Blablacar sends me a message as I sleep. I wake up to it. “Luke, 51, has joined your trip with a second passenger.” I’m driving to Manchester. I listed it on the ride sharing site to offset the cost of petrol, but now I’m regretting it a little as I’ve never done it before. Who is this Luke? It he going to garotte me? I can get no information on him through the platform.
He’s late at Sloane Square. I’m looking at everyone as they come out. None of them seem to be looking for me. Then suddenly, Luke. He’s imposing. Dominant. He speaks in certainties. His wife is with him, kinder and quieter. One of his first conversation topics is how a woman completes a man. “We do the practicalities. They have the emotion. They’ll always do things better than us if we let them.”
We assess each other. He tells me he’s a science teacher but avoids talking about teaching. He has kids. I mumble something like “Not for me mate.” I’m still trying to work out what I said. Because he mishears it. He says “You’ve got 4 kids? I took you for one of these people that’s just breezing through life avoiding all responsibility. Good on you.”
That leaves me with a tricky choice. I glance at the satnav. One and a half hours left of this trip. How big can the snowball get if I confirm his misconception? I either say “That’s me! Shirking responsibility. Parasite of fun. Contributing nothing.” Or I do what I did. “Yeah. It’s expensive but … you know… We make it work.” Thankfully he doesn’t want to talk much about childcare. But still, I feel the lie rolling and growing. How big will it get? Before long I have an estranged wife in Aberdeen.
And then it gets harder because I start to like him. When I lied I was feeling the weight of his judgement on me for my creative freelance life. Then we start to vibe. We have covered politics. He talks about diet. I mention that I fasted the first two weeks of Ramadan during the Grenfell volunteering time. He sits up.
Turns out he’s not a science teacher – or not only. He’s an Imam. And now he’s in his element. He starts to talk about the responsibilities of Muslims in this country to integrate and to be active in their communities. His voice starts to fill the car and beyond as he involves his considerable diaphragm support. His sentences flow complete and honed. He has said these things at the front of the mosque. His wife is curious about my curiosity. She tells me I should’ve been praying at Ramadan as well. He understands better though. I tell him I did it so I could understand what people were doing and be more compassionate towards it. I dislike having an opinion about something until I have a reasonable understanding of it. I like him more and more. He’s upset with the Imam I spoke to, who just gave me a timetable and basic info and suggested i “find Muslims in my area” He says “I would’ve given you my number. Got you to call me whenever. Talk through the hardship. And through the advantages after a few days.”
Then we stop for coffee and pastries and he sees the damage on my car. He booked me on the site because he loves jaguars. Blablacar tells you what you’ll be riding. “I can get that fixed up for you, good as new. Get it round to me. Don’t even worry about the money. We can work something out. I’ve got people who know.” It sounds entirely sincere. He’s thinking his son would do well as an actor. He’s looking to find direction for a lost boy. “It’s a hard life,” I say. “But the companionship is great. And it’s wonderful when you’re working.” But you need the passion or you don’t get over the speedbumps…
By the time I drop him off I’m overwhelmed by his generosity and passion. He’s clearly a good Imam and a good man. I’ve got his number now. Maybe I’ll take him up on the jaguar. But the snowball! He had me pinned. Breezing through life, chasing my passion, far too few attachments. But I allowed him to think I had these 4 kids. I didn’t break the mistake. It’s big now.
So I reckon I’ll sleep on it, and then probably send him the link to this by text. See if he’ll look me in the eye after that. Sorry Luke.
Meanwhile I’m in Chorlton. Just about to hit my old mate Nathan’s surprise fortieth. He used to party harder than I could. How he’s got two kids. Not as many as I don’t have. Oh deary deary me…