We’d hired a 4 wheel drive at the airport specifically for the rough terrain in the Game Reserve and it had coped well with the rugged sand roads so it should have been a doddle on the tar
But when we were 20 miles outside Nelspruit the car began to judder and veered towards the side of the road
Stopping beneath a jacaranda tree I got out to view the damage. The nearside front tyre was as flat as a sailors cap.
‘Just as I feared,’ I moaned. ‘We must have picked up a nail in the Reserve. I’ll have to change the tyre.’
My wife Norah who’d been studying the map and pointedly ignoring me, got out and looked around at the dry empty bushland. She flicked back her shoulder length auburn hair,
put her hands on her generous hips and said, ‘Well, if your tyre mending is as good as your chat up lines we could be here quite some time.’ Her sarcasm was like a knife.
I think her attitude had something to do with me chatting up our glamorous neighbour in the next chalet whilst I should have been helping with the barbecue the night before.
'Well what now Mr. Bond?' she asked dirisively.The kids were getting bored and were clamouring to use the toilet and wanting to know how long it would be before we reached Johannesburg.
The joys of being a father! 'No worries dear,' I said patiently. 'I'll change the tyre. It'll only take a few minutes.' I strode confidently to the boot.
I dragged out the heavy spare and searched beneath it for the jack. There wasn't one! My confidence ebbed. I'd have to phone for help, but where?
'Get on the mobile Norah and google tyre places in Nelspruit.' She looked at me with that disdainful look of hers. 'Do it yourself!' she snapped and turned back to her map reading.
I googled Tyres and found a place called Manny's Motor Spares. A few moments later I was speaking to a mechanic called Joseph. I was just about to tell him where I was......
.....when the phone died! 'Didn't you charge this thing up last night,' I asked Norah accusingly. Big mistake! 'Didn't you?' she shot back glaring at me. This wasn't going well.
By this time I was also getting snappy. 'Get the kids into the car and lock yourselves in. I'll walk into town.'
'Daddy I'm desperate.' Amy crossed her legs and jumped around dramatically as only kids can do. They can be exasperating at times.
'Ok. Behind that tree and be quick.' I waited until they were all safely locked in the car and set off towards town looking back every so often to see if a car was coming.
I'd walked a couple of miles in the mid morning heat before I heard the snarl of an engine approaching behind me. Wearily I lifted my arm and put up my thumb.
A porche sped past driven by a man in a blue sports cap. Beside him sat a woman with a red scarf tied around her flowing blond tresses.. It shrieked to a stop 50 yards down the road.
'Having problems?' aked the driver. I put up my hands in despair 'Got a puncture but no jack'. 'That's too bad,' he answered smugly, ' but as you can see there's no room in this car.......
....but I'm sure someone else will be along soon,' and he drove off. 'Smug bastard,' I shouted after him. It was only then that I realised I should have asked if I could borrow his mobile phone.
A station wagon rattled to a stop beside me with two shifty looking Africans in the front, one with a milky left eye. The car looked like it was held together with bits of string.
The passenger wearing a bright yellow shirt rolled down the window and leaned out.
'Are you the guy with the puncture?' He pointed back down the road. I looked at him warily. He was clean shaven wearing a pair of large round shades. A diamond pin sparkled in his left ear.
The driver in a red t-shirt puffed on a home rolled cigarette that smelt suspiciously like dacha. He sported a black wiry beard that curled on his chin like a panscrub.
They both grinned at me showing rows of large white teeth. I was reminded of the wolf in Red Riding Hood.
'Yes I'm going into town to get a jack.' I said hesitantly. 'We're going there too.Hop in.' Yellow Shirt jumped out and held the rear door open. I had no choice but to get in.
It was only when the door slammed shut that I realised there were no handles on the inside and there was a length of rope on the back seat with a woollen scarf.
I had visions of being tied up, my wallet pinched and me dumped in the bush with a gag stuffed in my mouth. But it was too late to change my mind..
The car was already rattling up and down hills, its gears grinding angrily whilst the two men chatted in their own language. Every so often they'd look back at me and grin.
Red Shirt suddenly jammed on the brakes and swerved off the main road down a rutted track. 'Hey what's this? Where are we going?' I was panic stricken.
'No problem. We need petrol,' said the driver indicating the empty petrol guage. Yellow Shirt turned and flashed a Colgate smile. 'There's something I need to check too,' he said.
We bumped along the track for about half a mile with parched bushland on either side. I couldn't imagine finding a petrol station so far off the beaten track. My heart beat like a tom tom.
'This is it!' I thought. I searched around frantically for something I could use as a weapon but all I could see was the rope and the woollen scarf.
Then without warning we came upon a clearing with a number of shops on a parade. Opposite there was a solitary petrol pump.
Beyond the shops I could see the corrugated roofs of an African township.
It all seemed very peaceful. But you could never be sure.
Won't be a minute' called Yellow Shirt jumping out of the car. Red Shirt rolled down his window and shouted to the sleepy petrol attendant, 'Fill her up Solomon'
Meanwhile Yellow Shirt had disappeared around the back of the parade. He returned a few minutes later waving something that flashed in the sunlight, something metal and heavy.
He grinned as he climbed back in the car 'This is what we need,' he shouted triumphantly holding up the jack. ' I knew I had one somewhere...
Now let's go and mend that puncture.