An act of generosity on the roads has disastrous circumstances in an extract from Marian Keyes' THE WOMAN WHO STOLE MY LIFE.
Can I make one thing clear – no matter what you’ve heard, and I’m sure you’ve heard plenty – I’m not a full-blown Karma-Denier. It might exist, it might not, like how on earth would I know? All I’m doing is giving my version of events. However, if Karma does exist, I’ll say one thing for it, it’s got a fantastic PR machine. We all know the ‘story’: Karma is running a great big ledger in the sky where every good deed done by every human being is recorded and at some later stage – the time to be of Karma’s choosing (Karma is cagey that way, plays its cards close to its chest) – Karma will refund that good deed. Maybe even with interest.
So we think if we sponsor youths to climb a hill to raise money for the local hospice, or if we change our niece’s nappy when we’d rather stab ourself in the head, that at some point in the future something good will happen to us. And when something good does happen to us, we go, Ah, that’ll be my old friend Karma, paying me back for my erstwhile good deed. ‘Hey, thanks, Karma!’
Karma has got a string of credits the length of the Amazon, when in fact I suspect Karma has been doing the conceptual version of lounging around on the couch in its underpants watching Sky Sports.
Let’s take a look at Karma ‘in action’.
One day, four and a half years ago, I was out driving in my car (a cheapish Hyundai SUV). I was moving along in a steady stream of traffic and up ahead I saw a car trying to get out of a side road. A couple of things told me that this man had been trying to get out of this side road for quite a while. Fact A) the man was bent over his steering wheel in an attitude of weary, imploring frustration. Fact B) he was driving a Range Rover and simply by dint of the fact that he was driving a Range Rover, everyone was going to think, Ah, look at him there, the big, smug, Range Rover driver, I’m not letting him out.
So I thought, Ah, look at him there, the big, smug, Range Rover driver, I’m not letting him out. Then I thought – and all of this was happening quickly, because, like I said, I was moving along in a steady stream of traffic – then I thought, Ah, no, I’ll let him out, it’ll be – and mark me closely here – it’ll be good KARMA.
So I slowed down, flashed my lights to indicate to the big, smug, Range Rover driver that he was free to go, and he gave a tired smile and started moving forward and already I was feeling a warm sort of glow and wondering vaguely what form of lovely cosmic payback I’d be getting, when the car behind, unprepared for me slowing down to let the Range Rover out – on account of it being a Range Rover – went ploughing into the back of me, shunting me forward with such force that I went careering into the side of the Range Rover (the technical term for such a manoeuvre is ‘T-boning’) and suddenly there was a three-car love-in going on. Except there was no love there, of course. Far from it.
For me, the whole thing happened in slow motion. From the second the car behind me began to concertina into mine, time almost stopped. I felt the wheels of my own car beneath me, moving without my say-so, and I was staring into the eyes of the man driving the Range Rover, our gazes locked in horror, united in the strange intimacy of knowing we were about to hurt each other and being entirely powerless to prevent it.
Then came the awful reality as my car really did hit his – the sound of metal crunching and glass shattering and the bone-juddering violence of the impact . . .
. . . followed by stillness. Just for a second, but a second that lasted a very long time. Stunned and shocked, the man and I stared at each other. He was only inches away from me – the impact had shifted us so that our cars were almost side by side. His side window had shattered and small chunks of glass glittered in his hair, reflecting a silvery light that was the same colour as his eyes. He looked even more weary than when he was waiting to be let out of the side road.
ARE YOU ALIVE? I asked, with my thoughts.
Yes, he replied. ARE YOU?
My passenger door was wrenched open and the spell was broken. ‘Are you okay?’ someone asked. ‘Can you get out?’
With shaking limbs, I crawled my way across to the open door and when I was outside and leaning against a wall I saw that Range Rover Man was also free. With relief, I registered that he was standing upright, so his injuries, if any, must be minor.
Out of nowhere a small man hurtled at me and shrieked, ‘What the hell are you at? That’s a brand-new Range Rover!’ It was the driver from the third car, the one who’d caused the accident. ‘This is going to cost me a fortune. It’s a new car! He doesn’t even have plates on it yet!’
‘. . . But, I . . .’
Range Rover Man stepped in and said, ‘Stop. Calm down. Stop.’
‘But it’s a brand-new car!’
‘Shouting about it isn’t going to change things.’
The yelling quietened down and I said to Range Rover Man, ‘I was trying to do a good deed, letting you out.’
Suddenly I realized that he was very angry and in an instant I’d got him – one of those good-looking spoilt men, with his expensive car and his well-cut coat and his expectation that life would treat him nicely.
‘At least no one was hurt,’ I said.
Range Rover Man wiped some blood off his forehead. ‘Yeah. At least no one was hurt . . .’
‘I mean, like, not seriously . . .’
‘I know.’ He sighed. ‘Are you okay?’
‘Fine,’ I said, stiffly. I didn’t want his concern.
‘I’m sorry if I was . . . you know. It’s been a bad day.’
It was mayhem all around us. The traffic was tail-backed in both directions, ‘helpful’ passers-by were offering conflicting eye-witness reports and the shouty man started shouting again.
A kind person led me away to sit on a doorstep while we waited for the police and another kind person gave me a bag of sweets. ‘For your blood sugar,’ she said. ‘You’ve had a shock.’
Very quickly the police showed up and started redirecting traffic and taking statements. Shouty Man shouted a lot and kept jabbing his finger at me, and Range Rover Man was talking soothingly, and I watched them both like I was watching a movie. There was my car, I thought, hazily. Banjaxed. A total write-off. It was utterly miraculous that I’d stepped out of it in one piece.
The accident was Shouty Man’s fault and his insurance would have to cough up, but I wouldn’t get enough to replace my car because insurance companies always underpaid. Ryan would go mad – despite his success we were constantly teetering on the brink of brokeness – but I’d worry about that later. For the moment I was happy enough sitting on this step eating sweets.
Hold on! Range Rover Man was on the move. He strode over to me, his open overcoat flying. ‘How do you feel now?’ he asked.
‘Great.’ Because I did. Shock, adrenaline, one of those things.
‘Can I have your phone number?’
I laughed in his face. ‘No!’ What kind of creep was he, that he tried to pick up women at the scene of a traffic accident? ‘Anyway, I’m married!’
‘For the insurance . . .’‘Oh.’ God. THE SHAME, THE SHAME. ‘Okay.’
So let’s look at the karmic fallout from my good deed – three cars, all of them damaged, one wounded forehead, much irateness, shouting, raised blood pressure, financial worry and deep, deep blush-making humiliation. Bad, bad, all very bad.