Green Light

He slammed on his brakes, slowing the car down to an immediate halt and thrusting his torso forward in a way that would have been an embarrassing testament to his driving skill if there had been someone in the passenger seat. Okay, so maybe he was being dramatic and maybe it was slower than he’d described, but it still wasn’t the nice and safe halting that he was so widely known for amongst his very small circle of friends.

He’d been at the tail end of the cars, having joined the flow of traffic from his small side street his mid-seventies unit lived on so the light had changed from green to orange with just enough time for the vehicles in front of him to get through. When he was younger, he’d been a big proponent of plenty of green left in that! when there was in fact, zero green left in that, but not anymore. No, now that he was slightly older and had a) more bills and therefore less expendable cash to go towards fines and b) more of an appreciation for mortality, he didn’t drive through orange lights any longer. So yeah, that had been the reason for the braking.

This set of traffic lights was notoriously slow and he sighed as he glanced down at his dashboard clock. He had been running five minutes early for work, but his rare punctuality had now been thrown out the window thanks to the unwillingness to run a red light. His icy-fingered grip tightened on the wheel but relaxed after a moment, there was no point in getting frustrated when there was nothing he could do about the situation. The traffic gods had minds of their own after all, and on the bright side, it gave him a few extra minutes to defrost with the car’s heater.

Settling in for the long haul, he let his attention drift towards the side of the road. He’d driven this street countless times before, but he’d never noticed the bottle-o right there next to the old fish and chip shop. Bright yellow and blue signage screamed out at him, the harsh sunlight bouncing off the plastic and assaulting his retinas. Large blackboards with the weekly specials were anchored with excessively large chains to the light posts out the front, appealing to the exact demographic this stretch of asphalt attracted. Swanny D, $44.99 for 24.

But speaking of that exact demographic, currently there were two of them loitering near the door and not looking at all pleased. One man had his arms crossed and was so red in his leathery face that it was probably cause for medical concern while the second one was squaring him up with one hand on his hip, the other hoisting a carton of Export underneath his armpit. As they bickered, he could see their breath fog out from their mouths, bringing his attention to their un-jacketed arms. Why did middle-aged men never dress for the weather? His own dad often fell victim to it too and he always joked with his sister that wearing shorts and thongs in the middle of winter didn’t make you tough, it made you look stupid.

The man with the crossed arms – the shorter but larger of the two – tapped the boot of his old Toyota Corolla wagon, his face now a thunderous deep crimson. Emu Export was shouting something back and though he couldn’t make out the words from this distance, he could see the beads of spit flying out and hitting the pavement, glistening in the bright winter sun. They were clearly furious with each other, and he wondered what had caused such an altercation so early in the morning. He himself barely had enough energy to mutter a hello to his neighbour as he left for work, let alone engage in a highly frenzied argument.

Due to lack of said energy, his mind was only able to conjure up two reasons for the squabble currently playing out in front of his eyes. The first was that they were mortal enemies, destined to fight forever in bottle shop carparks all over Perth for the rest of eternity, locked in an endless battle over a West Australian beer that wasn’t even brewed in the state anymore. He could market it, charge a spectator fee and set up a big ring for them to fight in a la WWE. It would make a lot of money for all involved and maybe then he’d be able to get out of this supermarket checkout job he’d been so desperate to leave from the day he’d started. It was a long shot but hey, a boy could dream, right? The second (and admittedly more realistic) reason was that one of the men had dinged the other man’s car.

He watched them continue to argue, fists balled by their sides, skin mottled red and white from a combination of fury and chilly weather. They took strides towards each other, almost coming to blows several times before stepping back again, neither wanting to back down regardless of who had banged up the vehicle. Personally, he was on the side of the Emu Export man, he didn’t seem as aggressive as the smaller one who looked not unlike a yapping chihuahua as he ranted and raved around the bitumen.

It continued for what felt like hours and to be frank, he was enthralled. It was as if he was in the audience of a Tarantino movie, or Del Toro, the only two directors he knew. Or Hitchcock, he knew Hitchcock too actually. Anyway,he’d never understand the world of middle-aged beer-drinking humans but it sure was entertaining. Emu Export was in the middle of another tirade, motioning towards the car door dramatically when suddenly his hand dropped and he stopped, remaining slack-jawed and mid-shout. Chihuahua’s shoulders tensed but before he could jump in with his own yell, Emu Export raised a finger right in his direction.

Oh no.

He grimaced, releasing one of his frosty hands from the steering wheel and bringing his thumb up between him teeth, cringing. The anger that had just moments ago been directed at each other was now singularly focused on him while he sat, unable to tear his attention away. His pulse quickened and his palms, previously the temperature of the Arctic had started to sweat. He slowly extracted his thumb and moved his hand towards the lock, clicking down to make sure the doors were secure. His mind was suddenly racing with all the times he’d been told not to stare or point by his mum but he’d just laughed it off, not thinking anything of it. Consequences for his actions, who?

I am so dead, he thought as the kerb started to multiply and wave in front of his anxious eyes. These men will beat me up so badly that Ill have scars on my head where hair will never grow again, or Ill lose an eye and spend the rest of my days looking like Im cosplaying a pirate. Let my parents know their only son died doing what he loved, driving down the highway to his minimum wage job.

They were crossing the small section of grass between the road and the carpark to definitely wail on him when a sudden short, sharp beep from the car behind made him jump and he whipped his head back in front of him. In an instant, both sweaty palms – sweaty from embarrassment now – were back on the wheel and foot was this time slamming on the accelerator. In his intense concentration, the lights had flicked over to green and the right lane was whizzing past, indicating that it had been like that for a while now.

All fear he’d felt a moment ago evaporated and even though it had been replaced with a deep mortification, there was enough smarminess left inside him to raise his left hand and give the friendliest wave he’d ever waved to the two middle-aged beer-drinking humans with the bright red faces.