Chapter Four

Toby Changes Track

Toby found Percy in the refreshment tent. He wondered how much time his mentor spent in there. Percy was sitting with his friend in the large hat, and she stood up when she saw Toby.

“I expect you two have things to discuss,” she said, with a knowing look at Percy. Toby watched her leave, then slid into the seat opposite Percy.

“I can’t wait a whole week,” Toby blurted, “those cars don’t seem to train at all. They only want to look nice, which is fine, I’d like my car to look nice too, but then when it’s time for them to go on, to the real track, they don’t even want to go! It’s like all they care about is their training cars, and what they look like. Nothing else matters. I think they’ve forgotten the point of being here, what it’s all about. And one of them – quite a nice driver actually, I liked him – well, I met him yesterday and he was upset about his car being damaged in the race, and he told me that his log book must be nearly run out, which is why he entered the race, and then today, when I went to find him, he’d gone, to the real track, and his car was left behind because he didn’t need it any more and they were all. . . they were all. . . sort of. . . distraught. Yes, that’s the word, they were distraught. Over the training car. But that’s the point, isn’t it? They’re only meant to be temporary, aren’t they?”

Toby stopped, and swallowed. He had spoken very fast, the words tumbling from him in a sort of stream of confusion. He looked at Percy, suddenly aware that perhaps he was not making sense, that his mentor might have found the blurted explanation rather muddled.

Percy did not look muddled. His expression was as calm and unhurried as it had been yesterday, and he had the same smile, a sort of knowing smile, that Toby wasn’t sure he particularly liked.

“Why don’t we order some hot chocolate?” suggested Percy, waving at a waiter.

“Yes, but what about the shiny cars?” said Toby, not sure that he wanted hot chocolate. “They were chanting something weird: ‘From metal you were moulded. . .’”

“‘To metal you return,’” finished Percy, then turned to the waitress who had arrived.

“Ah yes, two chocolates please. And some of those rather delicious finger sponge cakes.” He looked back at Toby. “I will explain,” he said, “but first we drink.”

The mugs of steaming chocolate arrived. Toby placed his on the table, not at all in the mood for drinking. But Percy continued unperturbed, dipping the finger sponge into his drink and biting off the end. After a few minutes, when Toby realised that his mentor was not to be hurried, he picked up the finger sponge next to him. It was a thin blonde piece of cake, slightly dry, and perfect for dunking. He dipped the end into his chocolate, and nibbled it. The combination of softened cake, and bitter chocolate, was perfect. He dunked it again, momentarily absorbed by the delicious mixture of sweet and bitter, of hot and cold. He picked up his mug, sipping the creamy chocolate, allowing the thick, velvety texture to fill his mouth, finding it strangely comforting. He realised that Percy was watching him.

“Rather good, isn’t it?” Percy said.

Toby nodded, feeling the luxurious chocolatey taste fill his mouth.

“I find that hot chocolate has a tendency to make everything feel a little better,” said Percy, smiling. “But now, to your questions.”

Toby placed his mug, rather longingly, on the table. He would have liked really to continue drinking, and to forget all about his recent discovery with the shiny cars, but he realised that was not what he had come for. He had found Percy because he wanted some answers, so he gave one more lick of his lips, and folded his arms, waiting.

“You are right, of course,” said Percy. “The drivers of the shiny cars do tend to forget why they are here. Their training cars have become very important, and it tends to blot out the real purpose of why we’re all here. Their cars are very pretty, of course, and they have added all sorts of amazing features, so I am inclined to admire what they manage to achieve – but it’s so tempting for that to become the total aim, and as you say, the training cars were always only ever intended to be temporary. They are for us to train in, until we are ready for the real track.

“The chant you heard: ‘From metal you were moulded, to metal you return’ is all part of the same thing of course. The car, the training car, has become overly significant, so when it is no longer needed, they feel a huge sense of loss. The chant is correct, but it is not meant to be the focus. Originally, the first training cars were moulded from metal, extracted from ore in a furnace. As training cars become obsolete, they are crushed, and then melted down, back into metal, which can be used to make new training cars. The shiny cars look wonderful, in their way they are wonderful, but they are only training cars, lumps of moulded metal. The chant has become something of a lament for the drivers, hasn’t it?”

Toby nodded. “It was a bit spooky,” he whispered.

“As to your friend,” said Percy, his voice business-like, “that was unfortunate. I’m afraid that no one knows when their log book will run out, and they will be promoted to the real track. Usually it happens when we’ve been here for a while, after we have trained for several years and learnt all sorts of driving skills that will be useful on the real track. Your friend will have realised that his time was short, and that he was not as prepared as perhaps he should have been, which is why he entered that race.”

“But he still didn’t have long enough, did he?” said Toby.

Percy was silent, his lips pressed together, his brow furrowed. “That’s not for us to say,” he said at last.

Toby leant forwards and peered into his mug. There was a centimetre of chocolate remaining, so he lifted his mug and drained the last few drops. It was wonderfully comforting.

“Well, it’s not going to happen to me,” he said, his voice determined. “I’m going to be the best driver I can be, I’m not going to get sidetracked by filling my car with lots of prettiness that just distracts me from my main purpose.” He pushed back his chair and stood up, so that he was looking down at Percy as he announced:

“I am going to join the brown cars.”

For a moment, Percy was silent. Then he said, very quietly in his calm voice: “Very well. I will meet you here next week, and you can tell me how you’re getting on.”

Toby nodded, and marched away. “I’ve got this sussed now,” he told himself, striding away from the refreshment tent. “I’m going to join those brown cars, and train hard, and learn to be ready for the real track. Nothing else will distract me. I’m going to be ready.” It was not until later, that a worrying thought struck Toby. If Percy was his mentor, shouldn’t he know the best way to train? And if so, why was he still at the training ground after all this time?

To be continued. . .

Anne E. Thompson
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