Glasgow · Thoughts

W. Somerset Maugham and a Car Crash

On a beautiful Friday morning, I was driving into Uni to sit an exam. I had only slept for a few hours the night before, and had subsequently drank enough caffeine the next morning to at least make me feel like I was prepared for the horror which was scheduled for 2pm.

So I was driving in, usual busy traffic, usual irritating radio DJs. I had reached the Uni and was heading for the leafy street of sandstone tenements where I park. I had therein dodged the lunatic drivers which inhabit Glasgow’s West End. These drivers normally fall in to two categories: the pensioners (dangerous) or the mega-rich who drive their Range Rovers in the middle of the road in order to avoid the peasant vehicles and never ever give way (equally dangerous).

Yet, I was about to encounter a a new third type of hazard. As I turned a corner of a road that was flanked by parked cars, the man in the Kia ahead of me saw me coming, and stopped to let me by. I stopped too, doing the very British and very polite “no-after-you” routine that we all love to do. So I pulled in as close to the side of the road as I could get, and the man continued on past me. Second later, I heard the horrifying sound of metal-against metal as his car scraped all the way down the side of mine. He had completely misjudged the space in which he had to get by.
So I jumped out the car. (I have become well practiced in car-disaster scenarios, having dealt with a stolen car, a blown up engine and a lady who ignored a stop sign on a cross roads.) I felt the initial surge of anger and I checked the damage to our cars. Admittedly his was much worse. I turned to speak to him, but I wasn’t faced one of the two aforementioned manic West End drivers. Infront of me was a polite, well dressed, middle aged man with a sympathetic face and a calm demeanour. He apologised for the incident, and I quickly calmed down. After all, no one sets out in the morning with the intention of sabotaging other people’s vehicles. So, we exchanged details. I grabbed a pink post-it and gave him my address and phone number, and he gave me his business card. Aware that I had an exam to sit, I told him to forget about involving insurance. At that point in time, a scrape on my car was the least of my worries. As I turned to get back in my car and get to the Uni as soon as possible, he held out his hand for me to shake. I obliged, and felt him sincere and genuine and not someone to blame for what had just happened.

An hour later, I was sitting in the library, desperately cramming my frazzled brain with information. I received a call from an unknown number, who turned out to be Mr Kia. He wanted to further discuss what had happened, but began some small talk. I was getting frustrated. He asked me what I studied, I told him English. He asked me my favourite writers, I told him Dickens. He then went on about his own, and I zoned out. I interrupted to steer the conversation back to the case in hand. Flustered and stressed, I reminded him that I truly couldn’t be bothered dealing with insurance and phone calls and premiums and lawyers and no-claims bonuses and all the bollocks that comes with car accidents (like I said, been there many times before.) We agreed to fix our respective cars on our own. He wished me well, and I went to sit my exam.


The strange thing is, my actions that day were quite out of character. That’s not to say that I’m the kind of person that DEMANDS insurance intervention and compensation in car accidents, victimising the person at fault and belittling them for their mistake. But, I’m a student. I like in a state of near-broke for 11 months of the year (except for the first SAAS in September, God Bless SAAS.) Had Mr Kia scraped my car on a day that I didn’t have an exam, I probably would have got in touch with his insurers and organised for them to pay for the damage. But that day, my mind was elsewhere, and the situation just didn’t seem like a big deal.

Yesterday, I received a package in the post. I had already received my summer ASOS order the day before (post-exam treats) so I wasn’t expecting anything. I unwrapped it and revealed a book of short stories by W. Somerset Maugham. I was initially confused, because my exams were finished, and I had this rush of complete terror that the book was part of a class I had taken but completely forgotten to read (can that even happen?!) However, I turned the book around and saw a business card paper clipped to the top of the cover. I opened the sleeve, and found a hand written message from Mr Kia, which read:

“To Gemma,
Good luck with your exams. Sorry again about bumping into each other (you bumped into me but I’ll let that slide). I thought I would send you this introduction to WSM. So at least something positive could come from the experience. 
Best wishes,
*Mr Kia*.”

Mr Kia had sent me a book of his favourite writer which he mentioned on that phone that day that I wasn’t listening to him. I was touched, and amazed that a near-stranger could be so thoughtful. The whole experience has really altered how I regard others. Normally, anyone that crashes into you is a bad guy. Accident or not, the driver was an idiot and should therefore be treated as such. But the incredibly kind gesture from Mr Kia reminded me that accidents are just that, and a little bit of compassion goes a very long way.

I may have lost some paint off my bumper, but now I have a lovely summer read.


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