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This passage is from The Children's Bach by Helen Garner

She stood at the tramstop opposite the long railed side of the cemetery. Someone had written in black texta on the lamp-post DARREN WAR LOURD. No tram was in sight, but she saw an orange campervan coming fast down the street, heading south. It had neat curtains and a sink, and a lone man at the wheel. He and Athena exchanged a friendly look and she got in and he turned the van round and drove the other way, on to the freeway and out past the turn-off to the airport and the Italian houses with white porticos and palm trees, past the city limits and the wreckers’ yards and the paddocks where broken-winded horses stood patiently at the wire and out on to the great basalt plains with their tall thistles nodding, and further and further until it was desert with a sky so dry and high that they slept out on the ground at night with never a drop of dew.

There was still no tram coming. It was lazy to wait when she could be walking, and only three-quarters of a mile.

in this passage Athena is standing at tram station and she see a campervan coming. Did she imagine that, and never actually get in that van? In the last paragraph it is said that:

There was still no tram coming. It was lazy to wait when she could be walking, and only three-quarters of a mile.

Can we add "would" before the verbs in bold? For example: she would get in or they would sleep?

And what is the meaning of "Darren War Lourd"? I found nothing about it on the net.

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    What do you mean by "we"? Authors can use whatever tense they please, whenever they want. We're not a writing site, that's Writing.
    – bobble
    Apr 30 at 15:20
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    I edit my question. As a non-native I got confused by this part because the writer say: she got in the van, and passes many places. And then in the last paragraph it is said that "There was still no tram..." and I think Athena just is thinking about it. Am I right? Apr 30 at 15:34
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    Don't worry about being confused; native English speakers also are quite surprised when they get to the sentence "there was still no tram coming," and also have to deduce that Athena was just imagining it. And "Darren War Lourd" is just "Darren Warlord", badly spelled (Darren is a name).
    – Peter Shor
    Apr 30 at 16:27
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    And no, you can't add "would". You could say "Athena imagined that she ..." but that would take all the surprise out of the sentence "there was still no tram coming."
    – Peter Shor
    Apr 30 at 16:30
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Graffiti is often opaque in meaning, it is okay to accept an author’s description of it as purely scene setting. It may not be necessary to know what was in the mind of the person who wrote it. We might each have our own interpretation. My own assumption is that a person called ‘Darren Lourd’ was indulging in some escapism and flirting with the idea that he could be a ‘war lord’.

That need for escapism is probably what we find in Athena’s imagined ride hitched with a glamorous or romantic stranger. She indulges herself in the possibility of freedom, of letting events carry her away from her disabled child and difficult husband.

But in the end, duty dictates that she should continue to her prescribed destination by the most efficient means.

There is nothing about the way this is introduced in the text which relates to any standard grammar for describing ’unreal events’.

Written as it is, the reader can believe for an instant that Athena has stepped out of the life of a dutiful wife and mother, but we are immediately pulled back to her reality. This is the author’s stylistic choice.

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