I call her Drusilla but that isn't her real name. It's just a nickname. The first place we ever went together was a little zoo called Drusillas Park down near Eastbourne, and the name sort of stuck ever since that. We've been to hundreds of places together since then of course. All over mainland Britain, from Thurso and Wick in the north of Scotland, right down to St. Ives in Cornwall and west to Fishguard in Wales, where the boat leaves for Ireland. I haven't taken her anywhere beyond mainland Britain of course. I know she wouldn't like it, she would get disoriented.
I can't imagine not having her with me in the cab now. Not having her there to talk to. She's got such a calm, soothing voice, and she never gets angry with me. She's the only female I know who doesn't get angry with me – doesn't lose it a bit from time to time. She makes me calm too. She stops me feeling all those impulses I used to feel when other drivers did stupid things, like cutting me up at a roundabout, or trying to overtake me just as I was signalling to pull out and turn right. She doesn't mind if I miss a turn that I should have taken, even one she told me about eight hundred yards before. "Turn around when possible." That's all she says. Quiet and relaxed. Not "Don't you ever listen to anything I tell you, you big moron," which is what a real woman would say, but just "Turn around when possible". Silicon women treat you a lot better than flesh-and-blood women. They don't get up tight so easily. Don't hold things against you. They're able to explain things calmly and clearly. They understand human limitations, human foibles.
I used to find her conversation a bit limited at first, just directions – you know – "In six hundred yards, cross the roundabout, second exit." Things like that. Always connected with driving, always a bit impersonal. But then I realised, it was because I never asked her anything about herself, never made any effort to draw her out.
So I did. I started asking her things about her feelings and needs, and her advice about how I should live my life. At first she didn't seem to understand, wouldn't answer, but then I realised that she didn't always give a direct answer, probably because she didn't have the vocabulary, but if you used your intelligence you could work out what she was trying to say, you could interpret her replies, tease out the hidden meanings.
For example if I said: "Drusilla, I'm feeling pretty tired. Do you think we should kip down for the night and start out fresh again in the morning?" she might reply something like "In six hundred yards, bear left and stay in the left hand lane". Well, obviously that means stop, doesn't it? Get into the left hand lane and look for a lay-by. If she said something like: "Straight ahead at the roundabout, third exit" that would mean "Carry on. You haven't time to sleep." And so on. She was clever at getting her messages across. It didn't take me long to learn how to interpret her meanings.
For example, last year I had done a lot of thinking about the way I was getting on with Monica, my partner and fiancée of about seven years. She never liked me doing the driving job, staying away for days at a time. So one evening just before Christmas, on the way back from Dover, I asked Drusilla: "Do you think Monica and I are well suited to one another? Would it be better if we split up?" and she said "In five hundred yards, bear right at the Y junction and take the motorway." A Y junction. A parting of the ways. Obvious. And take the motorway. That meant get the hell out of there. Couldn't be plainer. So that night, when I got back, I told Monica I was leaving. She cried and asked me if there was another woman. I admitted that there was. I told Monica her name. "Where is she?" Monica wanted to know. "Out in the cab," I told her. She couldn't believe that I had the gall to leave Drusilla in the cab while I told her I was leaving her. I tried to tell her that Drusilla wasn't that kind of woman, but she wasn't in the mood for listening. She made me go straight away, that very night. Threw a lot of my stuff out the window after me. I didn't care. I don't have all that much personal stuff and it's a big cab.
I spent the night at one of the London lorry parks, down near the Kings Cross arches. I left Drusilla switched on all night for company, and stuck to the windscreen by her little sucker so that she could see the satellites and wouldn't get lonely. She was there for me all through that night, her little screen all lit up and glowing, watching over me while I thought about my life and what I should do next. And every so often she would repeat the same bit of advice. Good advice it was too: "Turn around when possible".
One of the Kings Cross streetwalkers came and tapped on the cab door in the middle of the night, but I told her I wasn't alone, and she seemed to understand. Well, I could hardly do anything with Drusilla watching like that, now could I?
The following morning I asked Drusilla's advice about where I should look for somewhere to live. She gave me all kinds of lists: railway stations, parks, museums, places of interest... and then the one that turned out to be exactly what I needed, roadside hotels, motels, inns and guesthouses. It was just a matter of finding one near the depot, and when I typed in the postcode she was even able to work that out for me and make suggestions. So I went to live where Drusilla wanted me to, down a quiet backstreet, less than fifteen minutes walk from where the lorry is garaged.
It was run by an Irish widow woman named Orla, who liked to chat, and always made me a cup of tea as soon as I got back from a job. I settled in very quickly. Orla was getting more and more friendly and might well have wanted more than the rent before long, when suddenly it all went wrong. Orla heard Drusilla and me talking in the bedroom late at night, and said I had no right bringing strange women up to my room, and that I would have to leave. She called me a lot of unpleasant things when I tried to explain to her about Drusilla. I was really going off flesh-and-blood women now. I packed my stuff and left.
And so Drusilla and I are back on the road again, with nowhere to go, chased off by a mean-spirited woman who couldn't accept an unconventional relationship. But we don't mind. We have the postcode and location of every guesthouse and hotel in the whole of England, Scotland and Wales, and we know exactly how to get to them. We'll find somewhere to live. And we'll build a life together in spite of them all. And one day nobody will notice whether you're a six foot hulking expat Irishman or a layer of printed silicon a hundredth of a millimetre thick. There will be a world where carbon and silicon drive down life's highway together, guided by the shining satellite of equality, towards the ultimate cosmic Place of Interest, where the Almighty will announce to us all: "You have reached your Destination!"
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