First and Worse: A true story
Not satisfied with just mowing down our fence, the man in the fork-lift truck reversed then came towards me and my toddler as we stood in the house, gaping at him through our living room window.
It was ten months since we had moved into our new home in Cork, Ireland. We had waited ages while it was being built. It was special, built and decorated precisely the way we wanted it to be. We had finally got the long-awaited master en-suite but better than that, the view from our bedroom window was that of the beautiful Cork Harbour.
Every day I walked our two older children to school. Dee was in Reception and Gabs in Nursery. I then took Mo the youngest – just 16 months old – back home to enjoy our daily morning routine of poetry reading and puzzle fixing.
At about eleven o’clock I left Mo playing on the living room floor and got up to make her a bottle. That was when I felt the tremor. I wasn’t too alarmed at first, after all we were living on a building site and our house was the last fully completed one in the first street of the new exclusive housing estate. I went to the front window and looked out. What confronted me was one of the most frightful sights of my adult life.
A giant fork-lift truck was standing, revving in what used to be our beautifully manicured front lawn. The front garden wall was scattered in pieces on the road, and the ground was dented by the tracks of the heavy machinery. A heavy-set man was sitting in its single seat. Life seemed to stop when I realised that he was so close to me I could see the empty look in his eyes. Before I could breathe again, he started to reverse and I thought, ‘How can someone lose control of a vehicle so completely.’
As I stood transfixed at the front window, I expected him to drive off in the direction of the building site. But when he put the fork-lift into first gear, it occurred to me that he had reversed to come back at us. So he hadn’t lost control of the truck! This was for real!
I glanced at my little Mo still happily doing her puzzle on the floor but I couldn’t move at first. It must’ve been a matter of seconds before I reacted, but it felt like I stood there forever before I picked her up, raced her to the adjoining room and closed the door behind me. I then dashed back, just as the wheels of the massive fork-lift darkened our large front window. I opened it and screamed “Stop! Stop!” But he kept coming. I slammed it shut again just a split of a second before the two forks of the machine smashed into the upper front wall of the house. I heard a heart-rending grinding, cracking sound. It occurred to me in that instant that if they were set any lower, the forks would be crashing into the window and me instead.
The man backed out once more, and again I could see his eyes. I was sure now that for some insane reason, mowing down this particular house was the single most rational thing on his mind. I frantically waved at him and with surprising calm and kept shouting, “Stop! Stop!”
He came at us again, this time with the forks set low, systematically mowing down the rest of our garden’s front wall and the one between us and our neighbour’s house. He came back again and again, each time faster and with more purpose. At last he stopped for a minute then drove into the lamppost outside our house before driving away. I ran outside with jelly-like limbs when he was out of sight to look for someone, anyone.
Two builders working on the site were calmly walking towards my direction, but started running when they saw the devastation.
“Did you see him?” I shouted.
“The man in the fork-lift!”
“He did this?” they asked, neither of us making sense to the other.
“Who is he?” My voice had begun to falter and I could hear Mo crying behind me. She was standing at the door looking at the destruction on the lawn where she and her brother and sister ran around on light evenings in their pyjamas. I beckoned to her to come to me and held her tightly in my arms, trying to calm myself as I willed my body to stop shaking.
Another builder came running up. He knew me. I often chatted with him in the street on my way to and from the kids’ school.
“Did he do this?” he asked, pointing over his shoulder in the direction the driver had gone.
“Yes,” I replied, relieved that someone might know who ‘he’ was. “Do you know him?”
“Yeah, but he doesn’t work for us, no,” he answered in his strong Cork accent. “He’s mental so he is.”
“What’s he doing driving that thing?” I almost screamed at him, holding my forehead and willing it to be still.
“He just jumped on it, so. He’s always coming round looking for bits to do. He asked me and the lads for work this morning. I said we were grand, so.”
“So he just jumped in and drove away?” I asked. Mo had stopped crying now and was trying to get down to investigate, but I held her still.
“Yeah. He’s mental, he is. He probably didn’t take his med’cine this morning. I’ll go call the boss.”