Derek flipped his indicator as he passed the three white slashes sign on the motorway. He’d left the carriageway at this exit five days a week for nearly six years. He knew every bump in the road, every cat’s-eye, almost every weed and plant beside the motorway. To reach the SupaValu loading bay he would need seven more indicator flips, three lefts and four rights, could listen to three songs on the radio if the traffic was good, maybe as many as a whole album’s work if it was nose to tail.
He steered 40 tonnes of lorry off the main carriageway and decelerated towards the roundabout at the end of the sliplane. Changing down the gears, Derek came to a halt, watching for an opportunity to pull out. He wasn’t one for driving like a boy racer or like he owned the road, although he knew plenty of other drivers over the years that did, some even SupaValu drivers. His record was exemplary, no accidents in twenty years of HGV driving, and he was well on his way to his second million miles certificate.
A flash of sun caught his eyes, so Derek turned down his visor, revealing a photo of two girls in matching red swimsuits, smiling in the sunshine, gap-toothed and waving at the camera. The edges were curled and the surface covered with finger-print smudges but Derek refused to replace it with another, not even a reprint of the same picture. He never touched the picture whilst on the move, but touched a finger to each smiling face at the start and end of each journey, without fail. Safe driving and little habits, that got him through.
Claire, the smiling girl on the left in the picture, had been on his mind much of his journey so far. Today she became a teenager. Mostly she didn’t want to hold hands, even across a busy road. She didn’t want her father singing in the background when she Skyped her friends. She was almost grown up now, she said, perhaps she might have less time to see him in future. Maggie had been good at making sure the girls still saw him but with when you have two teenage girls, there comes a time when they want to spend time with friends rather than weekend Dad. And the thought made him weak with sadness.
Derek was keen to get this load unpacked so he could head back northwards so he would see Claire today. He had made sure he was out of the depot first thing, the sooner he arrived the sooner he could be setting off again. He arrived at the rear of SupaValu and reversed up to the allocated loading bay, alarm beeping his warning as he did. He collected his paperwork, jumped down from the cab and went to find Barry to sign him off.
Once unloading was underway, Derek wandered into the staff canteen for his break. His lunch was served by a girl who looked little older than Claire and behaved as if she was definitely a teenager, plopping each portion onto his plate. Whilst he ate, Derek composed a text to Claire, writing then deleting and rewriting until his message was bland enough not to upset a newbie teenager. “Hope u r having fun. Love Dad.” He added a kiss then pressed send before he could use all the remaining characters on kisses too.
Back at the bay the last of his load was on the forklift and once he had Barry’s signature, he could go. Barry was almost still signing when Derek pulled the clipboard away, and with hurried goodbyes Derek jumped into the cab, buckled up and chugged off into the car park. As he reached the roundabout in the car park, Derek’s truck was cut up by an idiot in a red car driving way above the 5mph SupaValu limit. He hit the airbrakes just in time to retain his unblemished record, swearing under his breath even though there were no little girls around to hear him. He remembered he hadn’t touched his photo before he set off and now grabbed his visor, lowering it so he could see his two little girls.
He kissed his finger and touched it to each little forehead in turn. He kissed it again and pressed his finger against Claire’s smile, apologizing to his other daughter with “Birthday kiss, you know.” As he lifted his visor back up, he heard a loud bang back in the main car park. He could just see the same red car had pranged a blue car as it was backing out of a parking space. What an idiot, he thought, how many miles could he drive without an accident.
Derek indicated right, eased the truck out of the road and knew that within a few hours he would hug Claire and her sister tight, and tell them how much Dad loved them, however much they might want to squirm away.