The traffic is so backed up you can tell there’s been an accident. It’s difficult for the drivers to make room for us as we pass, but they do their best, and we make it through the chaos with the cars parting right and left like the teeth of a zip. Eventually we see blue lights up ahead. Closer still, and the elements of the drama become clear – a lorry and trailer stopped at an unnatural angle; a four-by-four perched on its side up on the motorway barrier, as neatly balanced as a toy.
The driver, CJ, a smart woman in pastel knitwear and white slacks, is standing in the middle of the road shaking a mobile phone at a plump, middle-aged guy who watches her warily whilst he makes his own call. The police have only just got here. It’s apparent from the way they busy themselves setting up Accident signs and sorting out the traffic flow that this isn’t an entrapment, or a serious injury RTC. I put on my yellow jacket and jump out of the ambulance.
‘Do you see what you’ve done?’ CJ screams at the lorry driver. ‘You could have killed me and my child. She’s three years old. Three!’
The lorry driver winces, turns to the side and puts a finger in his ear.
I go over to an AA van where I can see a child in a yellow plastic mac sitting in the front seat, happily drawing. She looks up when I go over to say hello.
‘She was strapped up in her seat so she hasn’t been hurt,’ says CJ, hurrying over to stand with me. ‘It’s a Cybex,’ she says. ‘She’s probably better protected than any of us. Although BMWs are practically indestructible. If you’re going to have a smash, it pretty much has to be a BMW.’
I pick up the little girl and carry her over to the ambulance with mum following behind, making a call.
Darling? Call me when you get this. I’ve written off the Bee Em.’
‘I’ve only had it ten days,’ she says, stopping at the bottom of the ambulance steps, but then suddenly thinks of something else and hurries off to shout at the lorry driver again.
The little girl is perfectly happy.
‘I drew a engine’ she says, waggling her red-booted legs on the trolley and waving the pad at me.
CJ comes back, striding onto the ambulance and dumping herself down on the opposite chair, checking her phone one more time before dropping it into her bag.
‘Are you all right, sweetie?’ she says to the little girl. ‘Are you being a brave girl?’
‘A tooth came out,’ says the little girl to me. ‘The tooth fairy will give me a pound if she can find where mummy put it.’
‘I know where it is, darling,’ says CJ. ‘Don’t worry about that now.’
She checks her phone again and then looks at me as if it’s my fault she hasn’t had an answer.
‘I wait two years for delivery, then lose it in just over a week,’ she says. ‘Jack’s going to kill me.’
We check them over. Apart from a little muscular pain everything seems fine. I write the whole thing up whilst Rae keeps the little girl entertained. Mum is quite shaken up by the crash, veering from an anguished kind of dry-cry to a matter-of-fact tone that wouldn’t be out of place on the sidelines of a play session.
‘Do you want my email as well?’ she says, handing me her card. ‘I chose the name of a flower because, well, basically my philosophy is why be boring?’
She checks her phone again.
A police officer comes on board, taking off her hat and smiling warmly at everyone, especially the little girl.
‘He tried to kill us!’ says CJ, suddenly hysterical again. ‘Have you seen what he did? My child was on board!’
‘It looks pretty dramatic, I’ll give you that,’ says the police officer. She puts her hat down at the toddler’s feet, takes out a notebook and pencil, and gets ready for details.
‘Oh that’s a pretty ring,’ says CJ, suddenly changing again. She reaches out her hand and pushes the officer’s notebook down so she can get a better look.
‘Thank you! It’s my grandmother’s’ says the police officer. ‘I’m glad you like it.’
‘Like it? I love it!’ says CJ. ‘So nice that you can keep these family traditions going.’
‘Yes. That’s a part of it.’
She gives CJ the same smile she gave the little girl, then gets her pencil ready again.
‘Tell me what happened,’ she says.
‘I was coming up the slip road following directions, not speeding or anything, doing everything absolutely by the book – because this is a new car, you know. Forty-five thousand pounds. I’ve had it ten days. And then this clown, this psychopath in a tee shirt, he comes up on the inside, obviously speeding, and ploughs into me. God knows how he didn’t kill us. Picked us up and dumped us onto the central reservation.’
‘But you’re all okay, are you?’
‘Are we? I don’t know. I think so.’
‘They’re fine,’ I say. ‘Minor. Muscular.’
The police officer breathalyses CJ, then says she’s going outside to have a quick word with the other driver.
‘A quick word? I want him arrested and thrown in prison. He tried to kill us!’
The police officer makes placatory noises, then grabs her hat and withdraws.
‘Look, mummy! Look what I did!’
The little girl holds out her picture and CJ glances at it.
‘That’s super darling,’ she says, then cries again in a sudden squall of distress.
‘Ten days!’ she says. ‘Ten days! What a joke!’
‘Try not to worry,’ I say. ‘The main thing is you’re both okay. Your insurance will get you a replacement car, and then when the money’s settled you’ll be able to get another.’
‘A replacement car!’ she says, blowing her nose and almost twisting it off with the handkerchief. ‘No doubt that’ll be a Range Rover. I wouldn’t be seen dead in a Range Rover.’