I always loved driving, ever since I was a little child. My first memory of being behind the wheel was when I was about seven years old! It was the early eighties and cars weren’t what they are today. This was a big fat stick shift, the kind which had the shift lever poking out of the steering column.
I saw the car in the driveway and made a beeline for the door. Popped it open and scrambled into the car. I jumped up and down on the seat pretending to drive. I had seen my dad bang this lever up and down and the car picked up speed, so obviously I tried the same.
The car was parked in our gated driveway on a slight incline. As the gearshift popped into neutral, the car started rolling toward the gate. I am sure I was horrified. I didn’t intend for that to happen, but it did anyway. I don’t really remember what happened next. Maybe my young mind chose to block that part out.
Fast forward to about when I was in ninth grade. I was about fourteen then and had been driving clandestinely for the past two years without my parents ever knowing about it. I would practice with our chauffeurs who bless their hearts encouraged me to learn and taught me the basics.
So one day, I had a doctor’s appointment in the downtown area. It was early morning hours and the city slept. There were hardly any cars around at seven so i coaxed the driver to allow me behind the wheel. It wasn’t too difficult to persuade him. I drove all the way from my house in the suburbs to the city centre which was about twenty kilometres away.
It was a bright sunny day as I traversed the road that curved around the sea. The tall buildings in the area which housed people probably buzzed with morning activity. The promenade by the sea played host to a motley of interesting characters jogging, walking or exercising.
We had a few minutes to get to the appointment so I drove along this scenic road to where it ended at the edge of the sea and took a U turn to head back to the clinic. Usually this early in the morning, traffic lights across the city are off, blinking red or amber.
I came to one such light and noticed a car trying to turn onto my road. Which obviously meant that I had the right of way. However that driver just kept moving forward so I stopped. He stopped too. I shifted into first gear and moved forward, so did that other car. I stopped again, as did that other car!
I was fourteen, I didn’t know or use swear words back then, but I must have thought something which equates to “screw this” and pressed the gas pedal. Guess what? So did the other guy. Our cars collided! I was scared witless. The roads in our country can be brutal. My worst fear was mob mentality of the onlookers, who given an opportunity could and most probably would take law into their own hands. They might not have harmed me, but could have easily pummelled my chauffeur for good measure.
I immediately told the driver, “Let’s switch spots.” All this happened within seconds. When we exited the car to review the damage, I walked out through the passenger door! The onlookers saw me alighting from that door so I was relieved. That feeling was short-lived as the gentleman driving the other car, an older guy, came out screaming. “You were driving the car.” he said, pointing at me.
“Uncle, I wasn’t driving the car, this guy was.” I said gesturing toward my driver. He wasn’t really my uncle, we were taught to address people older than us as such.
“No, don’t lie, it was you.”
I denied this accusation vehemently. The members of the populace who had seen me get out from the passenger side were inclined to believe me, saying they saw me get out of the passenger side. Towards the end the guy was almost pleading, probably just to prove to himself that he wasn’t insane.
“Son, just admit it, it was you driving, I won’t press any charges.”
I was too scared to own up to what I had done so I just denied it. As no one was hurt, the cops didn’t have to be notified. We exchanged information and went off on our way. I had looked at the damage to the car and the drivers side door was dented and crumpled. The car was still drivable.
My ordeal wasn’t over. My father didn’t know that I drove. On the return journey, I persuaded the driver to take the blame himself. “Dad won’t say anything to you.” I said, “And if he does, I will tell him it wasn’t your fault. Just do this for me this once.” He finally agreed and I was relieved.
Later in the evening, I was sitting with mom in the family room on the second floor of the house. I heard dad’s car pull into the compound. I had it all planned out. I was going to explain the scene, how our driver tried to avoid the collision, how the other guy was completely at fault and I would protect our driver who so gallantly agreed to shield me.
It took a few extra minutes for Dad to come up. He was speaking with the driver. I could hear his loud voice as he fumed about the damage to his precious car. He shared a bond with his cars, he didn’t like to see a scratch on them and this one was pretty battered.
I heard his feet taking two steps at a time as he climbed the stairs. The big bad wolf was on his way up, he was huffing and puffing and he would surely blow me away. My heart pounded harder as he got closer. I ran toward him, my arms outstretched to give him a hug. “I hope you aren’t too angry with him dad, it wasn’t his fault.” I said, sounding sincere.
“Of course it wasn’t, It was yours.” he glowered at me.
I had been sold out! My lie had been caught and torn to shreds. The veil which I had thought I had conjured up to protect me was drawn asunder and I stood exposed. I hung my head in dejection. Ashamed at the fact that I had been caught lying so mercilessly.
I was expecting the thrashing of my life, my father was angry and disappointed, that’s never good. The lashing never came. He explained to me with anger flashing in his eyes, that I had been very lucky, had a person gotten hurt instead of just cars colliding, there would have been hell to pay.
Later in the night, as I pondered over my actions, I decided that two things weren’t worth doing in life, lying and breaking rules. Since that day, I have tried my best to face up to my demons and speak the truth when in a tough spot instead of fabricating a story. This trait has been one of my strongest allies. I have found that when you admit you were wrong and apologize, you essentially disarm your opponent, because then he really has nothing else to say.
The other lesson I learned that day and have woven into my person is avoid breaking the rules. Not just rules on the road, but rules in general. Because one unfortunate incident mixed with a little bit of bad luck can cost dearly. I am glad that I have always taken the time to ponder over and learn from my mistakes. That can only take one far.
In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Breaking the Law.”