He rode into town at eleven. He was crippled by three in the afternoon.
Before the Honda’s engine was cold, he had sucked dry two pints of Stella Artois. Five pints of Heineken followed and three Jose Cuevera tequilas with lemon and salt chased the Heinekens. He crunched four packets of Planters roasted peanuts. He had never visited Mexico but said, ‘Viva Mexico,’ to the lone barman in Horgan’s Bar and drained the last silver threads of tequila.
Outside, sunlight made him squint and he struggled to find the ignition switch of his motorcycle. He finally strapped his jacket to the saddle. Someone on the street may have heard the Honda’s gears clash as he headed into the narrow roads beyond the town. He collided with a tractor at a crossroads where foxgloves flourished on the roadside banks. While he was airborne, he stared at the sun. His legs struck the road first, and his body followed as best it could. Apart from being crippled, he was unharmed. There was a valley to his north and the town to the south but never the opposite.
Rarely one to curse, even in front of animals, the farmer said shite, dismounted from his injured tractor and began to walk to a farmhouse to call for help. It was his first crash and he felt excited. He wondered if his insurance would cover the cost of repairs to the tractor. The roads were deserted and as always, the farmer used his cap to mop more sweat from his forehead. Ewes and some lambs had looked up at the sound of the collision but now grazed again.
On their way to the accident site, the ambulance crew of two paramedics travelled in silence and both men felt the lethargy of animals, sheep mostly, grazing along the crest of the ridge looking towards the mountains. The cab was warm, even with the windows down. They talked about the lapis lazuli shadows creased on the mountains and the man in the passenger’s seat began to recall his recent holiday on the island of Lanzarote. He and his girlfriend had stuffed their cameras full of lunar landscapes and lewd, spectacular flowers. ‘Like the surface of the moon,’ he said and he explained how they were not permitted to leave the vehicle; this was to protect the ‘unique and delicate terrain’ of that part of the island. ‘Barren and dusty as Mars,’ the passenger said and though the sudden change of location amused the driver, he stayed quiet; they had worked together for over four years and he liked his colleague. The driver pointed to the ironwork of whitethorn bushes and occasionally to a sloe bush not yet in fruit. Their last call had involved two dead bodies and one uninjured, though now car-shy, Scotch terrier.
He crawled on his stomach, away from the Honda’s broken bones. Soft tar damped the clinking of his belt buckle. Banners of foxglove arced up from thick moss and he wanted desperately to reach them. Below his waist he sensed a new void. He heard a lark. He had once tried to hear the bells of a foxglove chime but heard only the mechanical drone of insects, or something. Now he heard a sound he had not heard before but knew he would hear it forever.
He began to feel cold but his eyes still ravished the flowers.
Several minutes later a man shouldering a scuffed backpack stopped to examine the pool of oil on the road, the two machines and the man on his stomach.
‘Ola. You make a fall?’ the man said. He carried a peeled length of stick across his shoulders like a crucifix and drank from a scuffed goatskin about two thirds full of Rioja. The stranger offered the goatskin to the man on the road but the man said he never wanted to see another drink. The traveller shrugged, swallowed more wine and said he was from Galicia, a place similar in many ways to where they were now. ‘There is much rain and the people still go to church,’ he said. He spoke of shepherds and goats among acorns and the vicious loves of small villages. Taking an oatmeal biscuit from a shoulder bag, he offered some to the man at his feet who declined the offer; then the Galician sat on the bank’s dry moss to eat the biscuit and to float his eyes over the ditches and warm grass.
The motorcyclist propped himself on one elbow and watched the Galician.
The Galician pointed to the insulted tractor, ‘a Zetor, from the eastern bloc. Zetor. Now a wounded bull.’
The motorcyclist had not considered his nemesis before now and so allowed his gaze to caress the tractor’s reddish orange paintwork, its oil-smeared engine and the geometrical carving of the rear tyres’ hot rubber. The exhaust pipe, he saw, stood charred against the blue sky.
‘This tractors are very strong, yes, but not lasting very long. The metal is not so good,’ the Galician informed him.
The motorcyclist tried to nod.
An unseen sheep bleated maybe four times before the hot silence slumped down again.
The Galician began to sing, a sound like a trail of wood smoke from the grate of his throat. His eyes were closed.
‘Turn left here,’ the paramedic beside the driver said.
The ambulance turned but both saw their mistake, again.
‘This place is unbelievable,’ the driver said agitatedly, trying to reverse. He switched off the engine.
They sat in silence until the passenger said, ‘I just thought of something.’
The driver looked at him; he had never seen his assistant look so grave. ‘This is hardly the time?’
The driver gazed into the trembling air. ‘Will it take long? This accident we need to…’
‘It might take forever, Mike,’ the passenger said solemnly.
The Galician’s voice changed timbre to that of vines in a shy breeze, then dropped to a stream of a trickle. A bee tried to silence him; the bee failed.
To the injured man on the road, the Galician appeared as a singing statue, the bearded mouth’s dark bronze pouring honey into the air. Resting on his shoulders, the stick turned his dark profile into a crucified Christ.
The motorcyclist crawled forward for another twenty five or twenty six centimetres, his shoulders a rusted axle on which the body slowly turned. He wanted to crawl over continents, until his body was worn down to a toe or a single hair: the thought elated him. Pebbles like tiny teeth became embedded in his hands.
The Galician walked slowly to the tractor, climbed onto it and emitted a clacking, chugging sound of tractor engine. He laughed to himself. ‘These ones are destroyers of the earth,’ he said, gripping the machine’s steering wheel.
The man on the road did not look up but leaned on both hands as the foxgloves drew closer.
‘This is bad, real bad. What happens if we can’t find the accident, we’ll look like morons?’ the ambulance driver said.
But his passenger was already talking. ‘One day a guy, two years younger than me, spent the morning boozing. He went to the boozer early in the day, which was unusual for him. But apart from the heat, there was another reason for him going into a bar so early.’
‘Which way here?’ the driver said impatiently.
‘Left,’ his assistant said.
‘Fuck this,’ the driver said.
‘The reason he went into the bar was because he’d argued with his brother about who should look after their old man who was crippled with rheumatism. Crippled. He left his motorbike outside the boozer and intended to walk home. He didn’t believe in driving while drunk.’
The driver interjected, ‘the bit of drunk driving seldom does much harm. Is it a right or left here?
‘Right will do nicely. Anyway, this man had heard about drunk driving and knew the consequences.’
‘This road looks a bit more promising,’ the driver said, accelerating.
‘Looks the same to me,’ the passenger said. ‘So, he’d heard all the horror stories. But he still put down seven pints and three tequilas, a lot for that hour of the day. All he had in his guts was a few packets of peanuts.’
‘I go on my pilgrimage now, again,’ the Galician said. The motorcyclist then heard about a journey over mountains, through snow-clogged passes, to the heat of the plains and buzz of insects and sunsets like floating scraps of flame. And who knows, maybe some fun with female pilgrims, the crucified man joked.
Until the Galician’s hand tapped on the motorcyclist’s helmet, the motorcyclist had forgotten it was still on his head. A moonless night had begun to spread slowly upwards from his buckled legs. He felt colder. But he had reached the roadside now and stretched his right arm towards the nearest stem of foxglove, gripped the heavy green column and felt fibres crack like glass on his skin. He recalled his past, crushed pictures of factory work and dinners at his parents’ table.
He thrust the flower into the sky and heard their bells chime, all at once.
‘Adios,’ the crucified man said.
‘He was twisted by drink and maybe that’s why he chose to take the bike. His judgement was gone. He was lost,’ the assistant paramedic said as they drove.
‘There should be a map in this ambulance,’ the driver said. ‘An ordnance survey map of the area. This is ridiculous.’
The passenger continued, ‘he loved nothing more than biking on a sunny day, drink or no drink. So he mounted up, totally pissed of course, and drove into the countryside.’
They passed people walking quickly and even running along the road.
‘Look. I think this could be it,’ the driver said urgently.
But his assistant barely noticed, ‘he was pissed as a happy monkey. Next thing, a tractor crosses his path. Bang. Bye-bye legs, forever.’
‘This is it,’ the driver said. ‘I can see some commotion up ahead. That was some fucking run-around.’
‘He was my brother, the man on the bike. Crippled from the waist down. He had a bunch of foxgloves in his hand when the crew found him. Apparently it had taken the two pricks in the ambulance ages to reach him,’ the passenger said and reached for a pair of latex gloves.
‘You never told me. That was rough, sorry,’ the driver said distractedly. ‘You never know, about these fucking things, do you? There’s some chewing gum there if you want it.’
‘This is the crash, alright,’ the assistant said, leaning forward. ‘Get ready.’