Traffic Jam

TRAFFIC JAM

Ann McKee

 

(This piece was written in response to an idea to bring three different characters together in a specific setting.)

Spotting a gap in the traffic, Leroy abruptly pulled out. A black cab screeched to a stop behind him.  In his rear-view mirror a red-faced man mouthed obscenities. Leroy shrugged. He was on the clock: up at 6am, load the van at the depot by 6.45, then on the road in from Stratford.

What was the hold up anyway? It was always bad coming through the City, but this was unreal. He glanced at his phone. Nearly 8. Shiz, meant to be making the first delivery in 5 minutes.

He flicked through the channels on the radio. A news bulletin interrupted his station-hopping.

“Extinction Rebellion activists have set up a blockade in the City. A number of protesters have driven a caravan across the northern side of the entrance to Tower Bridge and are preventing traffic from crossing in both directions. Police are currently attempting to remove the protesters.”

Oh my days! That was the reason he was stuck. Leroy leaned out of his window to accost the policeman who was making his way through the stationary traffic, “‘Scuse me, mate. Whass happ’ning? How long we gonna be stuck?”

“Don’t know, mate. You’d better turn your engine off. Could be a while yet.”

Leroy obeyed. Opening the van door, he swung down and slammed it shut. Up ahead the traffic lights changed fruitlessly from red to green and back again. Making his way towards the front of the queue of vehicles, mobile in hand, he called the depot.

“Yo bruv, it’s me, Leroy. Listen. I ain’t gonna make no deliveries on time this morning. Bunch of them Extraction Whatsits got the roads blocked, innit. No-one can get through. Pass it on, eh, bruv? Don’t wanna lose ma job AND ma wages!”

He scanned the sea of cars, vans and cabs around him, and wiped his damp hands on the front of his t-shirt. ‘Respect your mother’ encircled a graphic of the earth across the front of it. Leroy’s mother liked it. He took out the clean handkerchief that she made him carry and wiped his brow. Only just gone 8: man, was it gonna be a scorcher!  In front of him, slewed across the road, was the caravan the news announcer had mentioned.

“What do we want? “

“Fossil fuels gone!”

“When do we want it?

“Now!”

From the small crowd of chanting protesters, two women had extracted themselves and laid down in the middle of the approach to the bridge. Each bore a placard: “Tell the Truth” said one; “Stop funding climate catastrophe” read the other. The older one – she could have been his grandmother – beckoned Leroy over.

“Looks like you should join us,” she gestured at the message on his t-shirt, smiling up at him earnestly. Her own t-shirt, circles of sweat already evident under her arms, displayed the words ‘your planet needs you’. She offered Leroy something beige and nutty-looking.

“Go on. Flapjack. It’s homemade. Dairy free.”

He shook his head, holding up a hand in polite refusal.

“Fancy a cuppa?” The younger woman spoke. She held up an oversized teapot on which the word ‘Deniabilitea’ was emblazoned. “Not really,” she added, “just trying to get the message across.”

“What message?” Leroy demanded irritably. “Far as I can see, the only message you all is sending is ‘I’m a wasteman who got all the time in the world to spend stopping other people from doing their jobs’, you get me?’

The older woman struggled to her feet. Leroy resisted the urge to help her, but as her efforts to rise from the ground seemed to be defeating her he offered his hand.

“Oh thank you, young man. My yoga classes don’t seem to be paying the dividends I’d expected. No, no, you must see,” she began, retaining his hand, “that’s just it: no-one’s ‘got all the time in the world’. We must act now. It might already be too late. And then jobs – yours, theirs (she nodded in the direction of the crowd of watchers), everyone’s – they’d all be gone.”

The younger woman tugged on her companion’s loose cotton trousers. “Sit down, Carol. You’re always trying to convert them. Look at him! Designer trainers, designer jeans. People like him aren’t interested in what’s happening beyond their local club scene.”

Leroy looked down at her, “What you saying? ‘People like me’? What do you know ‘bout me? Where my fam come from, they know ‘bout climate and stuff. They got to live with it: floods and all that.”

“Sasha, that’s not kind!” remonstrated the older woman, “I apologise on behalf of my friend. She’s just exasperated, you see. So little impact, after all our efforts.”

He pointed to his trainers.

“My creps are knock-offs, innit? Got them off the market. Designer? On my wages? Hah!”

But Sasha had turned away and was talking animatedly to another of the protestors. Pity. She was peng. With her slim tanned legs very evident in a pair of denim cut-offs, and her unruly dark curls gathered beneath a colourful scarf turban-style, in a different situation he would have chatted her up. ”Anyways. This here obstruction – it’s having an impact. Thing is – not everyone’s wanting to spend hours in their van not going anywhere. You get me? Maybe you should think about that impact.”

He sauntered off.

Carol nudged Sasha. “He’s got a point. Lots of these are just ordinary folk who can’t afford to lose a day’s work. And maybe this isn’t going to persuade them.” She’d only sacrificed her quilting session for today’s jaunt to London from Taunton.

Sasha turned to her impatiently: “It’s not them we’re here for. Look around you! Cars, vans, buses spewing out pollution. And where are we? Right in the thick of it. Where those massive oil corporations take those decisions; where the banks are coining it and turning a blind eye to illegal climate practices.” Her blue eyes blazed with zeal: she knew she could make a difference.

A dense petrol-fumed haze hung above the assorted crowd now: protestors, being physically carried off by harassed policemen; spectators, mobile phones held aloft filming the proceedings; drivers honking their horns in fury or agreement (who knew?); and the impassive glass fronted skyscrapers that presided over it all, unmoved.