A cow, a car and a reverse mohawk
Read a similar experience Fenella had!
Don't ask me how I survived that day!
It was 1990 and I'd just got married. The day after my wedding my lovely husband decided that he didn't want to go back to the northern part of South Africa where we were staying at the time, he wanted to stay in Cape Town. So two days after my wedding, I drove back to Louis Trichardt alone in our Audi. Sometimes I can be a little responsible and I had just obtained a three month relief teaching job at a black high school, and had no intention of leaving them in the lurch and just absconding. At that time, schools were still segregated according to race. My husband of course, had no such qualms and absconded from his job and didn't have a job in Cape Town. One of us had to earn money, we'd just got married for God's sake, so I went back to my job, about 2000km away. Not only did I have to work, but I had to pack up (alone) all our things in the old farmhouse where we'd been staying, and rail them down to Cape Town.
The farmhouse was the oldest one in the area. There were graves in the front garden. I was sure that the place was haunted, but that's another story. Coupled with the fact that the house had broken windows and didn't have doors that locked, it wasn't very safe for a woman to live alone there. I managed one night and then moved in with my husband's ex-wife. Don't ask, but we're still friends and my ex-husband is not. Politically it was not a good time in South Africa. School children in many black schools were boycotting classes, and there was a bit of violence going on in the townships. So although I was supposed to be teaching, we didn't have any classes as our students were staying away. Now I know you are wondering what this has to do with a hubmob topic on cars. Just be patient, it is coming!
I'd thought I'd be going to teach every day, but with Mandela having just been released, black school children all over the country were boycotting classes in celebration of his freedom. I would go in one day, and then the next day there would be no classes again. “This time they’re boycotting in sympathy with schools in another township who punished children for boycotting,” said the white principal throwing up his hands in despair.
I didn’t mind. I was still getting paid a full salary even though I was at home working my way through the ex-wife's extensive library. When I totalled it up, I taught probably a total of two weeks of proper teaching in an almost three month period. Eventually, I was down to one week more to go to holidays and then I'd be reunited with my husband.
When I received a call from the principal that morning, I got dressed. Apparently school was on and the months of boycotting was finally over. I remember looking forward to going to school for a change. It was an awesome experience at that school, listening to the schoolkids sing hymns a capella in the morning, as they gathered outside the school’s administration block. Their melodious voices seemed to resonate and echo off the surrounding hills and it was those times that I always felt that I was truly in Africa.
The school was an old mission school with spread out school buildings on a hill. I was teaching a Grade 6 English class in the library on the top of the hill, when the doors suddenly burst open and three black male teachers at the school, their faces grey with fear, grabbed hold of me. My class jumped up and ran outside to see what was happening.
“Come quickly, come quickly,” the tall man with the blue tie shouted, “They have the tyres ready for the necklace!”
I could feel my heart speed up as adrenaline went ape-shit through my body. I’d seen it on the television news, how riotous crowds, toyi-toyiing and ululating, put a car tyre around a person’s neck and poured petrol on it and then set it alight causing the poor victim to suffer the most horrible death imaginable.
“Have you got Mrs. Louw from the Home Economics room next door?” I asked as I grabbed my handbag and followed the terrified men out of the door.
The men got the home economics teacher and me to hook arms with each other, and walk down the path to the parking lot in front of the school administration block at the bottom of the hill. Even with a man on either side of us and another in the front, all five teachers, black and white, huddled close together, walking down the hill in unison, I felt a primal fear like nothing I could ever have imagined. Only about ten more metres, tI hought, then we’d have to walk through the swirling, dancing, chanting, toyi-toying, ululating mass of humanity. Sweet children earlier in the morning, had somehow turned into cold-eyed monsters, the boys with machetes and pangas which they hit against the ground, sounding like drumbeats rolling for the entrance of a prisoner about to be executed. The girls were waving their arms in the air like they were at some kind of a spirit-filled, born-again gospel rally, and ululating loudly, so that I could feel the sweat of fear run down my legs and hear my heart beating in my ears.
My heart stopped when I saw the boy, who had that very morning smilingly offered to sweep out the library, drag out two tyres onto the path and another boy place a large can of petrol next to the tyres. This is it, I thought, as I closed my eyes, put my head down and recited the Lord’s Prayer out loud, as us five teachers, banded together as one, white and black joined together, pushed our way through the seething mass which miraculously parted for us, to the safety of the cars. I remember hyperventilating until I nearly passed out, as policemen arrived to escort us teachers off the school property. I hugged the three black teachers and thanked them for coming back to fetch us and saving the lives of the two women who were in the classrooms at the top of the hill. They could have just left us but they chose not to.
Luckily, the ex-wife worked at the local state hospital and arranged a doctor's certificate which said I was on sick leave until the end of term. I didn't have to ever go back to that school again! I decided to use the adrenalin still flowing madly through my veins, and drive straight to Cape Town in the Audi, only 20 hours away! It didn't take me long to pack the car and I was on my way, still a little traumatised from the morning's events.
Seven hours on the road and I was exhausted. I pulled into a service station in Kroonstad to have a twenty minute power nap, and to drink some strong coffee. I'd done many long trips before and found that the short power naps did wonders. Noticing some traffic cops, I decided to put on my seat belt for the first time on the journey. I had traveled over 800km without wearing a seat belt. Dusk fell just as I was getting close to Ventersburg, and I switched on my car’s bright lights. I could see the BP station’s neon light in the distance. An oncoming car flicked its lights for me to dim my brights, and I only had time to ask, ”Is that a cow?” before everything went dark.
“She’s dead, Pa,” said a voice echoing in a cave.
“Give her the last rites,” said a sobbing woman’s voice.
“Oh God, Father in Heaven…” began a man’s voice and then I moaned.
I opened her eyes to find my door wedged shut against the huge electricity pylon on the other side of the road, and the front of the car resting against a fence.
“Take the windscreen off her, lucky it turned to jelly, but it looks like a death shroud,” said the woman’s voice.
Oh God I’ve had an another accident, I thought, moving my head from side to side and moaning as no words were able to escape my mouth. I felt so confused and had no knowledge what had just happened.
“Okay, cut her out with the jaws of life,” said the paramedic who’d been called out to the scene.
“Can you stand?” asked another voice as a uniformed man helped me out of the wreckage that was my car.
“You hit a cow that was in the road,” said the woman who had stopped sobbing now that I was alive. “There it is over there,” she said pointing into the dark.
I slowly got my focus and surveyed the damage to my car. Thank God I was driving an Audi. The cow had obviously landed on the bonnet, breaking the radiator clean in half, and caused the bonnet to concertina up. The bonnet, or hood as Americans would say, looked a bit like one of those crinkle-cut chips. The cow had flipped onto the roof, peeling the roof back, so that the car was a roofless model and no longer a sedan. Hard to believe that twice that day I had miraculously escaped death.
“We need to get you to a hospital,” said the paramedic. “You’re bleeding a bit and you need stitches. Unbelievable how you missed being decapitated. Your head must have been thrown back on impact, and as the roof went back, it’s scraped all the skin off your nose, your forehead and the hair on top of your head.” The paramedic chuckled, “No offence, but it looks like a reverse Mohawk!”
What the cow was doing on the highway was anyone's guess. The farmer blamed the road works people for putting a pile of sand close to his fence, allowing the cow to escape by using the sand like a bridge. No one would take liability. I'm sorry, a black cow walking away from you in the dark is not easy to spot. At the police station, I found out that the local butcher and his wife had hit a cow in the same place the week before. They weren't lucky enough to be driving an Audi. When I hit the cow, the butcher was still in a coma and his wife had been decapitated on impact. Amazingly, the people behind me were missionaries moving down to Cape Town and they had a spare seat in their car for me. They dropped me off at my husband who said, "Bugger that you totalled the Audi, and what have you done to your hair? It looks like a reverse mohawk!"