house of happy

Life adventures in prose and verse. Explorations of places, people and words. Stories and fun.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Trial by Traffic

This is not a story, sorry, it's a list. The gist of which may be a story about patience or lack thereof. About the possible (i.e. everything). About fate and about fun. About maddening roads and slimy toads. About zooming along in a wee silver car. About what I spy with my wise brown eye:

A guy on a motorbike. Behind him a second, scrawny guy. Strapped to his back, a bicycle. The wheels flare out, spinning a little, eerie, like they're growing out of his backbone, left and right, round and rusty. A modern-day angel. The driver seems to forget this fact and drives as if he were still one motorbike, one person, one-and-narrow.

The car in front of me stops suddenly, window-in-window with a random car driving on the other side of the road. The two drivers start talking. Traffic stops in both directions until they've finished their mid-road affairs.

A car covered completely in electoral flags, their red-and-green gauze seemingly keeping it in one piece. The windscreen is covered too, with a hole to fit the driver's head. His dark beard and feverish eyes can be glimpsed in the hole in the flag. A new national emblem. His candidate hadn't won a thing.

Another motorbike carries a family of six. From handlebars to exhaust pipe, we see: elder child, father/driver, middle child, mother riding sideways and in her lap, the baby. Behind her, holding on somehow, another small boy.

A small Mehran (cheap and ancient car) rattles by, with a huge velvet tiger on the bonnet. Double take: the tiger is glued there and rides with a fixed and fierce stare. Only the tail swishes in the slipstream.

During the school run, two chunky Land Rovers roll by. They purr, slow down, stop at the school gates, with no concern about the long queue of cars they've overtaken. NOT fair, hand flies to horn, arrgh, then a door opens and I freeze. A man in black kameez jumps out and starts scanning the street. Inside, crouched and tensing, four more like him. Guns in their laps. Arms wrapped around the dull metal in a purposeful way, fingers pressed to triggers. 'That's how important children are picked up from school' - someone says. 'It's nothing', he adds. 'A-ha', I say.

There's also this thing: you feel like driving in the lane of all oncoming traffic? Fine. You go ahead and start rolling. There will be some swerving and beeping. There is always beeping. No worries. In one day I see cars and motorbikes doing just that. I see a bike doing that, with no lights, after nightfall. And then I AM in a car doing that. But not driving. Driving is M. who learns fast, likes adventure and is taking me out to dinner. 'Trust me' he says, it'll save us more than 2 minutes...'

And there's this other thing: when you drive into some place where 'security' is taken seriously, they look under the car for bombs. They go around with mirrors-on-rollers and serious faces. Except for this one guy-at-the-gate: he went around the car with his mirror yes. And all the while he looked at me and chatted merrily about this and that. Perhaps he knew that the most dangerous thing in my car was my diary.

And then there's yesterday. I was driving behind an ancient rattling box. It had overtaken me on the inside - and I'd seen the driver: an old man, white kameez, white beard, white Topi cap and twinkly eyes. Now he was slightly in front and I saw the window roll down. A gnarled hand came out and pointed right. We kept driving in friendly tandem. The arm poked out again and the finger jerked, as if he were trying to make me aware of something big, a tsunami, a stampede, a second coming. I was fascinated, and drove slowly behind him. He started to veer right, into my path. A-HA. I started to laugh (what else?): having tried so hard to overtake me illegally, he now needed to cut across and turn right. Of course.

As he screeched across and right, his brown hand waved like a branch in a breeze. One scorching minute on the roads of Islamabad and I had learned to read the chaos, roll onto Anything-Can-Happen Avenue, and twinkle.


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