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Well, before rejoining the narrative in the cafeteria, I guess its time to give you a few details about me. At the time this took place in October 1984, I was 28, single, 5' 10" and slightly over-weight, with ordinary looks. I was a departmental head in a small, privately-owned company, employing nearly 50 people. The company itself was one of three companies in a group owned by a holding company; all told the group employed nearly 130 people in and around the town where two of the companies were based.
I lived alone in a three-bed detached bungalow out in the sticks about eight miles from work. I'd moved there two years earlier after a bad car accident while on my way to work at 5:30 in the morning. At that time I lived nearly twenty-three miles from work and after the 1820 hour days I worked it wasn't good travelling that far. I had often made the trip home with the stereo blaring on high and the windows down to keep me awake.
So, after I was lucky enough to walk away from the said accident and no, surprisingly given the preceding paragraph, the accident was definitely NOT my fault! [I was unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. A lorry driver had thought nothing else was around at that time in the morning and tried to overtake another lorry, going uphill into a triple bend then as he was alongside it, I came round the third bend with nowhere to go. The rest, as they say, is history.]
After that I resolved to leave the parental home and buy a place of my own, nearer work. I could afford it: I made nearly £40,000 a year; although I definitely earned every penny. It didn't take too long to find a place and I'd moved in, with only the barest of furnishings: a bed, computer table, my stereo and BBC Model B computer in my bedroom. I had added a bed/settee and dining table in the lounge-diner, along with a TV. In the kitchen I had installed an electric cooker, fridge/freezer, washer/dryer and a dishwasher; none of them got much use: I was never there. I hadn't before fate took a hand and thrust Juan into my life bothered about furnishing the remaining two bedrooms; they had just been carpeted along with the rest of the rooms.
Surprisingly to me at least the insurance company decided to repair my car! I couldn't believe it when I heard about it, as I had felt sure that it was a write-off. So, whilst working long hours, I spent the next nine weeks hiring a different car every week to get about [I enjoyed myself, trying different models]. That cost a bomb nearly £3,000 by the time I had finished; although I got most of that back from the lorry driver's insurance* at the same time I had found a house, bought it and moved in. So, as the nine weeks came to an end I was looking for a new car my first ever brand new one! My old car went from the repair shop straight to Chelmsford Car Auctions; I never drove it again, instead I drove my brother's car behind him as he drove mine to the sale. We stayed long enough to see it sold for £1,475 about the right book value for age, condition etc. even though it had just had over £1,800 spent on it by the insurance company on repairs!
*What really annoyed me was that I had to pay insurance for the hire cars but the lorry driver's insurance company refused to pay that part of the hire fee. They maintained that I would have had to have insurance so it wasn't an additional expense. My point was that yes; I would have required insurance, and that indeed I had paid for a full year's insurance prior to their client wrecking my car, so it WAS an additional expense! I never could get them to see that point though and lacked both the time and will to pursue it through the courts.
At this point, before getting back to Juan and the cafeteria, there are two things I want to bore you with; both happened while I was car hunting and they both amused the hell out of me at the time, and still do when I look back so here goes:
(1) I went to the Ford main dealer in Ipswich I didn't like our local dealership and was looking around a Granada 2.0 GLi at that time, it cost about £10,000, and was typically regarded as an executive company car; and was not often bought by individuals with my younger brother [he knew much more about cars than me]. We had opened the drivers' door to have a look inside, and stood back looking at the layout; I suppose it didn't help that I was wearing a duffle coat and purple carpet slippers [because of an ingrowing toe nail that made it impossible to wear shoes]. A salesman came over, ignored us, and closed the door and buffed the top of the door with his sleeve then walked off without a word! I couldn't believe it, and exchanging glances with my brother we left.
(2) The same day the incident in (1) above happened, my brother persuaded me to go with him to the new Volkswagen garage in Colchester. We arrived and walked inside the brand new building, and a salesman [Larry, I later found out], came over and greeted my brother by name, shaking his hand warmly. Then he turned to me and said, "You must be Dave, Sam has told me a lot about you." He totally ignored the fact that I was standing in this plush showroom in somewhat incongruous attire; he apparently, unlike John Gross's salesman in Ipswich, didn't make any judgements based on my clothing.
But the thing that amused me here was this: I was in a brand new VW showroom and it was full of Vauxhalls, Citroëns, Renaults and Peugeots there was in fact, only one Volkswagen in the place! I asked Larry about this, and he smiled and explained that it was because of a strike by the German steelworkers that had started in mid-January [it finally finished in late September!] And the reason this amused me so much was simply that during the late 1970s, the UK had been stereotyped as the industrial misfit of Europe; with the all-powerful unions always dragging industry down it was always on the nightly news about the latest strike: but we never heard about this long-running German steelworkers' strike!
Anyway, Larry took us over to his desk, got us both a coffee and started talking about cars to us. I told him that I was really interested in the new Audi Quattro four-wheel drive saloon that had been introduced last year. He looked wistful, and said he was sure I was out of luck and turned to his computer. He explained that ALL unsold VW/Audi cars in the UK were listed on VW's computer network and the dealerships co-operated in moving vehicles around to match up with potential buyers. After a brief search he said that as he had thought there wasn't an unsold Quattro saloon in the UK. Then he said, "But if you've got that kind of money to spend, maybe you would be interested in this."
And he led me over to the only Volkswagen car in this VW showroom! It was a metallic blue VW Santana; a 5-cylinder, 2-litre fuel-injected saloon, capable of 140 mph [the name wasn't popular and the next year the model was renamed the Passat; it was the top of the Volkswagen range]. He said it was only £600 more than the £10,500 the Quattro would have cost me, and he offered me a test drive. I shouldn't have accepted, neither should I have bought it, but I did both: and that was the car I met Juan in. And so finally, back to the service station cafeteria.
* * *
Juan, as I now knew him, took my hand and shook it. I looked at him and said, "So, do you want to talk about things, or would you rather just answer a few questions for now?"
His face coloured slightly, and he quietly said "I'd rather not talk about it now." Seeing the look of distress on his face, I said, "OK, well, let's try a few questions and see where we get to." He reluctantly nodded his assent.
"I asked you back where I found you if you knew where you were and you said 'No'; and then when I asked what you were doing there you said you were 'Just getting away'; does that mean you've run away from home?" I asked a blunt question, without thinking it through. Surprisingly though, this didn't upset him as I had thought it might the moment I had finished speaking.
"Sort of," he replied quietly with only a momentary hesitation, looking down as he spoke.
"Was there a reason for you leaving home?" I thoughtlessly continued, mentally kicking myself for my stupidity even as I said it. His face coloured again, and he swallowed nervously, and he didn't answer the question; I wasn't surprised: as I just admitted, I had mentally kicked myself already.
"Juan, let me just say a couple of things before we try and go any further." I said, reaching out and lightly touching his arm across the table to get his attention. He looked up and moved his arm away; and then nodded his head slightly.
"OK, I found you obviously while the other kids were beating you up. I brought you here because I didn't think it was safe to leave you there and you obviously didn't want to go near a hospital." I said, outlining as much for myself as for him how things had happened. "But the problem is where do we go from here? I shouldn't have brought you here, and I really should either contact your parents or the police I don't even know how old you are." I continued.
As I mentioned his parents and then the police, he became very distraught and started to rise to leave. "Whoa, hang on!" I said as I gently pushed him back into his chair and moved my own around to block him in.
"Just listen to me a minute, please," I said. "You must understand my difficulty; I don't know what to do about a youngster on his own; obviously hurt and presumably some distance from his home. You have to help me a little bit; I need to know a couple of things if I'm to help you any further." I continued. As I mentioned helping him further, he seemed to relax slightly.
"So, how old are you, and where do you live did you live" I said, correcting myself. He looked at me briefly before answering, and then said:
"I'm seventeen and I lived in a small village the other side of Peterborough for the past five years." "How long is it since you left home?" I asked, and he replied "Five days" without any hesitation, as if he'd decided there was nothing to lose from talking. "And you haven't any where to go to? No family or friends?" I asked. "No, I'm Spanish, and only Dad and my Brother, Javier, are in this country. And I haven't made any friends." he blurted out, in a rush. "And there's something stopping from you going home?" I asked bluntly.
He didn't answer for a long time, and it was almost as if he wasn't there. "Juan?" I finally said gently, and he looked at me questioningly. "Can't you tell me anything about it?" I asked, and his face coloured again as he shook his head slightly.
"So, what am I supposed to do?" I said, "You won't go home, go to a hospital or to the police; do you expect me to just leave you here?" I continued, talking aloud again as much for myself as for him. "Why not," he said, surprising me; "nobody cares about me; and the hospital or police would just ask me endless questions and then put me into 'care' for my own good;" he said without any noticeable emotion.
I was stunned by what he'd just said. The matter-of-fact way he'd just said something that I found profoundly disturbing. I lived alone through choice; because of work: but I had a family that cared about me. He apparently had nobody who would miss him; or be concerned about his well-being. I was lost for an answer, and just sat there silently for a couple of minutes, while he just looked at the table. Finally, I said "Would you like another drink?" he looked up and said, "Please; could I have an Orange juice?" I nodded and replied, "Sure, just promise me first that you'll stay here until I get back?" He looked at me and slowly inclined his head before saying "Yeah, I'll be here."
I went and got a coffee for myself and a carton of chilled Orange juice for him. Returning to the table I gave him the juice and sat down. After sipping at my coffee for a while, I said to him "I guess that as well as not having any money you don't have any papers?" He looked at me and slowly shook his head. "How come?" I asked without thinking you've probably realised by now that my mouth often opens before my brain engages gear!
Again he surprised me by answering. "The kids took them from me." That surprised me; why I don't know. I guess I simply hadn't thought about what I had seen when I found him. "And you don't want to go to the police about that?" I asked. He didn't hesitate before quietly saying "No." The finality I could hear in his voice stopped me from asking any further ill-judged questions; I sipped my coffee again.
"Juan, if I'm to help you any more, I think I really need to speak to your Dad." I said. He looked up and glared at me as I said it. Then he looked down, and finally said: "He wouldn't talk to you." I was again totally surprised by this and also shaken by the conviction I could hear in his voice. Finally I said: "I can't believe that; and I really do have to insist, I don't know anything about you." He looked at me with a look that hurt; he was obviously hurting as well. "So you think I'm a liar!" he said in a tone that hurt as much as the look had; if you had asked me before, I would have quoted the old adage: 'Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me!' I knew then just how wrong that trite old saying was.
"Juan, you have to see my point of view; you're obviously a teenager and I'm an adult eleven years older than you, if you are seventeen and that can get me into trouble with the law. That's why I need to be sure of what I'm doing. How can you be sure that your father won't talk to me?" I said, trying to break through his defences.
The silence was deafening! [LOL: you all know what I mean.] At last he finally spoke: "I know he won't," he said with that same firm conviction in his voice. I had been thinking while waiting for an answer, and now said: "Why don't you give me his phone number and I can at least try?" He shifted uneasily in his seat, clearly unhappy at the thought. "What harm can it do, if you're sure he won't talk to me?" I said, trying to break him down. The silence continued. "Well? What about it?" I finally said.
He looked at me, and seemed to collapse in his seat; then he looked down and quietly said "OK." I reached into my shirt pocket and took out the small notepad and pen I habitually carried at work and put them down on the table, sliding them across to him. He hesitated, and eventually picked up the pen and wrote a phone number on the pad and then slid them both back to me. I picked them up, glanced at the pad and put the pen back in my pocket.
Looking around the cafeteria, I saw a payphone near the door. I said to Juan, "There's a phone over there, if I go and phone your dad, will you stay here till I get back, please?" He nodded, listlessly.
And comforting myself with the thought that the phone was near the door in case he changed his mind, I rose and went over to the phone. Foolishly I put a pound coin in the phone, not wanting to get cut off while fumbling with change. I dialled the number on the pad while checking the time on my watch: nearly 7:30 p.m.; and then looked over at Juan, to see him watching me.
The phone only rang three or four times before a voice just like Juan's said "Hello." I paused momentarily, before saying "Hello, I'm calling about your son, Juan," I never got the chance to say anything else. There was a click and the line went dead.
Disbelief tore through my mind, as I struggled to rationalise what had happened in the last few seconds. Slowly replacing the receiver, I looked over towards Juan; noticing that at some point he'd turned away and back to the table. I walked back to the table and sat down. My expression must have spoken volumes as he looked at me and said totally without any trace of emotion: "I told you he wouldn't talk to you about me." The tone in his voice was something I never want to hear again: lost, rejected, downcast; so infinitely sad that even now, remembering it is enough to make me want to cry. [And yes, I did, when I typed it twenty-two years later.]
"OK." I finally managed to say. "You were right." Looking down at him, meeting the gaze from his open eye, I said: "So, what do you suggest I do now? I live over a hundred miles from here." It was said without thinking, and again surprisingly, he answered.
"Well, if you would take me with you, it's at least some distance away." I looked at him with disbelief. "Do you really want to get away that badly?" I said, uncomprehending. "Well, I've spent the last five days walking away as fast as I could." he replied.
I paused and checked my watch again. "Well, if you come with me, it's going to probably be about 9:30 p.m. before I get home. You can sleep on the settee in the lounge tonight and we'll have to have a talk in the morning. What do you think?" He looked at me again with his one open eye and said. "Would you do that for me?" I looked into his eye and could see tears forming again. I nodded, unable to speak, and looked away to give him a chance to wipe his eyes.
Seeing his hand return to the table I looked at him and said "Well, do you want a ride?" and helped him rise. Once on his feet, he managed to hobble towards the door and then the car. I keyed the remote as we made our way over to it and opened the door and helped him in again. Walking round to the driver's side, I watched as he fastened his seatbelt and then after fastening my own, started the car and set off home.
NB: further chapters of this work will appear first at http://tickiestories.us prior to posting here on Nifty.
I'd like to take a moment at this point to do something I really should have done at the end of Chapter 1 if I hadn't been so overwhelmed by the fact I had written a part of a story. Still, as they say, better late than never; so here goes. To all of you, my heartfelt thanks:
To Rocco: for writing a story that for personal reasons meant so much to me and truly started to change my life. If anybody is interested enough to read it; it's hosted here: http://crackerwriter.us. Its true to say that you were 'the beginning' as I think that I would simply have remained a Nifty 'lurker' and would never have hooked up with my friends below without reading Two Boys you know what it meant to me; not just in terms of writing and if it gets a wider readership because of this it'll still never be enough.
To 'Deep': for providing the end to the process that Rocco's story started you have no idea what that meant or how much it's helped. If you are reading this version of my story, I guess that you probably have not seen Deep Diver's work as his story is hosted at http://tickiestories.us. As his editor, it ill-behoves me to praise his work; but I do marvel at the ingenuity he displays in creating a work of fiction that still manages to have a message.
I have listed these three guys in alphabetical order simply to avoid distinctions about who was more influential etc. You all are in your different way, and will remain, special for the support and encouragement that allowed me to bore the pants off you here!
To Gothmog: who has a beautiful story far better than mine called Timmy and the Travelers in the Gay > Young Friends section of Nifty;
To Neil: for restoring my sanity when it goes walkabout;
And to Paul: who has two stories New Beginnings and Geeks running in the same section as Timmy and the Travelers above. I would urge anyone who has read this far to read New Beginnings and beg, plead, cajole basically whatever it takes to get him to continue the story; I have!
All three of them deserve any blame or credit going it's all their fault for convincing me that I was able to write a story even though I was sure I couldn't. You remember me telling you that right guys? So you only have yourselves to blame.
Last but by no means least: I'm not going to embarrass myself by posting links to these two guys; they don't need them. They are both brilliant and accomplished authors as well as being kind, caring, understanding and helpful people. But they do deserve my personal thanks for their help to me, so:
To Gerry: for your insight and uncanny knack of seeing things clearly, even though as you know, I find it disturbing at times. I should have also told you that I value the ability you have to cut to the heart of a problem; I hope we can remain friends;
To Chuck: for being there to sort the problems out when I inevitably screw up and much more importantly for hosting this story at Tickiestories.us. I hope it lives up to your expectations.
I can only hope that as the story unfolds it starts to live up to being in the same company as the work of my friends above. I think it's got a hell of a way to go; but perhaps thanks to Gerry's advice it may eventually make it. Thanks to you all: it's trite I know, but this story would not be here without any of you.