John B Keane: the tales of a well-travelled hitch-hiker

LAST week a man came into my bar and told me that he was dying for the want of a pint, but unfortunately he had no money.

LAST week a man came into my bar and told me that he was dying for the want of a pint, but unfortunately he had no money.

“I never saw you before in my life,” I told him. “So why would I give you a pint?”

“Wait till you hear my story,” he said. “And you won’t be long standing to me.”

I suspended judgement and gave him permission to go ahead. He unfolded a harrowing and imaginative tale.

That very morning he had set out on a hitch hike from Askeaton in co Limerick to Duagh in north Kerry, where he was due to take up employment with a farmer. Several cars passed but, finally, one pulled up.

“Are you going in the Duagh direction,” he asked the driver.

“No,” said the driver, who was a large, red faced man, “but I am going part of the way.”

He sat in and he drove off. He made several attempts to strike off a conversation with the driver, but was answered on each occasion, by a grunt or a snort. Seven eventful miles passed but suddenly there was a loud report like a handclap and the car wobbled drunkenly.

“A puncture,” said the driver sourly. “Come on out and give me a hand”.

Out they got. Unfortunately our friend was told to locate a stone to place under the front tyre. He searched, but the only thing he could find was a small boulder, which weighed several stones. Nevertheless, he managed to lift it and place it in front of the wheel. The driver took off his coat to reveal a powerful arms and chest, and then quickly changed the wheel. Our friend hurried to take the stone from the front, but the driver sarcastically said “Don’t dirty your hands!”, and he went to remove the stone himself. He lifted it and tossed it onto the margin but, as he did it he bellowed like an enraged bull. He had obviously pulled a muscle or something. He turned and glowered at our friend.

“Damn you,” he said. “You couldn’t get a smaller stone?” and with that he hauled out and let our friend have a lick of a fist into the forehead. He then drove off after rubbing his hands together.

Our friend was rather dazed and giddy from the blow and was almost knocked down by a bespectacled man on a motorcycle. The motorcyclist braked in the nick of time.

“You’re not, by any chance, going to Duagh?” our friend asked .

“I am,” the motorcyclist said. “Hop on behind me”

Our friend hopped on the pillion and they set off at a merry pace. A large oil lorry approached and, as they passed, it seemed perilously close.

“What was that?” said the bespectacled motorist.

“That was an oil truck,” our friend said.

“The next time you see something like that tip me off – I’m as blind as a bat!”

They spread through Newcastle West and Abbeyfeale and our friend hung on for dear life, praying fervently that his life may be spared.

They passed a hundred or more cars with bare inches and fractions to spare.

“No traffic today much,” the motorcyclist shouted back, and our friend remembered aspirations he never dreamed he knew.

As they neared Duagh, still going at a breakneck pace, our friend began to breathe easier, but as they entered the village, the pilot drove as furiously as ever. Our friend tipped the driver on the shoulder.

“We are in Duagh now,” he shouted.

“Don’t you think I know that? he shouted back.

“You can drop me off here,” our friend shouted at the top of his voice.

“Can’t be done,” the pilot shouted back. “I can only stop where there is a square.” More prayers as they raced towards the square in Listowel. Houses and cattle and cars went by in a confused blur. The driver slowed down as they neared a row of tar barrels.

“What’s the matter?” our friend asked.

“Guards,” the pilot said in a low voice, and he nodded respectfully towards the tar barrels. “’Tis better to be on the right side of ‘em,” he explained and he drove off at full speed again.

After an eternity they entered the square in Listowel, but instead of stopping, the pilot circled the square several times looking for his bearings.

“Drop me off now,” our friend shouted over and over, but there was no response from the helm. In desperation, he thumped the pilot several times.

“Never hit a man from behind,” the pilot shouted, and he conferred with an elbow in our friend’s midriff. The blow knocked him off the bike, and when he came to an hour afterwards he was in the barracks on a charge of being drunk and incapable. They released him when he explained the case, and nearly arrested him again for failing to report an accident.

I filled him a pint and put it in front of him. “You’re as big a liar as I have come across,” I told him. He was too busy drinking the pint to notice what I said. When he finished, he asked me for the loan of two shillings for the bus to Duagh.

“Why don’t you hitch-hike?” I said.

“A good idea,” he said, and walked out the door without another word.