My son's first word wasn't Daddy or Mummy. His first word was Audi. Which was strange because I'd never owned an Audi, and on my salary probably never would. But William had played with toy cars before he could walk and recognized the badges long before he could actually read the names. At the age of four (and a bit), he was already something of an expert, playing his car game as we inched along in the sluggish North London traffic, spotting badges and calling them out from his car seat in the back.
We were almost home. The traffic lights up ahead began to change, and I pulled up third in line as they turned red. In the mirror, I could see him clutching his first School Superstar certificate in both hands, as if it might blow away in the wind. A CD of kids' songs was playing low on my car stereo. 'I am the music man, I come from down your way ...'
William continued calling out cars. "Ford...'nother one Ford...Mummy car."
I smiled. My wife—William's mum—drove a VW Golf. Every time he spotted one, he'd call it out. Not a Volkswagen. A Mummy car.
"It's a Mummy car. Look, Daddy."
My phone buzzed in the hands-free cradle: a Facebook notification. "What was that, Wills?"
"Over there, look."
Across the divided highway, on the other side of the junction, a line of cars in the far lane filtered left onto an exit ramp. Rush hour traffic streaming through the junction, everyone on their way home. The low sun was in my eyes, but I caught a glimpse of a VW Golf. It 'did' look like her car. Powder blue, five-door, same SpongeBob SquarePants sunshade suckered to the rear passenger window.
"Good spot, matey. It does look like Mummy's car."
I buzzed my window down and felt the cool city air on my face. A gap in the traffic opened up behind the Golf as it accelerated away down the exit ramp. It was a 59 registration license plate. My wife's car had a 59 plate. I squinted, trying to make out the letters.
The number plate was hers—it wasn't like her car; it was her car. There was the familiar buzz, the little glow in my chest I still got whenever she was nearby. The VW indicated left off the exit ramp and turned into a Premier Inn. It headed into the dark entrance of an underground parking lot and disappeared from sight.
She'll be meeting a client, a work thing. Should probably leave her to it.
She had been working late a lot recently.
"Can we see Mummy?" William said, excitement in his voice. "Can we can we can we?"
"She'll be busy, Wills. Doing work things."
"I can show her my certificate." William couldn't quite pronounce the word, and it came out as cerstiff-a-kit.
Honking from the car behind me as the traffic lights turned green. "Well..."
"Please, Daddy?" He was jigging up and down on his booster seat. "We could do a surprise on her!"
I smiled again. It was almost Friday, after all. "Yes, we could, couldn't we?"
I put the car in gear. Made a spur-of-the-moment decision that would change my life.
"Let's go and surprise Mummy."
I was in the wrong lane to turn right and had to get across two lanes of traffic. By the time someone had let me in—cue more furious hooting—the lights had gone red again.
"Where's Mummy whizzing off to?" William said. "We'll catch her, don't worry."
My cell phone, in its hands-free cradle, blinked blue with the Facebook notification. I pressed the screen, and it brought up my picture of William in the school playground, clutching his first Superstar award from the reception class teacher. The post had four likes and a new comment from William's godmother, Lisa: Awww he looks so cute!? What a good boy! Give him a kiss from me xx.
I hit Like below her comment.
The traffic light went green, and I turned the wheel to follow the route my wife's car had taken, down the exit ramp and left into the forecourt of the Premier Inn. Down the ramp into the underground parking lot, low concrete roof and deep shadows where the fluorescent lights didn't reach, driving slowly along the lines of parked cars.