It’s 1994 and I’m seventeen. I’m one of the oldest in the lower sixth and I’m ready to take my driving test before most of my classmates are old enough to get their L-plates. I make no secret of my superiority – In your face, bus wankers! I would say had The Inbetweeners been about four floppy haired losers who terrorised the nineties. Instead, I have to rely on my own unique brand of smuggery and never miss an opportunity to tell my land-dwelling, leg-relying, parent-taxied friends about the exotic lands I plan to traverse. I’m an astronaut in training. I’m off to the moon. At least you’d think I was for all the fuss I made.
I’ve bought a car. I sit in it and play my Nirvana tapes until the battery’s dead. I have friends over to sit in it as if it’s my house and they’ve popped in for coffee. I hold the steering wheel as if I’m driving and count down the days to my test.
And then it arrives and I’m so excited that I may explode. I’m a great driver; my driving instructor told me so. I’m going to be on the road by lunchtime. I’m the duck’s nuts. But as the examiner strolls towards me on that fateful day, I get the first sense that all of my gloating may have been a little premature. Why didn’t anyone warn me about the nerves?
“Okay, Miss Sherman, can you just read the number plate over there?”
He’s a friendly guy, young, seems supportive, so why is there suddenly sand in my throat? Where are the words? I give a little cough and put together the seven digits in a way that’s half audible and half dribble, at least that’s how I remember it, and where has the drumming come from? Has my heart actually moved into my right ear? That can’t be right.
“Okay, Miss Sherman” – every sentence starts this way – “let’s hit the road.”
And then I know that I should have kept all of my wild tales of the road to myself as I reach down to the ignition key and my hand has clearly turned into a saucepan. They both have, right there before my eyes and there’s nothing I can do about it. And they’re both enormous. I have no idea what’s happening to my feet; they’re becoming jellies and the car now has more pedals than a church organ. Nothing is familiar; the steering wheel is reptilian to the touch, its scaly skin breathing in and out, in and out, tiny then huge, tiny then huge, in time with the heart in my right ear. In and out, tiny then huge, and the gearstick is a sticky lolly that attaches itself to my saucepan hands so that I can’t move. The seatbelt creeps around my neck and won’t let go, holding me in a seat made of itchy jumpers and drawing pins.
“Okay, Miss Sherman, if you’d like to start the car.”
Somehow I do. I manage to combine the unruly assortment of limbs and instruments until the car screams and the examiner makes the first of many marks on his score sheet. And then we’re moving, rolling at first and then flying (maybe to the moon). Which one’s the brake?
“Okay, Miss Sherman, right at the end.”
I try and tell myself it’s going well, but as I turn we’re thrown by a series of bumps as the front and back wheels mount the pavement. We’re on the pavement! It’s the first turn out of the test centre and we’re on the pavement! But I keep going and we’re soon back on the road. I take a peek at the examiner to see if he’s noticed. He doesn’t mention it, so I start humming to normalise us and don’t stop until the test is over.
“Okay, Miss Sherman, right again here.”
I’m a little smoother on the turn this time, but I’m aware of the screech of brakes and someone tooting their horn at me. Another sneaky look at the examiner. Has he noticed that I pulled out in front of that car and we almost had a crash? He doesn’t mention it.
“Okay, Miss Sherman, if you’d just like to pull up here.”
“Yup, anywhere here.”
Must be time for the manoeuvres. I’m shit hot with the turn in the road.
“Okay, Miss Sherman, I’m going to walk back to the test centre now and I would like you to wait here for your instructor … No, I’ll take the keys … No, unfortunately you haven’t passed this time … No, I’ll take the keys.”
And as I watch him getting smaller and smaller in the rear-view mirror, walking away from the shortest test in history, I can’t stop the appalling flood of tears at my appalling display of drivery. What am I going to tell everyone? I’m such a prick. And then I pull myself together and tell myself that it’ll be different next time. I’m ready now. I know how this feels. I wipe my eyes and I’m not quite ready to give up the dream. It will be different next time! How wrong can one person be?
Diazepam for Sale, the debut novel by Hayley Sherman, is now available on Amazon
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