I wasn’t the sort to ask for help. But today I had no choice . . .
LET’S get one thing straight. I didn’t go looking for sympathy. I have no wish to play the “damsel in distress”. I was just unlucky to come back from work to my car and find I had a flat tyre – and not just a bit saggy, either, but totally undriveable.
Just then, I felt close to breaking down myself.
“You evil minx!” I scolded my hatchback, giving her a kick to the wheel. “Why are you doing this to me?”
I had to set down my umbrella and take off my gloves to dig in my handbag for my phone.
Dead battery. Not even enough power to ring the after-school club and beg them to hang on for me.
I leaned on the roof of my traitorous car, head in my hands, letting the rain soak me as I tried to formulate a plan.
I only vaguely registered a vehicle stopping behind me, and the soft whirring of a window being lowered.
“Everything all right?” a voice called, muffled by the rain and the engine. “Need any help?”
Oh, please, I thought. Just let me turn round and see a big van with “tyre fitter” on the side.
I almost couldn’t look. I wasn’t sure I could take another disappointment.
Slowly, I lifted my head, tried for a brave face and rotated.
It was a van, all right. But it didn’t say “tyre fitter”. It said “florist”. Just my luck.
“I’m not sure there’s anything you can do,” I said. “I’ve got a flat tyre, I have no tools, and I don’t have breakdown cover.”
“Hang on,” the voice said, and the vehicle swung into a parking bay.
Out jumped a man of about my own age.
“Spare in the boot?” he asked.
“Erm, yes,” I said. “I expect so. I haven’t needed it before, so I suppose I’ve never actually checked.”
“Open her up,” the man ordered, stepping round behind the car. He didn’t look like a florist, but then what did I suppose a florist looked like?
I didn’t much want to open the boot. There was a lot of unfinished business in there.
An enormous stash of cardboard toilet roll inner tubes I kept meaning to drop off for junk art at the after-school club, for a start.
A pair of crumpled curtains for the charity shop and – worse – a bag of my old smalls, which the shop volunteers urged donors to pass on to them for textile recycling rather than just putting them in the bin.
I mean, I’d washed them, obviously, but they still weren’t something I wanted a strange man to see!
There was a freezer pouch of batteries, too, destined for the council amenity site, and some old ends of paint for disposal.
“Don’t judge me,” I muttered as I tried to remove the baggage without him getting a look. “I will get around to dealing with all this stuff. I’m just a very busy person.”
“Don’t beat yourself up,” the man said. “It’s fine.”
When I’d cleared some space, he lifted the layer of carpet and there was a fine-looking spare tyre.
“Well, it’s OK for tread,” the man said. “But this one’s flat, too. Hopefully not punctured, though. Let me get my foot-pump.”
I glanced nervously at my watch.
“It won’t take long,” he assured me. “Are you on a deadline?”
“It’s the kids,” I said. “I’m meant to collect them by six at the latest, and it’s nearly quarter to already.”
“How many of them are there?” the man asked.
“Three,” I told him, wondering what difference that made to my scenario.
“No problem,” he said. “There are seatbelts for the driver and four passengers in the van. Let’s go. You can show me the way.”
Let’s go? How could I? I knew nothing about this chap, other than that he had noticed a woman on her own with car trouble in the dark and the rain.
That detail could mark him out as a predator just as easily as it could a knight in the shining stuff.
“Sorry. Of course, you