On the book tour for Celia Micklefield’s new book called ‘Trobairitz the Storyteller’, sit back and enjoy an extract from the book.
I WAS ON THE A9 one October night, just outside of Béziers with a load from Spain. I’d filled up at La Jonquera. Diesel was cheaper over the border as was just about everything else including tobacco and the price of the girls who solicit lines of trucks in fuel queues.
While I was waiting my turn for the diesel pump, a thin, black-haired, dark-eyed woman came up beside my cab. Her skirt revealed knees too old for that length and as she drew nearer I could see her face: haggard, lined, old enough to be the other girls’ mother. She called out to me, first in Spanish then in French.
‘You got time? You got money? What you like?’ I climbed down from the cab and pulled off my cap. Her body language left me in no doubt what she thought of me. She turned on her heels and made for a different line of trucks, swearing all the way. I know how to say shit in so many languages now, you wouldn’t believe. I’ve got the full complement of European expletives. I don’t make a point of swearing regularly but you’ve got to admit there are times when nothing else will do.
‘Hey!’ I shouted after her. ‘I’m just doing my job. Same as you.’ But I was taking up the space of a prospective hot dinner. She’d wasted her time and lost her place in the other line. If she’d hung around I would have given her the price of a meal and saved her the trouble of earning it. Besides, there were things I would have liked to ask her.
I drove the short stretch from the border, cutting through the Pyrenees, following the coast around Argeles, thinking hard. Where do old whores go? When they quit, where do they go? What do they do? Does anybody know?
I pulled in at the Routiers near Béziers in time for dinner and made my night checks on the truck. I grabbed my things and used the showers. Put on a clean pair of jeans and went into the restaurant. The place looked full. Buzzing conversations and clattering cutlery. It’s a popular stopover for both North-South routes and East-West, but that night was my first time there.
I scanned the room: the regular set up. Serve yourself buffet bar; specials written up on a chalkboard. Wipe- clean tablecloths and bud vases with real sprigs of greenery on the tables.
Fresh and clean. Lighting too bright. No greasy overalls allowed. I made my selection and spotted an empty table near the side entrance.
Three drivers were talking about La Jonquera. When I took my tray and sat down near to them they stopped.
‘Don’t mind me, fellas,’ I said. ‘Maybe if there’d been a cute hunk at the filling station, I’d have been tempted myself.’
One invited me to join them. He was the oldest of the group, tidy, stocky, grey short hair and old-fashioned polite. Told me his name was Raymond. He briefly introduced the other two.
They didn’t look too pleased but he ignored them and started asking me the usual questions. Why would a woman be interested in long- distance haulage? What did I do before? Where did I come from?
I don’t answer that kind of question. I refuse to give personal details. They never ask outright about my age but I know they wonder. Why do they need to know I’m forty-two? I wear size 12 U.S. 14 UK. That translates to something like a 44 in European sizing but I don’t buy much here. Take one look at the petite average woman in this part of France and you can see why I get most of my stuff online. My hair is naturally curly, still dark brown. I wear it loose or stuffed under a baker-boy cap when I’m driving. I like Dire Straits and Rachmaninov.
I speak French, English, Spanish and Italian. I play guitar and I’m teaching myself mandolin.
I’m a passable Mezzo. I read everything and I’m blessed with a good memory. But I don’t tell truckers any of this. It’s nobody’s business but mine.
All I said in response to Raymond’s questions was ‘I like driving.’
Raymond got up to fill his water glass at the cooler. At the same time another driver came in from the parking bays to join the group. He looked freshly showered and he smelled of the garrigue heathland, green and herby. His damp hair curled around his ears. Maybe a few years younger than me, his skin had a healthy outdoors glow. He filled his T-shirt very nicely. He greeted everybody except me and I know the reason for that. Drivers assume that any female present is somebody’s bit on the side, along for the ride. They wait to be introduced. He hurried through the handshakes and seemed anxious to tell them something.
‘Just parked next to a new Volvo FH16,’ he said, searching the drivers’ faces for a reaction, ignoring me. ‘Classy, black livery. Somebody gone over to Trans- Angelus? Anybody we know? Who got lucky?’
‘That’ll be me,’ I said, keeping my eyes on my plate of faux filet.
You could taste the testosterone around the table. Without looking up I knew that hackles were raised, muscles clenched, jaws stiffened.
You can buy ‘Trobairitz the Storyteller’ from Amazon.