Turn Right by Richard Berry

Estimated reading time: 20 minutes

I’m waiting for a gap.

A silver Picanto goes past, a red Shogun, a navy Golf changing lanes, a silver Prius, a black 9-3, another silver Prius, a blue V90, and a white Transit. Still no gap.

This is getting embarrassing.

A green C3, a maroon Discovery, a lorry, the 483 bus, a black Swift, a red Mini Cooper, and a blue Tracer 900 overtaking a silver Polo. Still no gap.

Correction: this was embarrassing, long ago. I’ve been sat at this junction for twenty minutes, waiting to turn right onto Hyde Road.

I wonder if I’ve failed my driving test.

The examiner hasn’t said anything for a long time, not since we first pulled up to the junction. What is her name again? Tade, I think. Perhaps I should say something, just to break the silence.

“It’s busy today.”

So pathetic. But she responds.

“There was a traffic alert this morning, disruption on the ring road.” This is the most she has said during the test so far. “I assume a lot of people are diverting along here.”

“Looks that way.” I hope this doesn’t sound like I’m being sarcastic, but Examiner Tade is inscrutable, so I don’t know how she’s taken it. I’m only looking at her out of the corner of my eye, but I swear she speaks without any change in facial expression or movement of her lips. This situation hasn’t phased her at all. I also have a sat nav on the windscreen, instructing me with a big yellow arrow to turn night. It’s endlessly patient. Not once has it reminded me to make the turn or shown the slightest concern with the delay. And why would it? It’s a machine. Tade, however, is just like that.

Grey V40, yellow Scenic, bicycle, silver Clio, navy X5, orange Tucson, pale blue Fabia, white up! Still no gap.

Another car pulls up behind me. Dammit. I knew it was going to happen again sooner or later. Someone else did it a few minutes into this debacle, and it didn’t go well. It was a man in a blue Kuga. He sat behind me for a while, then started beeping his horn. I tried to keep looking for a gap, but it was very distracting – long beeps where he held his hand down on the horn, short beeps where he just thumped it quickly, more long beeps, more short beeps, a few seconds of quiet, and then he began again. I thought he might be trying to send me a message in Morse code. I was sure I heard an SOS, though it was probably just in my head. Finally, he gave up and pulled across into the other lane to get past. The space between me and the row of parked cars opposite wasn’t wide enough, so he scraped his side along them. Then he stopped to yell at me, with a burn about my L-plates.

“What does the L stand for? Lump of shit that can’t drive?”

I suppose loser would have been a little too obvious.

“Very eloquent,” Tade said.

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He sped out into the traffic, when there was clearly no gap, and nearly hit an oncoming red Toledo. That was all very disconcerting, I have to admit. I assessed my nerves and concluded I’d probably need at least five minutes to get over it. I kept looking for a gap, or at least pretending to, while I calmed down.

Black Diavel, blue S60, the 112 bus, black F-Type, silver Mégane, maroon Civic, red Outlander, red A4. Still no gap.

I’m still glancing in my rear view mirror every five to seven seconds, like I’m supposed to. The car behind me now isn’t being aggressive. It’s another blue Kuga, amazingly, proving there isn’t any correlation between being a nob and owning a certain model of car.

A man stands in the street, talking to the other driver through the window. Are they talking about me? Oh, he’s coming over. He knocks on my window. He’s wearing a jumper that looks like it’s been worn a thousand times before. Is that feasible? If you wear it every day for three years. Or every other day for six years. Or every third for nine. Yes, it’s feasible. I don’t wind down my window for him because I’m pretty sure conversing with a pedestrian when I’m supposed to be paying attention to the road is an automatic fail. Thankfully, Tade lowers her window, and the man walks around to her side.

“Is everything okay?” he asks.

“We’re waiting for a gap,” she says. “Shouldn’t be too long.”

Maybe I’m imagining it, but I think she’s being nicer to him than she is to me.

“I live in the house on the corner,” he says, pointing. “I’ve been watching you for about half an hour now. I told the driver behind I’d try to help.”

“What did you have in mind, sir?”

“I just wondered, if he’s too nervous, whether you’d thought of taking over the driving yourself.”

“I wouldn’t do that in a driving test, sir. If I took control of the vehicle that would be an automatic fail. I can’t even give verbal instruction.”

“I see. Although surely the test is over by now. There must be a time limit.”

“Ordinarily there is, yes, but I have discretion to allow extra time if we’re delayed by traffic. I’m using it.”

“But isn’t it also a major fault to hesitate at a junction like this?” Then he turned to me. “No offence intended. We’ve all been there.”

“Are you a qualified examiner, sir?”

“Well, no–”

“You may be willing to take a risk in this situation. I might even be willing myself. But this traffic is heavy and fast-moving. It’s perfectly reasonable to wait for a safe time to emerge.”

The man stands back and quite literally strokes his beard. The stroking must have given him an idea. In fact, I think he says, “I’ve got an idea,” but Tade has raised her window, so I don’t know for sure until I see him implementing that idea. He stands on the corner, looking like he’s trying to cross the road. Cars go past as if he isn’t there. Suddenly the man holds up his arms like the Y in YMCA and steps out into the traffic. What is he doing?

A navy Mégane stops just a few yards in front of him. He keeps going onto the next lane, stops a white Corolla, then turns toward me and beckons me out. Tade doesn’t react at all, as far as I can tell. I do consider pulling out, for a second, but then the drivers he has halted decide they’ve waited long enough. There’s a lot of angry beeping from behind them, to be fair. The Mégane in the near lane drives off, yelling something at the man, possibly referencing the jumper – but I can’t be sure. The Corolla revs up and heads straight for him, forcing the man to jump out of the way, into the near lane again, where he is nearly hit by a silver Qashqai.

He skips back to the pavement, and towards his house, saying, “Sorry, I tried,” quite loudly, as he passes.

“Dangerous,” Tade says.

I go back to gap-watching.

Bin lorry, blue Toledo, silver Focus, navy Polo, gold 308, white Boxer, red Passat, green Micra. Still no gap.

I’ve been here an hour and a half now. It’s closer to two hours, actually, if I’m being accurate. The queue behind me is pretty long. The cars don’t have enough room to turn around, so it would take an unprecedented feat of coordinated reversing for them to get away. The car directly behind me now is a black Range Rover Sport – exactly what one needs to negotiate the residential side roads of suburban Manchester. It’s also too wide to squeeze past me, blocking everyone else.

Most of them have given up beeping. Only cars new to the queue bother doing that, and as the queue gets longer, their sounds get farther away. All of those people waiting for me to move. The pressure is hard to bear. And all those other people racing past in front of me, gapless, unaware. Their indifference is almost as bad.

Perhaps L could have stood for limited understanding of the Highway Code. That would have worked.

Black Zafira, grey Transporter, white Diavel, silver Qashqai, blue C4, grey Berlingo, red D-Max. Still no gap.

“Why do you keep muttering the names of the cars as they go past?”

“Oh, I didn’t realise I was doing that,” I reply. “Is that a fault?”

“Technically, no.”

“I’ll try to stop. I just like cars. A lot.”

“You certainly seem to like this one.”

“This one’s okay. It’s my dad’s. His pride and joy. I actually learned to drive in a different car, a brand new Mercedes S-class. I bet you don’t hear that too often!”

“I don’t ask often. But, yes, that does sound out of the ordinary. Who taught you?”

I like it when she asks me questions. “I taught myself, really. There’s this old guy who works in my office. I got talking to him in the kitchen and told him I was learning. He asked if I’d come over to his house late at night, so I could drive him around in the Merc while he slept on the back seat.”

“Well, that’s illegal.”

“He says it’s the only way he can sleep. He pays me twenty pounds to do it three times a week. So that’s how I learned, driving a luxury car around, unsupervised, in the early hours of the morning.”

“I could report him.”

“I guess I shouldn’t have told you, but I like the story, and at this present moment I don’t know if I’ll speak to anyone else ever again.”

“It’s okay,” she says. “I won’t report it. I mean, I could – and I might. But I won’t.”

“You really like your job, don’t you?”

“Love it.”

“Why?”

“Power, man. Power. Twenty-nine thousand a year and all the power I can handle.”

“But do you love it today?”

“Especially today.”

Red 911, lorry, white Duster, red Clio, silver Leon, bicycle, the 112 bus, green Beetle. Still no gap.

The daylight is beginning to disappear. At this time of year, that means peak traffic is only just beginning. From what I can tell, and to the extent one can summarise, the queue behind me is in surprisingly good spirits. Some of the cars have somehow managed to reverse and get away, only to be replaced by others. A few of the drivers are out of their cars, socialising. I imagine romances starting in my queue. I like to think of all the marriages and babies I might ultimately be responsible for.

There’s a knock on my window. A smart-looking woman. The two of us are of an age. She’s holding a notebook, open to a blank page, ready to write. Her pen is attached to it by a looped piece of elastic. I like that.

Tade raises her index finger and moves it in a circular pattern. She means for the woman to go round to the passenger side, which she does. Tade winds down. I keep looking for a gap.

“Hi, my name is Katherine. I’m from the council,” the woman says.

“I see.” Tade.

“We’ve had a few calls about what’s happening. I was sent out to investigate.”

“What would you like to know?”

“Basically, why you haven’t moved.”

“I would have thought that was obvious. Because there hasn’t been a clear opening.”

“I see.”

“Good, now we both see.”
I can’t help myself. I have to speak. “Can she do anything to help? What about holding the traffic up at a red light long enough for everyone to get out?” I’m addressing Tade, not Katherine from the council. I think that’s permissible. But Tade stays silent to let Katherine answer. She knows I’ve found a loophole.

“Unfortunately not. The problem is, you’re on a road managed by the borough council, but the road you’re turning onto is managed by the city. We have no control over it.”

“Can’t the city council do anything?” I ask Tade.

“I suppose they could,” the woman answers. “But as far as they’re concerned, there’s no problem. Traffic on their road is moving smoothly.”

Hopes dashed by a quirk of local government. I don’t mind that. It’s a story. I get back to gap-watching while Tade takes control of the conversation again.

“In summary, there’s nothing you can do?” she says.

“No, except, well, I thought some gentle encouragement would help. Do you know about nudge theory? This is causing quite a lot of fuss.”

“I can’t give verbal instructions.” Tade winds up her window. The woman stands motionless for a time before she walks away.

Green Primavera, black 4 Series, 483 bus, blue Punto, white Ka, grey Cee’d, navy X5, maroon Cherokee. Still no gap.

There’s an increasing number of pedestrians crossing in front of me. They must be coming from the underground station, making their way home from work. Everyone staring at their phones, not watching where they’re going. It will be impossible to find a gap now.

“If I ever get of here, I’m going to make contact with my son,” I say.

It takes Tade a few seconds to react. “Your son?”

“I’ve never met him. I had a girlfriend in sixth-form for about three weeks. She got pregnant. But I already had a place at university, and my dad said I couldn’t throw my life away. So I left. I didn’t think she’d go through with it.”

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Tade reaches over and puts her hand on the steering wheel. I think this means something, but I’m not sure what. Maybe that the test is over, or at least paused. Maybe, even, that I can stop looking for a gap.

“Have you tried to see him before?” she asks.

“I tried, once or twice, when I was home for holidays. She wouldn’t let me in.”

“Was it once or was it twice?”

I might as well be honest.

“It was once. I gave up on him. I felt relieved.”

“I’m not judging you. That must have been incredibly difficult.”

“Facing up to why I left, and fighting to be in his life, will be harder. The hardest things I’ve ever done.”

“Harder than turning right at this junction, I suppose.”

“Much.”

“You know there have been gaps in the traffic while we’ve been sitting here, don’t you? Lots of gaps.”

“I know,” I say. “I’m just not ready yet.”

Tade lets go of the steering wheel and the test, I think, resumes.

Silver Rio, bicycle, silver Qashqai, red Zafira, lorry, black Mazda3, white Doblo, black Shogun. Still, no gap.

The pedestrians are acting strangely. They are conspicuously stopping to look at me before they cross the road. Quite a few of them take photos, some of my car, some of the whole queue behind. One of them leans right across the bonnet to get a close-up shot of Tade and me.

“The pedestrians are acting strangely,” she says.

Another knock on my window. A man in a tight t-shirt and tight jeans. I ignore him and wait for Tade to send him round to her side. But this time, she doesn’t. “Go ahead,” she says. “At this point it really doesn’t matter.”

“Hey, how’s it going?” is his greeting.

“Fine, thanks.” My automatic reply.

“I’ll cut to the chase. My name is Aled, and I edit a local news website. I want to write a piece on you.”

“Why?”

“This is a big story, dude! You’ve already got your own hashtag. Lock in the fame now while you can.”

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He pulls his phone out of his pocket, with some difficulty, and holds up the screen toward me. Can’t believe how long this guy has been waiting to #turnright someone has written, above a picture of Tade and me. It must have been that guy who climbed on the bonnet. I scroll down.

I live near the street where the driver won’t #turnright. Traffic at a standstill for hours!!

This is the exactly why I’ve always said learner drivers shouldn’t be allowed on the road #turnright

Why doesn’t #turnright guy just frigging TURN LEFT?

#turnright is a symptom of growing traffic congestion in our city. Read my blog on how we need to get motorists out of their cars http://www.breathoffresh.wordp…

I’m in the #turnright queue!!! Sooooo bored, hungry, etc. Does anyone know if Dominos delivers to a traffic jam? 😉

That’s why I carry my knitting around with me #turnright #neverboredintraffic #inyourfaceexwhothoughtIwasobsessed

Isn’t it time we ALL started to stop and think before rushing into reckless decisions, e.g. Brexit? #turnright is an inspiration

We can confirm a borough traffic officer has assessed the #turnright situation at the scene and we continue to monitor events as they develop

I look to Tade for guidance.

“Up to you,” she says.

Being honest, I’d really rather not get involved in all of this.

“I’ll say one thing, Aled, and that’s all,” I announce. “I am very sorry to the people stuck behind me, and I promise as soon as there is a gap I’ll pull out.”

“Great quote, that’ll do,” Aled says. “Obviously I’ll re-write it a little just for clarity. By the way, what’s your name?”

“Oh. I think it’s best I don’t say. Some of these people might be angry.”

“Fair enough. Bit of mystery will probably help getting clicks.”

Editor Aled stands back from my window and gives me a double thumbs-up. I can’t help but be grateful for it. Turning to walk away, he stops, as if he’s just remembered something.

“One more thing,” he shouts. “Try to pull out, will you? I need an ending!”

“That’s what I’m doing!” I yell back, although he can’t hear.

Grey Passat, silver Focus, yellow 500, blue Punto, black A-class, red Avensis, navy Corsa, white Transit. Still no gap.

“I’m leaving,” Tade says.

“What?”

“Take this.” She hands me the clipboard. “Take it to the test centre in the morning – if you’re not still here by then – and get your licence. I’ll tell them you passed before this all started.”

She opens the door, doesn’t glance back, doesn’t say goodbye. The door doesn’t open fully so she has to slither out. But she’s upright and dignified again soon enough, and then she’s around the corner and gone.

I’m alone.

I take out my phone and dial. He answers within a single ring. “Hello?”

“Dad, it’s Ben. I need your help. I’m at the top of Laburnum Road and I can’t move.”

“I’m here, son.”

“What do you mean?”

“I’ve been here for hours. I heard what was happening, so I’ve been waiting to see if you needed me.”

“I bet you were worried about the car.”

“I couldn’t care less about the car, Ben. I’m only worried about you. I’m sorry if I ever made you think any different. It isn’t always easy to say the things I want to say.”

“I have to see him, Dad.”

“I know, son. I’ll be with you.”

He appears at my window. I hang up the phone and shove my body over to the passenger side so he can get in. My hand lingers on the gear stick, and brushes his for a second as he reaches down to put the car into first. A blue Astra passes, a black Golf, a silver CX-5, a red Altea. He tuts, and I smile. Then there’s a gap. “Let’s go home,” he says. He pulls out, and we’re away.

About The Author

Richard Berry is a Mancunian author. His fiction has appeared in Dream Catcher, and he has forthcoming work in The Letters PageBFS Horizons and Soft Cartel. His political writing has been published by The Guardian, Economist, New Statesman and others. He lives in London with his son, Kurt.
 
 
Richard’s story Turn Right appears in Issue Five
 
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