"Do you have a family, Mr Shaw?"
I did. I had a wife and two girls who I loved more than anything in the world. I nodded, but perhaps he didnâ€™t see me because he asked again, that same vaguely European accent echoing from behind me.
"Do you have a family, Mr Shaw?"
Exactly the same. Not even a hint of anger. Just a question.
"Then perhaps you would like to make sure that your last thoughts are about them."
I screwed my eyes shut. Although I was blindfolded I could still feel the harsh winter sun like a pin-point in the clear sky, and I thought about my family. I thought about all the things I said to them before leaving for work each morning, never realising they might be the last things I would ever say to them. All the dull and mundane things. I thought about all the arguments Iâ€™d had with my wife, all the things I had shouted at her and at the girls, all the things I wished I could take back. There was so much I wanted to take back, and now the man standing behind me in his long black overcoat was about to take it all with him.
They say you never hear the shot that kills you because the bullet travels too fast, but no-one will ever know for sure. All I knew is that there would be no warning, just an impact in the back of my head that would kill me before I hit the ground.
I listened as everything went quiet, the world held its breath, and I felt warm tears soaking slowly into the soft fabric of the blindfold, quickly turning cold and wet against my skin in the crisp air. The panic was gone, melted into resignation, but I still felt my stomach tighten as I waited.
I thought about the day I was married, how little all of those vows meant now. Somewhere, right now, she was doing all the things she always did on a Monday morning, worrying about feeding the girls, about tidying the mess they had left in their wake. I smiled as I thought of them, my children, my perfect children, and I knew that they would never see me here, standing in the middle of a motorway, blindfolded and staring, thinking of them and waiting.
Antony once had a family. Just like his neighbour David Shaw he used to have a beautiful dark-haired wife and two perfect little girls. Now, when he lay in his bed and listened to the shouting through his wall it made him cry. He knew that if he could do anything in the world he would go back and he would never have raised his voice to his wife or to his children. He would never have left the house after an argument, because he would never have known when he might come back and find them lying dead amongst the ransacked debris.
He would look after them like he had vowed to do when he had married her. He would love her and cherish her like his own flesh and not shout and argue and leave for days at a time, like his neighbour David Shaw did.
Sometimes Antony stood at his front window, looking out, and he would watch David walking to his car, angry and impatient with a hastily half-packed suitcase of clothes. The children would be crying, and Antony would think that sometimes, just sometimes, maybe that one thing in the world that he could do might be to make David realise how much his family meant to him without having to find them beaten and bloodied, to tell them he loved them without having to hold them and know they were gone forever.
One night, when Antony lay in bed with only the shouts from the room next door, he closed his eyes and saw himself standing there, shouting those same words, filling his own past with regret until heâ€™d had enough, and he slowly sat up in the darkness and reached into his bedside drawer. Inside was the cold metal of his semi-automatic pistol, the gun he had bought all of those years ago which he had sworn to use if he ever found the man who killed his family. He picked up the gun held it heavy in his hand, and he stood and walked over to the curtains, parting them and opening the window. He looked out into the blackness of the night sky and raised the pistol to the blank new moon and fired it, the sudden recoil jarring through his straightened arms as abrupt as a bolt of lightning as the discharge thundered through the air.
The shouting stopped. Antony closed the window and the curtains, and went back to bed. All of his anger had fired into the night with that bullet, and he slept.
When he saw David from his front window just one week later, angry and leaving with another suitcase, Antony felt the bullet return to hit him in his stomach. Instead of standing and watching he went back upstairs to his bedroom and reached into his bedside drawer. As he held the gun and stared down at its dark metal he heard more shouts from Davidâ€™s wife. "Donâ€™t leave," she was calling out to him. "We can do this." She sobbed as she yelled. "We can do it, just come back and try." He said nothing as she cried out. "Come back and give it one last shot."
Antony paused, listening and looking up out of his bedroom window at the bare trees and the stark December sky, then he went to his wardrobe and dressed himself in a dark sweater and a brand new black overcoat with a scarf. Slipping on a pair of black leather gloves he picked up the pistol and walked out.
He left his house and saw David driving away, feeling the shock of cold air in his lungs as he hurried to his car and got in. He put the gun in the glovebox and started the engine, the wheels spinning as he drove away, and he followed David all the way through the narrow streets and across main roads until they reached the motorway, the traffic slowed to a blinded procession by the low rising sun.
He floored the accelerator and swerved around Davidâ€™s car, driving alongside, staring in for long enough to catch his attention. His eyes locking to Davidâ€™s, he reached inside the glovebox and pulled out the gun, pointing it directly at him.
Antony watched as David braked in shock, and he braked alongside him, matching his speed. He signalled David to pull over, still pointing the gun, and they both slowed down and stopped in the middle of the motorway, cars swerving around them and sounding their horns in protest.
Paying them no attention, Antony climbed out of his car and walked over to David, oblivious to the traffic driving past close enough to flutter the ends of his scarf. He pointed the gun at him through the side window and opened the door as David stared up at him in disbelief. "Get out, Mr Shaw," said Antony.
Once he was out David put his hands up, but Antony motioned him into the middle of the motorway lanes. "That wonâ€™t be necessary, Mr Shaw," he said, and with his free hand he unwrapped his scarf and then went to tie it over Davidâ€™s eyes. The traffic had now stopped and left the motorway in front of them deserted and quiet. He pushed David gently toward the central reservation with a hand in the small of his back. "Iâ€™ll let you face the rising sun, Mr Shaw," he said quietly, barely noticing the skewed and halted cars behind them, their drivers panicking.
"Do you have a family, Mr Shaw?"
So I stood and I waited. I didnâ€™t know what I had done, what had driven the man in the long coat to stop me in the middle of a motorway and kill me. I tried not to think, I tried not to let my mind race with the burning current of thoughts that flashed through everything, and I just listened. I heard the distance in the air and felt the soft but cold breeze through my blindfold, and I waited.
It felt like I had been standing there for hours when it sank in. The realisation that nothing had happened. Slowly, hesitantly, I reached up and slid the blindfold up past my eyes and felt the pain of sudden daylight in them, seeing the sun hanging in the pale sky just above a large bridge. I turned and saw the lines of cars that had stopped, leaving a stretch of empty road between me and them. The man in the long coat was not to be seen anywhere. I shielded my eyes against the sharp reflection of sunlight from the gleaming cars and windscreens, watching as the drivers slowly got out and stood behind their open doors. In the distance were the flashing blue lights of police cars speeding down the hard shoulder, but I knew that he had left before they had arrived.
I wondered where he was, why he had stopped me and why he had spared me, and it was only then that I realised he had never threatened to kill me. I smiled to myself as I pulled the blindfold over my head and dropped it to the floor.
He had wanted my last thoughts to be of my family, and that was all.
Just like him, I left before the police cars came. I escaped and drove with the sun in my mirrors, and I thought of all those years that had been shifted aside by that one man. Now I could finally go back home, I could drop everything, and I could give it one last shot.
It was the most beautiful morning of my life.