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Stories - Some Man, The Jinky
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Just as it was getting to the stage where things couldn't get much worse, McKenna sliced off the lid of his digit and bled all over the lunch. It was a tin of sardines. He had been trying to open them with a Swiss Army knife and a sandy boulder. The boulder kept disintegrating, causing his concentration to err, and off went his fingertip, taking with it the last chance of sustenance for the foreseeable future.
In time, the wound would recover, but there were more immediate concerns. It was stifling. We had no water and, now, we had no food to go with it. I felt like I was stuck in a lift. Taking a deep breath, I reflected on the situation.
We were sitting by a sliproad onto a motorway, halfway to the middle of nowhere in the Basque heartland. We were supposed to be in Greece, but had stumbled across a one-way ticket to Madrid for £37, a price too good to be overlooked.
That it was at the opposite end of Southern Europe to where we wished to be was of no consequence. We would simply work our way there. Looking at it with an optimistic eye, it was part of the adventure we had embarked upon.
Three days into this wonderful adventure, we were hungry, thirsty, bored, increasingly anxious and exasperated. The heat was intolerable. McKenna, more than once during the course of the day, had referred to his 'peeling, boiling head'.
The tension had been rising since early in the afternoon and we were starting to get on each other's nerves. Here we were, under a baking sun, drowning in the misfortune of circumstance and acquaintance. It seemed only a matter of time before we were engulfed in a sudden eruption of fisticuffs.
'Knowing our luck the only car to stop will be the stock car psycho,' said McKenna glumly.
Ah, the stock car psycho! Our encounter with him, only a matter of hours earlier, seemed long ago. Then, things had looked so promising...
No sooner had we stuck out a thumb than a battered old car pulled up, throwing open a door. We mentioned the name of a town and the moustachioed driver nodded, gesturing for us to get in. We quickly realised that small talk was useless. The driver ignored all attempts at conversation. Yet, glad of our good fortune, McKenna and I relaxed and looked out of the window.
Suddenly, and without warning, we were interrupted from our meditative state and flung all over the place. The driver was executing a manoeuvre that would be illegal in most countries. He was crossing the central reservation at high speed, hanging off the steering wheel. For balance, his head was pressed against the side window. I was sprawled in the back, from where I could see a look of utter terror on McKenna's face.
There was a dream like quality to the sequence of events, from the vegetation brushing the window as the driver fought to remain on the road, to the pressure of gravity pinning me to the chair. It reminded me of the first time I had gone on the Waltzer with a drink in me. The whole thing had taken me by such surprise, that I found myself in a fit of laughter.
Luckily, my fellow traveller had a much more sensible head on his shoulders. Immediately the car had straightened up, McKenna launched a verbal assault on the driver, demanding that he stop forthwith and allow us to remove ourselves at our leisure. This urgent request seemed to fall on deaf ears, not to mention psychotic eyes. Our moustachioed friend turned his peepers in McKenna's direction, simultaneously curling his hirsute upper lip, and the physiognomical result terrified McKenna to such an extent he made a grab for the steering wheel.
As reward for this bold initiative, McKenna received from the picaroon's fist a stunning blow to the head. This, coupled with the demented howling emanating from the driver, convinced me of the seriousness of the situation. I leaned forward and covered the kidnapper's eyes with my hands. With his foot still on the accelerator, he removed his hands from the steering wheel and grappled with mine. Ever alert, McKenna delivered a telling blow to the driver's testicles with a 1.5 litre plastic bottle of water, applied with rapid velocity and deadly accuracy. Our sightless, winded friend was in no position to argue as, for the second time, McKenna took a grip of the wheel. This time, in conjunction with a sharp application of the brake, he managed to bring us to a halt at the side of the road. Grabbing the key from the ignition he hurled himself out of the passenger door into the dirt, where he was joined in an instant by the rucksacks and yours truly.
We clambered over a fence into a field, and turned to see our abductor in hot pursuit. Calmly, McKenna walked towards him, before launching the keys into the long grass to the West. That took care of our pursuer, who stumbled off in search of them.
It was at this point that my now piebald friend, his eye coming up an intricate bluey shade of black, announced with some dismay. 'The water! I lost it in the scramble.'
Lacking options, we put on a brave face. There would surely be a town not too far away.
Some hours later, with the sun a formidable presence above our melting heads, we stumbled across our present position, under a tree by the sliproad.
'How hot?' asked McKenna, gasping.
'Nineties,' I ventured.
'Wouldn't like to see it in the hundreds,' he replied, with a weary shake of the head and an agitated eye. The essential requirements for short-term survival were beyond us.
After some hours, we were granted a glimmer of hope. A car stopped. By the time we had lugged our rucksacks into touching distance, the driver changed his mind and screeched off. McKenna and I walked back to our base below the tree in silence. Perhaps the driver had reconsidered when he saw the state of us in his mirror, or it could have been a joke all along. Whatever, the wheels had come off our sense-of-humour bogie and run into a stagnant pond.
Desperation was beginning to rear its head.
Conversation was minimal. We were dehydrated, starving and suffocating in each other's company. Words could have only made it worse.
It came to me that to look less filthy might prove to our advantage. As I rummaged in my rucksack for something clean, a lightbulb went on in my head.
The hoops! Of course!
I pulled the Celtic jersey over my head. 'Don't tell me, you're working on a plan?' said McKenna sarcastically.
'They like their football here,' I said. 'You never know.' I stood up, shielding my eyes against the now low sun. A car drove past. It was nothing new. Cars had been driving past on a regular basis. This one pulled in about a hundred yards up the sliproad and flashed his lights.
McKenna and I watched without moving.
The lights flashed again.
'It could be for real this time,' I said.
'But then again...' countered McKenna.
The rear lights of the car came on, indicating a reversal. Slowly, McKenna got off the ground and we stood in silence watching the car coming towards us.
The driver's demeanour was friendly.
'Johnston,' he said.
'Johnston.' He nodded at the hoops.
This perplexed me. The year was 1991. For two years, the mention of the name Johnston had led to much confusion and anger. Everywhere you went, people wanted to know what you thought about the unfathomable volte-face. It was a terrible event, which had followed me to Spain.
'M.M.Mo Johnston?' I asked, hesitantly.
'No no no no no no,' tutted the driver. 'Johnstone, Johnstone.' As he said the name, he worked a squiggly line in the air with his finger. 'Johnstone.'
'Jimmy Johnstone!' I shouted.
'Jeemy Johnstone! Si! Si! Jeemy Johnstone.' replied the driver.
We shook hands and jumped in. The driver had a cooler with beers and a couple of sandwiches in it. He told us to help ourselves. He was a Real Madrid fan. They were the team he'd supported as a boy, and he still went to their as many of their home games as he could. When he was younger, he went to every game.
He'd watched the great players, Puskas... Gento... Del Sol... Canario... SantamarÌa... He saw them winning European Cups by the handful. But, then he stunned me. At the Bernabau in '67 for Alfredo di Stefano's testimonial, he watched the newly crowned Kings of Europe putting on a show. He said it was a great game, a fantastic occasion. That night, he saw Jeemy Johnstone run riot. His performance was a work of art, a magical thing that he had never forgotten.
Jimmy Johnstone, the number 7, was a football genius.
And this from a guy who had seen it all!
From that night on, he had supported the Celtic.
I was astonished.
McKenna was agog.
'Jimmy Johnstone, well I never,' he said.
Some way towards revitalisation, I took another beer, smiled and shook my head.
Some man, the Jinky: not only a legend, a lifesaver too. From the edge of a nightmare, he had come flying in from the wing, dropped his shoulder and scored the hitchhiker's equivalent to a last minute winner.
© Jimmy Wilde
Latest page update: made by Dianogah
, Jul 23 2008, 8:49 AM EDT
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