The visitors are sterner even than the ones who’d come calling after last year’s misunderstanding with the bus. They’re somewhat less credulous, too.

No-one had seen it coming?

Maybe it’s the visitors’ uncertainty with the language, or their doubts about just how sharp he’s going to be after the head injury, but they do like to repeat him.

Or maybe someone has had words with them about what he can be “like”.

No-one had seen it coming?

None of them had seen it coming, Tim tells them, tiring a bit of the repetition, and perhaps wanting to play with them a bit like he’d played with that Croc-wearing beige therapist who couldn’t pronounce her “r”s and whose pronouncements about the nature of his many “issues” were immediately nullified by the mess she made of pronouncing them. 

None of them saw it coming because it wasn’t coming, he tells his visitors. They were. All six of them. And way too fast.

The visitors react as if perhaps he’s said something inappropriately amusing in his own vernacular. And there’s that look that wants him to know that this Isn’t Funny. Like they’d said about the bus, those hard-faced uncomprehending English ones, when they’d come to his bedside back then, asking him if he’d “known what he was doing” when they damn well knew already. And he’s not supposed to find that funny?  

Croc-wearing beige therapist woman was no different. Guess what’s in my head, she had him playing. Arse about face, that was, and no mistake. 

Anyway, Tim knows it can’t be a joke, what happened tonight. Not with how it ended up and what these visitors have probably seen of the others, who hadn’t been as “lucky” as he’d been, from what little the nurses have told him.  It can’t be a joke, even with the irony of him trying to escape, getting so very far from home, and then nearly being trapped again. So he gives his visitors his serious look, like he’d done when first awarded his diagnosis.

The visitors nod, accepting his serious act. And then they’re at it with the questions again, so he beckons them closer, and they follow the finger, not knowing that he’s the type to give them the finger. But this isn’t like not-getting-to-Basingstoke day. And who’d have thought a 40 year-old Routemaster could go quite that fast down the hard shoulder? Who’d have thought it would tip that like, either?

Tim hefts himself up a bit against the unpleasantly solid pillows. Another beckon. It wasn’t really like no-one had seen it coming, he says. He’d known something was wrong.

Oh?  How had he “known” that, then, they ask, and he hears the speech marks around the “known”, and he purses his lips at them, and at the speech marks, too. He shakes his head wearily, ‘cos they’re just turning it all back into questions again, like the conversation’s modelled after that snake that eats its tail. The way his life has been for so many years now. No matter how hard he tries to escape it.

It’s not him “trying to be right about everything again, like he always has to be right about everything”, he tells the put-on stereo blankness at the end of his bed. It’s not him being like Wendy back home would tell people he is. Like she’d made sure to tell the doctors – not these doctors, the other doctors, the headcase doctors.

There is some nodding at this example of Tim-Going-Off-On-One speech that he remembers actually has a name. Even the way he talks has got itself a label. But they’re alright; he’s not going to tell them about turning Wendy’s house upside down to find the passport. They had tried to ask how he’d got out here. It’s obvious, after all, that he’s not from these parts. But he’s already decided, practically from the moment they came in, that the head injury thing is a good front for not giving anything away that he doesn’t have to give away, and like the therapists, Croc-wearing or otherwise, they’re really very easily manipulated, these people.

He’d known because he could feel it, of course, Tim tells them. It wasn’t just the speed or the horns blaring at them or the rolling, roiling, laughter from that thick fug of sweet-smelling whatever up front. He could feel something in the seconds before. Even before the first, surely unintended, swerve, and even before the back end – his end – declined to have anything more to do with the front end and they were off into the spin that would last longer than any of them could have predicted, but that he’d timed so precisely. Even in the dark. Barely two seconds, he’d made it – but a long, long two seconds, and then… They, of course, know the “and then” better than he does. A tree, the nurses had told him. 

Drugs, then, they ask, and Tim is confused, because they’re not obeying the rules. He’s just led them to the accident and the tree, and now they want to go backwards. Like time doesn’t.

‘course it was drugs, he tells them. That’s why they were laughing so much. He’d recognised the sickly smell even from where he’d been. Weed. Ganja. Any number of other euphemisms he’d have to look up on Google, but they should surely, surely, surely understand, even with the language barrier. It was the same niff that had lingered round Wendy when she’d had that…thing for ice cream man Mario. And it had been the only time he’d ever heard her laughing like that, too. Just a shame there hadn’t been a tree.

They were high? the visitors ask him.

That needs no reply.

Was it like that before you got in?

Before? Oh, yeah. That Tammy, whose car it wasn’t, she’d been smoking something outside the hotel when he’d met her. That had been before the scary twins turned up. And the other two. Who weren’t twins. The thing they have to remember, he tells his visitors again, is that it was only about half an hour before they set off that he met them all. Met Tammy first, of course. Got talking to Tammy first. Not that they’re to read anything into that. People think that he’s got a thing for the ladies because of his phone that time and Wendy going through his camera roll and what she’d told everyone when he’s only human. It’s not like there was anything illegal on there.

Not on his phone.

Actually, he doesn’t tell them that. But they do need to understand that he hadn’t known Tammy. Before. He gives them the Look that ought to tell them he’s not bullshitting. And now it’s all what she wanted to know from him. Whether she had asked him who he was with; whether she’d wanted to know if he was travelling solo; if he had any family or friends in the hotel or nearby. 

And now they’re the ones with the pressured speech (that’s what it’s called) and the overdone italics and the over-intense intense looks, as if they’re going to get the answers through his chuffing forehead if he can’t give them in words.

What do they think? It’s only their kind who’ve been to see him since he came round or whatever the phrase is. They must know that there’s been no-one else interested in seeing him; no-one he’s contacted, either. 

He tells the pair of them that he hadn’t wanted anything out of Tammy other than the lift she’d promised him in that bar, and they seem to believe that much. He’d not known the twins, either, ‘tho they were definitely the type who’d look at the five of them already piling into the car and suggest that there was only one place for him if he really wanted to tag along.

Which is precisely what they’d suggested. And Tammy had gone along with it, he’d wanted to think, despite suspecting better, ‘cos they had some kind of power over her. They were probably the ones supplying the weed.

So, that’s how he had ended up in the trunk? One of the visitors writes it down. Or something down. And now they’re at the shifty looks again, and they don’t know better than to try it on with him, ‘cos he’s a human sponge who picks up on other people’s feelings all too easily and that’s why he over-reacts and stuff when Wendy’s doing her desperate thing.

Well, yeah, he tells them.  It was that or not get back to the station at all.

The station?

Yeah, yeah, the station. The station. That’s where they were headed. And he’d got plans to…well, they don’t need to know this, but he’d got a message from that Safira girl the other week, month, whatever, and she’d told him he was welcome “any time” and this particular moment qualified as “any time”. She’d got a sofa, she’d said (Safira with the sofa – ha), and he was welcome to stay over, so – you know – in one of the possible scenarios, it would have been: station, couple of hours on the first train through to her place, and then. Ha.  One up to him. No chance of Wendy knowing about Safira. She hadn’t found the other phone.

He got into the trunk himself? The most likely younger of the two – Tim has never been especially good at the ages thing – wants to know.

Yeah, ‘course he did.

And he was going to the station, he thought?

No “thought” about it, he tells them. He’s no idiot. The doctors have proved that much. 

And he didn’t know them?  Any of them?  Not the twins?

‘course not.

And yet he still got in there?

Yes, and again, yes. Tim knows they’ve got enough now. For their purposes. As for his own…he knows there’ll be discussions with people later. About his “impulsivity”; about his “reckless urges”. Particularly when – and, Wendy, please take note – he feels trapped and the world is sphinctering in around him and he doesn’t care what happens. That bus very nearly got to Basingstoke. 

He’d got in the trunk, hadn’t he? And he’d thought the thought, hadn’t he? And he’d done it anyway.

A pencil is tapped against unsightly teeth, and there is a little nod that Tim could have read through walls from the other end of the building. The two visitors get up, smile awkwardly at each other, at him, at the wall, and practically everything else that they clearly think needs reassuring.

But they’ve not accounted for Tim’s special skills. He might get “too caught up on all the tiny details” but sometimes the details are important. Like the looks they’ve passed between them that had confirmed what he’d thought the moment Tammy had narrowed her eyes at him over her joint and reached into her bag for the mobile he just knows she’d used to summon the twins from wherever they’d been, possibly trying to snare a lonely, out-of-his-depth customer themselves. A no family and friends for a thousand miles customer.

Perhaps he had not even been their first. And perhaps he wouldn’t have been the last, if the tree hadn’t stopped them.

Tim clears his throat as the younger of his two shortly to be ex-visitors reaches for the door handle. He draws them back in until they’re almost at the end of the bed again.

He asks if they might fetch the nurse.

Uncertainty, concern, relief, uncertainty again.

Yeah, the nurse. His mobile’s probably still in a ditch somewhere. And he needs to make a phone call. He needs to get his travel arranged away from here. Now he’s lost his lift.  Though that’s not necessarily such a problem, he tells them.

Safira tells him she’s got a car as well as a sofa.

Mike Hickman

Mike Hickman is a writer from York, England. He has written for Off the Rock Productions (stage and audio), including 2018's "Not So Funny Now (2018)" about Groucho Marx and Erin Fleming. He has recently been published in EllipsisZine, Dwelling Literary, Bandit Fiction, Nymphs, Flash Fiction Magazine, Brown Bag, and Safe and Sound Press. His co-written, completed six-part BBC radio sit com remains unproduced but available to interested producers!