Danse Macabre

Somewhere out there, within a couple of miles of me as I sit and type this, is – I hope – a young bloke whose day I comprehensively ruined.

Earlier this evening we visited my father-in-law in hospital and got stuck in traffic at the last couple of sets of lights. And as I sat there waiting for them to change, I noticed something odd in the rear view mirror.

Every few seconds, for what seemed like forever, the driver of the car behind us would sling his fist out and punch his passenger, a cringing young woman who was presumably his girlfriend.

She squirmed as far away from him as she could in the car, pressing herself up against the door, and on one occasion she started to take her seatbelt off until a flurry of blows persuaded her otherwise.

A lot of the blows fell on her upper arm and shoulder, and were just about soft enough to be classed as play fighting. Rough play fighting, where only one party was having any fun, but play fighting nonetheless. It was difficult to judge how she was reacting – once she seemed to strike back, grabbing his fist and pushing it away, and they might even have been laughing once or twice – it wasn't possible to be sure, but they might have been.

Every so often, however, he slung a closed-fist punch to the side of her head, and that was no joke at all. The worst of it was the deliberate nature of it – a pause, she moved back from the door closer to him, then wallop, another carefully-placed blow.

We took their registration number and car make as we drove into the hospital car park and they drove into the neighbouring supermarket car park. As soon as we stopped I phoned the police. The woman who took the call seemed shocked and slightly baffled by what I'd seen, and pleased but surprised that I'd bothered to phone it in. She promised to send a car out.

Beloved Other Half went off to see her father and I nipped into the supermarket for one or two bits and pieces, emerging just as the police arrived to find the couple's car still parked outside the store.

I went over to have a quick word, telling them what I'd seen. I told them what I think is the truth – that, nine chances out of ten, they'll get an earful for intruding where they're not wanted. But we used to know a woman whose teenage daughter was chucked off a balcony by her boyfriend, with fatal results, so we know that tenth chance is a risk not worth taking.

The older of the two policemen (who still looked younger than me) didn't seem overly enthusiastic about what he was hearing – probably, and not unreasonably, aware of the nine chances over the far less likely tenth. His colleague looked like a schoolboy on work experience, and he was too busy making notes to show any visible reaction. But they said they'd have a word with the store manager to see about finding the driver, and on that note I went off to the hospital.

So what happens next? Probably, they found the couple and the girlfriend said it was all a game, meaning no action gets taken. But even if this did happen, with any luck the driver's been given the fright of his life. And maybe, just maybe, he'll think twice about how he takes his fun in future.

Better still, perhaps she'll decide there's more to romance than a smack in the head, and find someone new.

Or perhaps they'll just carry on as they were, dancing the same steps again and again, until one day it all ends in tears.