FICTION: 'The Professional'


Driving home from work one evening our man sees the jagged peaks of a middle finger flashing around in his rear-view mirror. Adrenaline comes: he feels the grip of his hands tightening on the steering wheel, his lungs open up, he imagines his pupils expanding like a sponge. But he’s just spent 6 hours of his working day going over Hazard Awareness Training™. Our man’s never been better equipped to drive in his life. This guy is flipping off the wrong man. He’s come for a professional.

Now the car pulls up alongside him and our man starts to mouth an exaggerated “sorry”. The driver starts to beckon, with the same middle-finger he had just been gesturing with, over to a lay-by that is coming up on their left. Now our man calculates — with help from his recent breaking distance training — that they will be at the lay-by in the next 15 seconds. That is ample time to rationalise this properly, to get a proper look at the guy and make an informed decision. He glances over his shoulder but he can’t get a glimpse of the driver’s face, he has his sun shade down and the inside of the car is shadowed. All he can see is that finger waving back and forth like its on a spring. He’s driving a Land Rover, of course. That should be reason enough to get out at this lay-by and have it out.

Wait, he thinks again. When did measuring myself in violence become a natural condition? Was it somewhere between the first fight I’ve never had and the most recent fight I’ve never had? But he’s a professional delivery driver and he’s doing this on behalf of all the oppressed and the needy; on behalf of the thousands of peaceful people who have been forced into violence all round the world. He is going to pull over at this lay-by and fight this man.

Well, I’ve pulled up now, he thinks. I can’t drive off and look my wife in the eye tonight. My wife, he thinks again. She was worried this morning: about her sister or was it about money? Well, I have this delivery job now. And what about my own sister?

He thinks back to every entrance he has made to a room in the past 30 years: can anyone explain to him why the second he walks in anywhere he has already started assessing his chances? Which of the blokes in there he could have in a fight? Which he might have to talk out of it? Which he could scare away with some empty bravado? Which he might have licence to patronise?

And now he is in the lay-by and the driver has just pulled up behind him. He feels his heart racing and his shirt sticking to the skin under his arms. Then he feels an uncomfortable wave of heat and focus and his eyes are sprinting about the inside of the car. Finally, he slides over to the passenger side and gets out (the driver’s side door hasn't worked in weeks) and he watches the other driver climb down from his Land Rover. 

Our man doesn't say anything. He isn't going to speak first. Then the driver starts; “You fucking cut me off.” 

Calm, calm, our man thinks. Don't make the first move. 

“No I didn’t. I was trying to get in lane. There’s traffic. It’s busy.” There is a pause. “I drive for a living,” he adds. “I drive all day. I know how to drive.” 

“I’m not saying you don't know how to drive.” 

“It sounds like you are?” our man presses on, he can feel the sweat dripping from his armpit down his ribcage. “You better not be saying I don't know how to drive.” 

“I’m not saying you don't know how to drive.” 

“Good — what are you saying then?”

“You cut me off. Back there.” 

There is a silence. Our man stands up straight. Then the driver mutters something, turns back and climbs up into his Land Rover.  Our man watches as he switches on the engine and pulls away into the stream of traffic. 

Our man gets back into his Hyundai, opening up the passenger side door and sliding over again. But he doesn't care. He is in his chariot. He is a professional. He can barely contain himself on the drive home. How is he going to tell his wife. How might he set the scene. He pulls up into his driveway and gets slowly out of the passenger side seat. Strutting up to the door. Turning the key. 

He finds his wife in the kitchen. “Sandra,” he says. “I stood up for myself today.” 

“Well done.” She rushes past him to their bedroom. “But I thought you liked your new boss?” 

“This was after work.” 

“How was driving today?” she asks. “Can you set the table please? I need to go and help my sister this evening, she’s had a horrible time at work again” 

“No, you’re not listening. I won a fight today. Someone swore at me when I was driving home and I told him off to his face in the lay-by.” 

“I can’t hear about your fighting right now. I need to eat and then go to my sister’s.” 

Our man feels the sweat cooling under his shirt. “I can drive you,” he says. “I’m sorry.”

He hugs his wife and then he gets out the cutlery and sets the table. Finally, he goes to the bathroom to wash his hands. He looks down at his fists and chuckles. He sees himself in the mirror and brings his hands up into a boxing guard. Then he lifts his own middle finger to the reflection and laughs again. He punches out at it. He dodges and comes up with a right upper cut. The figure alludes him so he dips and weaves back round into a straight, then a jab, then a left hook. “Why I oughta,” he says to the reflection in a mock-Boston drawl. One more punch, straight down the eyes. “You’ve made your mistake now fella,” he says. “You messed with a professional.”