The Passenger by R.T Hardwick

I'm driving along a lonely road towards Porthcawl. It's a cold February afternoon, with a fierce wind blowing from the east and gobbets of rain falling. The wipers are performing a war dance when I see him. He's walking on the left hand side of the road, head bowed. He's old, I can tell that from his faltering stride. He' s dressed for a tea dance at the local community centre, not for an icy day in a Welsh mid-winter. On his back is a small, bulging rucksack. I pull up alongside him and lower the passenger-side window. 'Can I offer you a lift?' 

He doesn't reply, but opens the door and climbs in. 

'Going far?' I ask him. 

He shrugs. 'Anywhere.' 

'Porthcawl?' 

He nods and stares out of the window at the hilly, mist-girt landscape. He shivers. 'You need better protection in this weather. You'll catch your death.' 

He shrugs and grimaces. 

I glance at him. His cheeks are sunken, and the white stubble on his chin accentuates his skeletal face. 

'Aren't you a little old to be wandering about in the rain and the cold?' 

Again, he doesn't reply. I take it he's just uncommunicative, so I continue driving without speaking. We reach the outskirts of Porthcawl. 

'This'll do,' he says. I stop the car and he gets out. He collects his bag, hesitates, then motions me to wind down the window. 

'You asked me why I'm walking. I’ve nothing else to do - no family, three months to live – liver cancer. I'm walking on the wrong side of the road because...' 

I don't wish to hear any more, so I close the window and drive on, leaving him standing at the kerb. It'll be night soon and those lorries on the unlit roads.... 

Published in Issue #17

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