Saturday, October 09, 2004

Trouble for Sale

It was a nice Sunday morning, and I had just finished polishing my bike when my cousin showed up. He had heard about a great deal on a restored Austin Healy, and wouldn’t I be so kind as to give him a ride so that he could take a look at it? It was all prearranged, and the owner was expecting us.

Soon we were on the outskirts of Pretoria, and on a dirt road. Before long we arrived at our destination. I immediately saw the car - a mosquito with a V8: a beautiful red monster.

It was parked under a carport right next to a Harley Davidson. Obviously, whoever lived here had some taste! While I proceeded to appreciate all the metal, my cousin knocked on the front door, and was waiting for a response.

A woman opened the door, and evidently expecting us, she told us to go ahead and to take a look. The owner had just left to pick up some cigarettes and the Sunday newspaper. He would be back shortly.

Noticing the key in the ignition, my cousin enquired if we could start the car, and she said yes, although I might have seen a flicker of uncertainty in her eyes. Don’t worry, he assured her. We would leave my bike as security, and were just going to run the car a short distance up the road.

I immediately objected to this idea, but he was already in the car and had it pulled out into the driveway. While we were getting into an argument, the woman had left to do something else.

Not knowing that she was actually calling for some help, I ascribed her disappearance to indifference, and I capitulated. Getting into the car, I cautioned my cousin to be exceedingly careful.

Slow it was – until we got out onto the dirt road and to the next crossroad, where we turned around. Then it all changed.

Instantly my cousin was transformed into something worse than a Hell’s Angel. While releasing some deep-seated primordial bellow, he floored it. You could feel the power of the beast.

Sudden apprehension had me by the throat. White-knuckling the door handle, and with my feet pushing dents into the floorboards, I tried to talk reason, but to no avail. We were hell-bent for leather and screaming down the road.

About halfway up the stretch, the car became light and it started to dance on the gravel. I could not speak anymore; my tongue was stuck somewhere between my tonsils. Surely, my cousin was aware of this sideways movement, and any moment now his foot was going to come unstuck from the throttle!

Regrettably, that was not to be, and our fate was sealed. I remember vaguely that we left the road, and seeing us heading for some barbed wire and an orange grove. Somehow a few neurons to my neck muscles were still responding, and I managed to pull in my head like a tortoise, just before the wire left me decapitated. (Remember, this was a sports scar with no top.)

Especially the trip through the orange grove was surreal. Trees jumped in our way at will, and through it all I could hear the engine revving like it was stuck in high gear.

Then we were out in the clear and heading for this enormous water tank. Surely, if we connected with the platform on which it stood we were dead on arrival.

But God had mercy. We struck the pump house right next to it.

We took the front wall out, and I remember the roof coming down on us. With the dust slowly settling I became aware of the deathly silence. Even the grasshoppers and the crickets were quiet and a great and solemn stillness ensued. It was so real you could touch it.

Then the moment was lost to the sound of people running.

I was remarkably unscathed. Except for a deep flesh wound on my right leg everything appeared to be in place. My cousin was not as lucky. He had nicely clipped the steering wheel in half with the bone between his eyebrows, and was slow in waking up.

With the help of some bystanders I managed to free him from the remains of the car and the pump house, while I was trying hard to explain to them what had happened. Someone went to call the police, and I realized that it was going to take a lot more than talking to get us out of this one.

Everyone present seemed to know the owner of the car we had just wrecked. They spoke in hushed tones about the guy. From all accounts he was a big and violent man, and not someone to toy with. There was some talk about the odds of us actually managing to escape with our lives.

Those words were barely cold, when the hulk arrived, clearly with great urgency.

My cousin decided to be brave, and started to approach the owner with an outstretched hand, loudly admitting our guilt and promising that we would pay for every cent of the damage.

Without saying a single word, the man chopped my cousin a good one, landing exactly on the spot where he had previously connected with the steering wheel. He went down like a bag of potatoes, and I was next.

This was no time for bravery, so I let go of all pretenses and I ran for the shelter under the water tank. Thor was still trying to flush me out from there when the cops arrived, and without shame I loudly hollered for protection.

Since the local cops apparently knew the owner it quickly became clear that safety was only a relative concept. However, after I mentioned that the local police chief was our neighbor, they allowed us one phone call and decided to lock us up instead.

We could already see the gates of prison when the message came that we were to be released. I think the cops were as surprised as we were. Subsequently, the courts cleared us of the charge of car theft. With my cousin promising to make full amends, we were also found innocent on all other counts.

Somehow, these developments must have given him the idea that he could get away with it all, and soon he moved to some one-horse outfit in Namibia - never to be heard from again.

That is where they found him a few years later and impounded all his earthly possessions. According to his own account, at one stage it was not clear if they would let him keep his underwear.

Jan Tik


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