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Archive for June, 2009

Coming Home

A car stands deserted next to the road.  Arthur slows down as he passes, squinting through the rivulets on the windscreen of his twenty-year-old Corolla.  The pelting July rain intensifies the darkness.  No movement from inside the other car.

The crumpled front fender gives the BMW’s headlight a manic frown.  Red paint bleeds across the rock face.  There’s no sign of the driver.  Is he concussed?  Has he stumbled over the edge?  Is he dead?

Arthur’s brain fumbles.  Is it my problem?  Must I take responsibility for this bastard?  All I did was answer my cellphone.  He didn’t need to overreact like that.  I had to take the call.  Louise was already stressing that I wasn’t home yet.

Arthur leans forward, the staccato rhythm of the wipers mimics his heartbeat.  How had he got into this mess?

It had started when Louise booked theatre tickets.  She knew that the weekly meetings often ran late, so why had she booked seats for a Monday?  Taking the kids out on a school night was bad enough, but why on the day when she knew he probably be late?

Then:  “Hey Arthur, will you take the minutes?”

“Sure boss, just need to call home to say I’ll be late.”

“Ja, whatever.”

Whatever.  Sure boss.  Ask Arthur, he’ll take on all the crappy jobs.  The little grey man who always gets passed over for promotion.  Eighteen years, and they don’t even know my wife’s name.

Louise.  Louise, whom I’ve loved since I was sixteen and she was fourteen.  We’ll have been married nineteen years this November.

Arthur smiled.  She never complained about the long hours, but he sensed her patience was wearing thin, especially when she had to cancel engagements because of him.

“ …even though there are green shoots, the current economic climate means that we must continue to level the playing fields for the man on the ground…”

It doesn’t make sense.  I’m working these extra hours to make a better life for my family; but all it’s doing is making everyone unhappy.

Arthur stopped writing and looked up.

“Sorry boss, I’ve got to go.  Someone else will have to carry on with the minutes.”

Without waiting for a reply, he pushed his chair back, picked up his briefcase, closed the door on the stunned meeting and walked out into the cold rain.

As he reached his car, his cellphone shrilled at him.

“Are you going to be much longer?”

“I’m sorry darling, I’m just leaving the office now.  I won’t be too long.”

He tucked the cellphone between his ear and his shoulder as he creaked open the car door, threw his briefcase onto the back seat and slid in behind the steering wheel.

“You’d better hurry.  If we’re late they won’t let us in till interval.”  He could hear her voice cracking.  Oh God, I hate it when she cries.

“I’m pulling out of the car park right now.  Oh shit, I just cut in front of a BMW.  He looks really pissed off.”  Arthur raised his hand in mute apology.  “Look Louise, I must go.  I’ll be there as soon as I can, OK?”

He pushed the red button on his phone and tossed it onto the passenger seat.

He sighed, turned right at the traffic lights and looked in his rear view mirror.  Bloody BMW driver, right up my arse.  Arthur forced a smile and waved a ‘Sorry’ at the angry face in the car behind him.  He indicated and turned left onto the mountain pass.  The BMW followed and drew up beside him.  The driver leaned over the passenger seat, gesticulating and mouthing obscenities.  Even through the rain-spattered glass Arthur could see the artery pulsing on the guy’s temple, the tightness of the tendons in his neck.  His face was puce with rage.

Startled, Arthur veered to the left, his pulse quickening.  He almost overcorrected, but continued up the road, passing the gum trees and ‘For Sale’ signs, towards the corner which marked the start of the steep ascent.  Visibility was poor.  His headlights forged through the downpour and bounced off the shining tar, which had been smoothed by the rain to a black lake.  He dropped back to let the BMW pass, but it slowed down too, moving closer to Arthur, as though it were trying to push him off the road.  Arthur frowned as he rounded the bend and geared down for the ascent.  He moved onto the narrow shoulder, close to the barrier.

Knuckles white on the steering wheel, Arthur floored the accelerator of his 1300cc Toyota.  Come on, come on, urged Arthur, leaning forward.  We’ve got to lose this maniac.  C’mon old girl, you can do it...  He glanced to his right and saw that he’d gained about a metre on the BMW.  The driver grinned at Arthur, but it looked more like a ghoulish grimace.  His teeth told of hours spent in the dentist’s chair: Godzilla with a Colgate smile.  This bastard’s a bully – he’s enjoying this!  Pitting his dream machine against my jalopy.

He slowed down and focused on the steep road ahead.  Despite the cold, he had to wipe sweat from his eyes.  He dried his hands on his faded corduroys and gripped the wheel with clammy hands. Don’t make eye contact. But now what?  There are five kilometres of bends ahead.  Nowhere I can pull in and get help.  What if this guy’s trying to kill me?

Arthur knew the road well.  He’d travelled it both ways for almost two decades, to and from  work.  Eighteen years of crappy holidays and eating out at the Spur.  Eighteen years of saving for the day he could move his family into a decent-sized home in a security village.  The kids would have their own rooms; Louise would have a garden and he would have a workshop.  His family would be safe.  Safe.  Safe from sicko’s like this.  Now this one guy was close to ruining it. No. No rich bastard is taking it away from me.

He steeled himself and prepared for the hairpin bend just ahead.  Out of the corner of his eye he saw the BMW was inching slowly ahead of him.  What’s the bastard up to now?  Is he going to swerve left and ram me from the front, forcing me over the edge? Arthur looked in his rear view mirror.  No cars behind.  He slammed on the brakes, ready to pull up the handbrake at the first sign of a skid.  As the BMW shot past him, he saw the driver frown.  He could almost see the cogs turning in the guy’s brain as he tried to work out what to do next.

The BMW braked.  Its taillights turned the rain to rubies, bathing Arthur in a ruddy glow.  He watched it spin, a macabre pirouette.  Arthur’s brain captured the ballet frame by frame.  He watched mesmerised as the car met the mountainside sideways on, the wheels on the near side lifting and juddering back to earth.  Then nothing.

Serves him right.  Arthur took a deep breath and moved forward.  Past his nemesis.  The rain was heavier now, and Arthur knew he would have to concentrate really hard for the next few kilometres.  Blind corners, no streetlights, no hard shoulder.  Only the white line to help him get home to his family, in time for the theatre.

His breathing slowed and his brain took over where his instincts left off.

What if he’s injured? What if another car goes into him?  What if someone else is killed by that moron? Who will call the paramedics?

Arthur sighed.  Too many what ifs. I can’t do nothing.  I’d better go back.  Just in case. He turned his car around and made his way back through the darkness.

A dark shape looms ahead. Is that it?  Yes, there it is.

A car stands deserted next to the road.  Arthur slows down as he passes.  He cranes his neck, looking for a sign of life.

All he can hear is the rain.

He reaches for his cellphone and dials.

A moment.

“Hi darling.  There’s been a bit of an accident on the pass.  Nothing too serious.  I’m coming home.”

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Sometime last century I did a degree through Unisa. We only had two lectures a year, so we formed study groups and scrounged old exam papers. We worked hard and were proud when we got a distinction.

This week I wrote two Theory of Literature papers. There have been no lectures and only one video conference with Pretoria. As usual we asked the professors what we could expect in exams. The reply was standard – just concentrate on your second assignment. We asked if there were any other areas we should focus on, and were told that they are not allowed to examine us on anything new.

I’m a bit thick, and this didn’t sink in. I went home and diligently revised the entire syllabus.

In the first exam over half the paper was taken directly from the assignment. So I know I did well.

But blow me down with a paper cut, the second paper was a direct crib of the assignment. I had a rant and was told by a fellow student that it’s been this way for a few years (her dad used to mark for Unisa).

So 120 ToL students are going into the wide world thinking they are Brilliant. And the professors? There’s no way they can feel a sense of accomplishment. They’re probably paging through the ‘Employment Offered’ section.

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Retro Ray-Bans

I have endured much flak about my sunglasses. No matter how many times I’ve sat on them, dropped them or misplaced them, they just keep going. They’re so old, they’ve come back into fashion.
Mr Muffin was horrified when he saw them in Occhiali yesterday. Then he saw the price tag and had to sit down. He reckons the only reason they’re priced at R4,250 is that they really, really don’t want anyone to buy them.

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