After the accident the insurance paid for a rental car.
Mr Abram and Mr Phillip came out of the guardhouse the first time I drove through.
They are supposed to run a mirror under every car that comes through the double sets of gates in the sally-port (as in tally ho and let us sally forth). They always just wave me through but today they wanted a good look.
It is a very beautiful car, said Mr Abram.
Too good for me, I joked.
No sir, said Mr Phillip, it is the right car for the principal.
I thought about the old Toyota with the plastic lobster dangling from the rear view mirror and all the dents and dings my daughter had added as she learned to drive. They had never said anything but it was clear that they felt I needed to vehicle up to the standard expected for a man in my situation.
The silver rental car was brand new. It smelled of leather and chrome polish and carpet freshener. It was plush and had a certain zing to it.
It is the right car sir, said Mr Abram.
Once the settlement came through for the accident I was on my own. The silver car was worth more than I could bear to pay for a ride from point A to point B.
I googled rent-a-wreck South Africa.
Last Friday, Tempest Car Hire company came to collect their silver car. I watched Abram and Phillip gaze after it as it drove out the gates.
What will you do sir, Mr Abram asked.
Another car is coming this afternoon, I said.
Mr Abram brought the driver into my office when the ‘new’ car was delivered.
Are you sure you don’t want to see the car, before you sign the papers sir, he asked.
It will be fine, I said. I was thinking that the silver car cost 7 times as much so it was very fine for me.
After all the signatures and fine print we walked out together to see the car.
I could tell Abram figured it fit right in with the other cars left in the school parking lot. The bus drivers’ cars.
It was battered and dinged. The brakes are soft, it has central locking with a key but no power steering. The seats are faded and worn and blotchy. The steering wheel is worn to a high polish. There is no leather. She sounds a mite rough and she has a decided shimmy at anything over 80Ks/hour or when she comes to a reluctant stop at a robot. Abram knew all this just by looking.
Abram and Phillip watched me pull out anxiously.
It is a rough world out there on the South African roads.
Today, I drove the 50Ks down to my weekly leadership team meeting at the Jo’burg campus for the first time in the ‘new’ old Honda. The concrete dividers that separate the 5 lanes north from the 5 lanes south on the N1 are scarred and marked with rubber streaks. Scraps of front ends and glass and plastic litter the edges of the highway. Some intersections are littered with piles of windshield glass but whether from smash and grabs or accidents it is hard to tell.
You won’t have to worry about carjacking, one of the new middle school teacher joked.
You know, said the grade 3 teacher, the older cars are very popular that way because guys can’t get parts any other way for their old cars.
This morning when I filled up, with leaded petrol, now there’s a clue about the vintage, leaded gas and a cassette player, the attendant stood close to the window when I paid.
Sir, he said quietly, how much must I give you to buy this car. It is, he stepped back and surveyed her, it is a wonderful car.
I smiled and thought about explaining.
She’s quite a ride, I told him
I wasn’t worried about the carjacking part but I felt an odd anxiety before I set out this morning to drive to the Jo’burg campus. A sense of knowing I shouldn’t take this trip for granted.
I thought of my daughter Carly, setting out today on her first solo trip from island to the mainland across the bay in the early Maine fall. Navigating currents and tides and winds. Making the crossing outside of the comfortable and companionable summer season. Now she knows the light and anxious buzz I know every time I set forth to cross territory that is at once deeply familiar and unknowable.
Now I know her trepidation as I slip out of a safe harbor and set forth in a craft stripped of illusion and open to the elements of the road.