Driving me crazy

2013-12-23 00:00

SEVEN months of stalling, being mocked mercilessly by my family, entertaining the Red Alert guards at the black Hilton College gates and numerous wheel screeches at the most embarrassing of times, all culminated in this one day. Today was the day. My driving test had been booked for 1.45 pm at the traffic department in Mkondeni, Pietermaritzburg.

As anyone who has been through this process will know, passing one’s driving test on the first attempt is not common. But I was hungry for it. My ticket to independence was at long last visible. All I had to do was be confident in my ability, remain calm and pass. Armed with my favourite pair of purple jeans and clutching a bottle of Rescue, I left home.

My patient driving instructor had banned me from driving for the entire week leading up to my test. During my last lesson (in-between puffs of his Stuyvesants), my instructor had casually informed me that it was his white Hundai i10 that was going to get me through my test. Unlike my mother’s gold Nissan, the i10 had its indicators on the right side of the leather-bound steering wheel. I had to learn to stop trying to indicate with the windscreen wipers every time I wanted to turn the corner. On the seemingly endless journey to Mkondeni, I was secretly worried that I had forgotten how to drive, let alone which side of the steering wheel the indicators were on. My heart began to pound at this dim prospect.

As I got out of the car at Mkondeni, I certainly knew that I was in the industrial part of town. A grimy mugginess hung suspended in the afternoon air and the groan of heavy-duty trucks was distantly audible. With shaking legs, I walked across the parking lot to meet my instructor — all the while conscious that my purple jeans clung to my damp skin.

I was the last learner driver in the waiting room to be assigned to a traffic officer. What in retrospect had been a 15-minute wait seemed like an eternity. I had had way too much unoccupied alone time to think. It felt like World War 3 had broken out between the two hemispheres of my brain. The logical hemisphere told me that I would pass if I remained calm. My irrational hemisphere, however, quietly whispered, in the most angelic voice it could muster, that “no one passes at Mkondeni first time”. My self-anguish only worsened when I finally did meet my traffic officer. She seemed to rather enjoy my obvious terror.

Putting on the most buoyant voice I could, I began the inspection. Everything was going along smoothly until it came to the interior inspection. My heart seemed to bang on my ear drums and my face turned a new shade of white when I tried to start the i10 in first gear and stalled. I took a deep breath, counted to three alligators and began again — this time starting the car in neutral. I made a mental note to scold my Stuyvesant-smoking instructor for leaving his car in first gear.

The yard is the most daunting looking place. Aside from an enormous crowd of unfamiliar faces scrutinising my every move from the balcony above, the thin, white unassuming poles suddenly took on a new unfamiliarity. Each thin aluminum pole seemed to smile crookedly at me — pleading with me to bump one of them and become their newest victim. With a shake of my head, I methodically recited each step of the K53 programme. “Blind-spot, left wing mirror, review mirror, right wing mirror, blind-spot, indicate right”. Thankfully I slid into the parallel parking perfectly. I passed the yard in just 10 minutes.

By the time I drove out onto the freeway, adrenaline had entered my circulatory system. I was hyper-aware of everything around me. The tin-on-wheels i10 rocketed down the freeway at 90 km/h. I could feel sweat pooling in the lines of my hands. The muscles in my neck were clenched in anticipation. Despite this, I suddenly realised that I could do it.

It wasn’t until I drove through a late amber traffic light that the tension the traffic officer purposefully created in the car, seeped into the spaces of every cell in my body. I was so near the end. My independence was brushing against my fingertips. Had I just thrown it all away?

I arrived back at the traffic department unsure of the result. The traffic officer stalked back to her office and, after a fleeting glance at my mother, I followed suit. I sat on the edge of the hard, grey plastic chair in her office for what seemed like forever before she delivered her ultimate verdict. I had managed to achieve the impossible and passed on my first attempt at the notorious Mkondeni Test Centre. After 18 years on planet Earth, I finally obtained my first golden ticket to independence.

Elated, I bounded up to my mother and proudly displayed my newly minted temporary licence. With a casual glance at her, I told her that I knew that I had “had it in the bag” all along. However, the now half-empty bottle of Rescue told a different story. My mother laughed, phoned my father and simply said: “Brett, God help us!”

• The True Stories winners have been announced and we will now be running the remainder of the semi-finalists’ tales.

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