About To Explode

It was just after 10.30 in the morning and I was already sick of the way the day was panning out. I’d been on the road since 7am and I’d not even made my first drop of the day. It was raining. It was raining hard. Greater Manchester Radio was telling me that there was a major power failure in the Chorlton area of the city, but I already knew that.

We hadn’t moved for going on an hour. I was sitting with a copy of The Sun open on the racing pages, occasionally looking up at the dull and dead traffic lights on Wilbraham Road. All around me there was the blank or angry faces of people sitting in their cars and vans and trucks, knowing they should be somewhere else while all the motorbikes and bicycles edged and scurried past us. In a way I envied them being able to get where they needed to go, but this rain really was something fierce and I was glad of the furnace blast of my Ford Transit’s heater in this awful November cold.

It was just gone 10.45 when the first sound of sirens was audible above the hum of engines and occasional pointless hooting of horns. From where I was sat, still in the same place just past Springbridge Road, it sounded like it was coming from Alexandra Park direction, but there wasn’t really any way to tell, and I was damned if I was going to wind the window down! So I began speculating – as you do – about whether it was the fire brigade, police or an ambulance. In Manchester your best bet is probably police, I thought, but there was a ring to it that made me think there was more than one vehicle. But who knows these days? I swear they all have multiple sirens to get you out of their way faster.

My phone rang. It was my boss. For the third time since nine, for crying out loud.

“Tony,” he said, sounding annoyed. “Any developments?”

“Nah,” I said, trying not to commit to any particular emotion on this one. I’m not paid per delivery so at the moment I’m thinking I can rake in a few hours overtime I’m so behind.

“You’re still stuck in Manchester? Anything on the news?” Now he sounded really frustrated.

“They’re still saying it’s a major power cut. I thought traffic lights had their own supply, like. Apparently not.”

“Well you just keep me posted. Text me a picture of what it’s like or something.”

Anger tinted his tone now, and I didn’t like it. So I’d taken a couple of liberties with where I’d said I was, before. A few other lads had too. So he’d taken to making us send him picture messages of where we were. He said it was that or them satellite tracking things. I’d rather quit than have one of those bastards nosing on me.

Well I sent him the picture. For a moment I thought about taking one of the windscreen with the wipers switched off for a laugh, but then remembered that a stressed-out whinger with no sense of humour is unlikely to find it funny. Since the rain had died down a fair bit, I wound the window down a fraction and took a snap of the procession of traffic that I now realised would block the emergency services from getting anywhere in this area. It’s not like city centre traffic by any means, but it’s busy with houses and businesses. There’s all sorts around here.

It was then that the Asian lad came belting out of the gardens to my left. This is the direction I’d heard the sirens coming from. He had his collar pulled our around his face and he was going at a right old pace. I wondered right away why he’d be running so fast. Then common sense took over and I realised that if I’d been out in this weather I’d be running like my life depended on it too.

He was wearing a rucksack.

No, that was a crazy thing to think. I got cross with myself for being so paranoid. I’m not racist, and I know it’s wrong to assume that every Asian lad running is a terrorist or is doing something wrong. Especially in the rain, for God’s sakes! But the rain was quite gentle now, and the sun looked like it was going to start cutting through the thick grey of the Manchester skyline.

He really did have a turn of pace on him. I half expected a copper to come charging out the gate after him, and someone go “He went that-a-way,”. Then the copper would commandeer a bicycle and go tearing after him. I knew I was into daft thinking territory now: the result of being sat bored with nothing more than a less-than-unbiased newspaper and a very dull radio station for company.

I put Radio One on. Jo Wiley was playing some dire rock song. I can’t stand that stuff. I realised I’d left the window open a bit, and made to wind it back up.

That was when I saw him. He was in a van just like mine (but without the delivery company logo, of course) and he looked like quite the dodgiest character I’d ever seen. I’d not noticed him before, but then I’d not really been paying attention to the occupants of the vehicles around me. He was dodgy not because of the colour of his skin, the huge beard he had, or the turban he had on his head, but because of the fact he was sweating like nobody’s business and peering this way and that as if he was looking for something.

I felt my heart leap into my throat. Any misgivings I’d had about the lad sprinting out of the gate were gone. Something bad was quite obviously cracking off in Manchester. Power doesn’t suddenly go off, and if it does you don’t suddenly get the urgent sounds of the emergency services echoing through the streets around you. After what had happened in Britain over the last few years with all these Islamic extremists spoiling life for ordinary Muslims I just had this heart-pounding feeling that something was very very very wrong here.

Instead of winding the window up, I wound it down some. I wanted to watch this bugger, to see what he was doing. I’d quit smoking a couple of weeks ago, but I had a pack in my glove compartment “for emergencies”. We’re not supposed to smoke in the vans, but under the circumstances I thought having one would make me having the window down less suspicious. But how less suspicious?

He eyeballed me. I was sure of it. As I lit the fag (you have no idea how good it felt inhaling that sweet sweet smoke) he looked right at me. I wondered then if he knew I’d rumbled him. He suddenly looked away from me, his eyes seeking out the grassy area nearby. I think it’s a football pitch, but there weren’t any posts on it. I then noticed him looking around again, this time out of the corner of my eye.

Then something I didn’t expect happened. A chap who came out of nowhere came up to me and asked me for a light. He didn’t half frighten me as he said “Scuse me mate,” because he was a massive skinhead type fella, and in my experience of big skinheads coming up to me I’m about to get a kicking or at least insulted or spat at. But not this one.

“Got a light?” he asked. And as I passed him my lighter, he went on in a raspy whisper. “I saw you looking at the fella in the van. Don’t look. I saw him too. Something fishy going on in there, an’ I don’t like it.”

I felt rather relieved that my worries were justified by someone else. I still didn’t know where this bloke had come from, but I guessed from one of the cars behind me. The Asian guy was looking very suspicious, and now I could see he seemed to be clenching his teeth and twitching some. My heart was pounding and I felt really nervous.

Skinhead fella could see I was nervous. “You just act natural and keep an eye on him.” He said.  “I’ve phoned the pigs but how they gonna get here? Just watch him too. If you think you’re at all British you’ll watch him too.”

He handed me back the lighter and I could see the distaste in his eyes that I wasn’t the classic white Brit he’d been hoping for. Far from it: my Grandad’s Senegalese and my Mum is from Nigeria. But I was born here and I’m as British as the next man. I completely resented the “If you think you’re at all British” comment, but said nothing. He was right. I had a duty to my country to keep an eye on this man. Not because of his race, but because of his demeanour.

Before the skinhead was hardly away from my van, the driver’s door of the other van was flung open from the inside and the Asian fella leapt out. He ran to the other side and all of a sudden the world seemed in slow motion. I knew at that moment in time that you did not just simply jump out of your car in static traffic on a busy street and run, vehicle door left flung open. My imagination populated the back of his van with barrel upon barrel of explosives and a ticking timer.

There was shouting. There was me flinging my van door open and joining the skinhead in the chase, catching up with the heavyset but frankly overweight fortysomething in next to no time. We were bearing down on the Asian, and we could both hear him shouting something unintelligible. I felt the fear as I realised there were reports of the previous bombers doing just the same thing in their attempts to maim and kill. I heard the screams from other drivers and pedestrians. I heard a shout of “get him!” and others of panic and confusion.

It was still in slo-mo. He seemed to cramp over, reaching around to his back pocket. I heard the skinhead cry out, “He’s got a gun!” and in one fluid and surprising motion he leapt, rugby-style, towards the man. He caught him around the waistband of his jogging pants and crashed to the ground with a bone-crunching smack of knees on hard concrete. He cried out, but he did not let go.

What happened next will stay with me for the rest of my life. It was as though the slow-motion of before was suddenly fast-forwarded in an instant. The Asian man’s trousers were pulled almost completely down, along with his underwear, as he was dragged towards the growling, almost yelping figure of the skinhead. That was the moment he could control his bowels no longer, and a steady and thick stream of semi-liquid shit spurted out and into the still yelling face of the skinhead. He couldn’t have placed it more accurately if he’d tried: it hit him, smacking into the mouth and eyes with a precision that almost made me vomit.

That was the moment I realised what I’d been hearing as the Asian man had been running from his van was him crying out, in Pidgin English, “I have diarrhoea! I need shit! I have diarrhoea!”

I nearly laughed out loud. Were it not for the confusion and the sheer adrenaline of the situation, plus the additional concerned and worried drivers and pedestrians congregating around us, I might have yelled out “Serves you right!” at the faeces-splattered Mancunian redneck as he finally let go of the now tearful and embarrassed Sikh man. But the reality of the situation is that I’d thought the same thing: that this shifty looking fella was a terrorist and about to abandon a bomb-laden van in a populated area in a traffic jam. It never occurred to me until I had the benefit of hindsight was that what he actually was, was ill. He’d been sat in that traffic for God knows how long, desperate not to soil himself.

I learnt a harsh lesson that day; harsh but fair. I did not get covered in shit. I didn’t shatter both my kneecaps. On the whole I think I came out of a potentially dire situation rather well. Oh, and just for the record, I deliver medical supplies. My load that day included both bedpans and incontinence pants. I chuckle every time I see a box of either.

© Ian Henderson 2007