Three days later, mid morning, Dara was on the bike, bound for the hills five kilometers to the east where he’d have a good view of the blossoming veld. It was a spot where he’d found interesting fossils of tropical ferns some days before. But before he’d gone a kilometer the bike spluttered and coughed and he quickly felt below the tank and flipped the fuel lever to ‘reserve’. This would give him a few extra kilometers but too risky on a deserted dirt track to ignore, so he doubled back. Back in the garage, he found the fuel drum empty.
“Fuckit…!” he bellowed. Though he’d been told not to do so countless times, the gardener was always topping the lawnmower off with Dara’s stash of fuel and once again the petty pilfering had run Dara’s stockpile dry.
Dara was furious—he stormed off to find the man but couldn’t locate him.
He went inside again intending to find something else with which to busy himself; to abandon the outing. But, try as he might, he was already fixated on the far hills and couldn’t find a distraction from it. More than that, he heard the old echo of cowardice taunting in the shadows of his mind, questioning why he was really so reluctant.
“What’s out there that’s so important?” he asked of himself, already knowing he was about to break a rule.
He was under a spell that only Africa casts, becoming African, craving it raw and untouched before the imminent departure back to city life.
The clock in his head and fall of the shadows agreed that it was near ten in the morning. School and its dangerous inmates would still be in session for two more weeks, those in their final exams should be hard at their studies, and there’d be next to no traffic to speak of, so he dared himself.
It would be less than a twenty minute round trip—illegal…. “Yes”… but the engine capacity, he convinced himself, was only juuuust over the limit his age allowed; very quickly he convinced himself it would be the right thing to do—to not let the calls of cowardice within defeat him.
The heat of the day was already up, yet he wore longs and sleeves with gauntlets and his visor was mirrored; normally, protection from a fall; today it thwarted prying eyes.
It proved to be a milk-run into town—he only passed two cars, instinctively he’d dropped his head down into them. He kept his visor down for the duration of the refuel.
There were only two pumps, one of which was out of order. As the pump attendant tried to squeeze the last drops into his tank, a pickup passed and immediately slowed. With a slide of terror within, Dara saw the brake lights come on. It pulled over to the side then completed a U-turn, entering the lot right behind him. Dara’s heart thundered in his ears—he dared not to look as he felt the bumper pull close up behind his rear tire, the clatter of its diesel engine a din.
Without looking back he overpaid the attendant and stalled the bike within a pace of pulling away, kicking it frantically back to life. His breath was rasping as he glimpsed two occupants in the rearview mirror on the handlebars, but his darted look was not enough to confirm more than that. He over-revved his pull away and turned onto the road that took him momentarily past the vehicle. It hadn’t pulled forward to the pump but the driver was talking to the pump attendant and looked past the man straight at Dara as he went away.
Against his best intentions to appear calm, fear gripped Dara; he hit the gas and dropped onto the tank, winding the screaming engine up through its gears.
By the time he pulled into home the engine popped and pinged in outrage. The terror was gone, replaced by the exhilaration of winning over fear. He never sang, but he belted out a popular tune. Removing his jacket he smelled the sweet reek of adrenaline sweat and his hands still shook, but he didn’t care; he’d had a victory… perhaps a victory over no more than his own timidity.
By the time he caught up with the gardener, the excitement of the sortie had planed the edge off his anger, and all he could muster was a tepid rebuke that didn’t carry much authority; the gardener adopted a dull look in his eye as if he didn’t fully comprehend it, just earnestly repeating “Ja kleinbaas”.
An hour later Dara was in the hills, the drama forgotten.