Surviving Breakdowns

It is only today, as I come to after our eventful journey home and am fishing about in my cavernous handbag for something I inevitably cannot find, that I come across the business card we were presented in the garage where we spent several hours on Monday evening: “Home Boyz Auto Garage Ltd” it reads importantly. It is decorated with images of gleaming vehicles, none of which bear even passing resemblance to anything I saw there, including my own car.

Considering this rather flimsy piece of marketing, I am prompted to reflect on the many places the children and I have passed time whilst waiting for a breakdown to be remedied.

Once, when Ben was a babe in arms, we lost a rear wheel. Oddly – when you’re travelling at 70 mph through the African bush – and a rear wheel disengages itself, it actually speeds past your window in that micro-second before you come crashing down onto the tar. And for one really mad moment you think, ‘Gosh, I wonder whose lost a wheel’, even though you can’t see anybody in your rear view mirror nor any traffic ahead. The wheel bounced into the distance, across the savannah and past dozens of termite mounds. It took several hours to locate it and get it back in situ and whilst husband busied himself with that, I, to entertain a ten month old Ben, strapped him into his pushchair and bumped him across the plains in the direction of the meager shade of a couple of acacia. Several minivans full of astonished tourists of their way to the Serengeti rubbed their eyes in disbelief as they sped by: they quite expected to see red-robed Masai here, not a white woman pushing a baby in a pram.

I have read quantities of books to children in dodgy roadside garages. I have fed them too much Coke Cola and too many bars of melting chocolate. I have pleaded with them to hang on for a pee (or worse) until we’re back on the road as I can smell the state of the loos from where I’ve sat and I have watched my mother teach them how to plan Hop Scotch in the dirt.

On this occasion – having fed them obligatory Cokes – I watched Hattie attempt to give Amelia (twice her height) a piggy back – to the amusement of the Home Boyz as both collapsed giggling in a heap in the dust; I watched all three collect nails and pieces of scrap metal and then I had heard myself explaining to them why it was not a good idea to bring it all home. I dispatched Amelia – complaining of boredom and hunger and needing a pee – back to the bar (useful distraction tactic) where we’d bought said Cokes with money for a bottle of water, she returned with water but no change; that’ll be the biggest tip the waitress has had all year. I kept losing Hat who wanted to ‘watch the traffic’, never a good thing for a child to do and I had to explain to Ben, from a polite and discreet distance, why it might be wise to disentangle himself from the grip of a stoned Somali with whom he’d struck up an animated conversation.

So the wait, you see, wasn’t as bad as it might have been.

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