I'm trying to get to the M5 but all those roadworks on the A38 sent me off in the wrong direction." Her voice was louder than she'd intended because of the window, which she had to reach up toward, but also because she was anxious and he might not understand. Besides, she hated admitting she'd made a mistake. It wasn't as if she didn't know the route.

He gazed at her another moment, trying his best to wake up. Then he said, "You're lost?"

"It was the roadworks. Normally I'm fine. Normally I have no problem. I just need to get to the M5." She was doing it again. She was shouting.

He moved away from the window and opened the door at the side. She waited, not knowing what he expected her to do, just worrying about those dogs, until he called, "Excuse me?" So she put on her mask and went round.

Now that she was in the cabin, the young man seemed even larger. The top of her head would barely reach his chest. He stood with his neck at an angle and his body hunched to make it smaller. Even his shoes—a pair of solid black lace-ups, the kind they used to put on children to correct their feet—couldn't get enough space. And it was obvious why he'd been asleep. An old electric fire blazed out orange heat from beneath the window. It was like being spit-roasted from the ankles upward. Anyone would have fallen asleep next to that. Maureen swallowed a yawn.

He said, "You don't want to go shouting at random strangers that you're lost. It's not safe. They might take advantage of you."

His English was perfect. If anything he had a Devon accent. So there you were. That was another thing she'd been completely wrong about. "I don't think anyone would want to take advantage of me."

"You never know. There are all sorts of people in the world."

"You are right, of course. But can you help me or not?"

"Yeah. Okay. I think so." He tip-tapped a few things into his phone and held it out for her. It was no use: it was a map but tiny. He showed her where she was and all the roads she needed to take to get to the M5. "See?"

"No," she said. "I don't. I don't see. That makes no sense to me."

"Why not?"

"I don't know. It just doesn't."

"Do you have a GPS?"

"We do have a GPS but I don't use it."

He seemed confused but she wasn't going to enlighten him. The fact was she'd had the GPS disconnected. She couldn't bear that nice voice urging directions at her and telling her last minute that she'd missed the turn. Maureen was of the generation who had grown up with the phone on the hall table, and a map in the glove compartment. Even online shopping was a stretch. Twenty lemons instead of two, and all that kind of thing.

He said, "Will you remember if I tell you?"

"I don't think I will."

"I don't know what to do, then. What do you want me to do?"

"I would like you to read out the directions from your phone and I will write them down on a piece of paper. I'll take my route from that."

"Oh, okay," he said. He touched his beard and realigned his feet, as if this was going to take a whole different kind of posture in order to make it work. "I see. Okay."

Patiently, he told her to go to the end of the road, turn left, take a right, the second exit at the roundabout, and she wrote it all down on a page he had torn from a notebook. He paused at the end of each new instruction, to make sure she'd written it down. By the end she had twelve in all, and every one of them numbered.

"Do you know where you're heading after that?"

"Yes." She pointed at the place on her road map. 

"That's a very long way."

"I know."

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