Little did Richard know that one small, everyday decision would for the first time make him genuinely fearful for his life.
The scream came first. Richard couldn’t see who or from what direction it came from. It was loud enough though to cause Richard to take immediate evasive action.
The second noise which followed was that of the plastic coming into contact with the highway surface. The bike slid for 10 metres or so, parallel to Richards small Toyota 4 door car.
Prior to the scream and the horrendous sight of this small motorbike with a rider and lady on the back sliding along the highway Richard had found himself in typical morning rush hour traffic.
“I don’t believe it,” he said to his wife. “There must have been an accident up ahead.” he surmised.
Richard had lived as an expatriate in south-east Asia for a while now. He was familiar with the roads, road signs, the swathes of motorbikes that would swirl by, twisting and turning, left and then right. The riders seemed fearless. This way of transporting themselves and their families had become so commonplace that it was no longer captivating, frightening or pleasurable. Every day someone’s luck ran out. Richard didn’t care to remember the many faces covered over with a jacket or an umbrella opened and rested by the injured head to shade from the hot tropical sun that he had witnessed.
“Why do they always slow down to look at the traffic accident on the other side of the road?” Richard barked to himself.
“You know why they do it, dear. Why do you get yourself all worked up about it?” his wife said as she laid her hand on his in an effort to console and lighten his mood.
“I know, but, today of all days.” he said glancing wryly at her.
Richard looked ahead, the car in front crawling along in the built up traffic just a few inches ahead of his. He thought to himself “If the registration plates were alive, the letters could easily jump from one plate to the other.” He turned on the wipers, the rain had started to spatter. He let the wipers swipe automatically every 3 or 4 seconds, the rain wasn’t that hard. After a few swipes, the blades started to make a noise against the window.
“I thought you had only just bought new blades in the last couple of weeks?” his wife said. Her face twitched every time the blades came back from the top of the windscreen and rested until it was time to go again.
“I did. This sun kills the blades. I keep forgetting to lift the wipers up after I’ve parked up so that the sun doesn’t make the blades stick to the screen.” He shook his head, as again his wife’s face twitched in harmony with the noise. He turned the wipers off. But the rain was still coming, and it looked like it might get harder.
The roads weren’t too bad. Richard had travelled on worse. He remembered the red sandy roads in Uganda when he had made a trip from Kampala to Gulu. Even though there were very few cars, you had to keep your wits about you. The trucks that preceded you left deep troughs in the sand. It was imperative that you followed in those tracks otherwise you would kick up sand into the engine, maybe get stuck, or cause damage to your car. It was the last place that you would choose to breakdown.
Richard didn’t have to traverse sand, but he definitely had to keep his wits about him and he could most surely do without this increasingly annoying sound being made by his two-week old blades.
As Richard came to the a brow of the highway, he could see that the traffic was slow all the way to the end. In about a kilometres time he had to go straight whilst the left-hand lane would go left to another section of this hot, humid and bustling capital. As everyone was travelling at a snails pace Richard decided to make his way into the outside lane. He hoped that lane would be a little faster, thus not arriving as late to class as he’d first feared. He looked into the rearview mirror, saw an opportunity for space and gave himself a mental “all clear”, glanced into his right-hand side mirror whilst indicating right and turned the steering wheel as he slowly began to manoeuvre into the right lane.
It was then that the scream was heard. Richard evasively tugged at the steering wheel to move to the left and saw to his right the motorbike sliding along the floor. He could hear the exterior of the bike scraping against the road, and he was able to see the man and woman sliding momentarily with it. Then, the enormity of what had happened struck both Richard and his wife.
“Oh my goodness!” his wife said. “Did he hit us?” she put her hand to her mouth.
“I’m not sure,” Richard said as he glanced in his rearview mirror, quickly decided whether to stop or not. “I didn’t see him. I didn’t feel any collision, I just heard a scream and the next thing I saw was the bike.” By now, Richard had pulled into the right-hand lane in front of the bike about 30 metres.
“I had better see if they are ok.” he hesitated before he opened the door, and took a look in his rear view mirror.
It was definitely an advantage being able to drive in a foreign country. Not being restricted to travelling in overpriced taxis and arguing with the drivers to turn on the taxi’s meter. It was healthier than waiting for hours in the hot sun for a bus to come along whenever the driver decided he wanted to start his run. Yet, being involved in a car accident in a foreign country is never something anyone in their right mind wrote down on his or hers bucket list.
He opened the door and looked back up the highway. His heart quickened, and he froze for a split second. Up ahead was the motorbike which had now been picked up and placed on its rest. That was a good sight. It was the sight of 10 to 15 other bikers that had stopped to help and point the finger that scared Richard. The group of 20 – 25 men, looked at Richard with nothing but menace as he made the slow walk back.
He knew he was innocent, but that wasn’t going to go down with these guys. In places like this, he knew that sometimes communities can meet out their own village justice, or clan justice. Richard was worried about any highway justice.