Geisterfahrer

The storm’s throwing up blankets of rain before my car, taunting me. The sound on my bonnet’s relentless and so loud I can’t hear my ‘Learn German’ CD. I understand German reasonably but haven’t been here in a year and like to brush up before meetings.

It’s been raining since I left Brussels and now I’ve finally hit the German autobahn, I thought I’d make some progress, but the rain’s unforgiving and I can’t top eighty. Visibility’s less than twenty metres but occasionally the rain lifts for a few seconds. The wind’s shaking me around like my car’s in the hands of my five year old son. I haven’t seen the lights of another car in twenty minutes.

The CD finishes, I turn on the radio. A song finishes, the news starts. A gush of wind cuts across my bonnet throwing me to the right. The lead story is this storm, thanks for reminding me! Deaths, trees and power cuts are words that drop into my diverted attention. I don’t know why I thought it would be better to drive by night.

From the radio I hear a word I don’t understand: ‘Geisterfahrer’. The German practice of moulding words together means I understand the constituent parts of the word: ‘geist’ is ghost, and ‘fahrer’ is driver; a ghost driver, apparently on this autobahn. Surely the Germans haven’t started embracing superstition in this bleak hour. Well, it is local radio and they do have a penchant for the weird and wonderful. Maybe there’s some local myth of a ghost on this road. The rain lifts for a moment. I realise for the last three minutes I’ve paid little attention to the road. I re-double my efforts toward the road but the words ‘Ghost driver’ drift before me again. Without warning another sheet of wind and rain launches itself over me and I jump back in my seat in shock. My heart seems to have dislodged itself, still beating but not in the right place.

Just when I think it can’t get worse, the wind and rain beat me down to sixty. This is useless! I’m not even halfway to Munich and at this rate I won’t get there till the early hours. The meeting’s not till the afternoon so I could just try and find somewhere for the night, set off in the morning. Hopefully the storm will have passed. Much more sensible. Now all I have to do’s find somewhere to stay.

This stretch is empty though. No signs or drivers on either side of the road. Most of the time I can’t see the central reservation. I carry on and although the rain’s continuing to pour, the wind’s dying. A weight lifts from my shoulders and control’s suddenly much easier. I untense my shoulders and relax from my previous posture: bent forward and grabbing the wheel for dear life. I suddenly see a light on the other side of the autobahn. Thank God I’m not the only fool braving the roads. The rain throws one last ship-full on me and the curtain of rain lifts finally. At last the storm’s ending. But the white lights of the other car are actually on my side of the autobahn: I finally realise what a ghost driver must be…

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