COMPETITION LITERALLY LOST 91
Sunday 22 August 1999
The rot set in when I decided to go to xxx for supplies. The decision was rather thrust upon me; I had nothing left to eat, barely enough to make the city limits and fifteen hundred francs (about pounds 3). Such circumstances are conducive to bold action. I had promised Augustin a lift and we rendezvoused at first light behind the main street in the hope of sneaking out of town without being loaded to the gunwales with millet or gendarmes after a lift. A swift dash freed us from the town and we resigned ourselves to the heaving, wrenching crawl over the worst part of the road, leading down to the tarmac. We never made it. Some five miles short of our goal, I rounded a corner to find that the road had simply disappeared in the rain. It is a bad Western habit to assume that because a road goes into a corner, it will continue round the other side. With a terrifying crunching of metal, we plunged into a foot-deep ditch right across the track.
It was obvious at once that there was something amiss with the steering. It whined and grumbled and doggedly refused to affect the direction of the wheels. Having lived on a Junior Lecturer's salary, I had had precious little to do with cars and was at a loss how best to proceed. Clearly, help was in order. Normally Herbert could be relied upon to mend anything; wondrous tales were told of his mechanical prowess. With two coat hangers and an old plough, he would improvise a gearbox. His engineering solutions were never elegant but often worked. He would return them to customers with the remark, "It's just a load of junk, but out here nothin' works for long." Alas, he was away. There was nothing else for it, I still had to get to xxx. We pushed the vehicle to the side of the road and continued on foot, flagging down a bush-taxi when we reached the tarmac. I did not, at that time, take the inscription on the door "God's will alone decides" as an omen.
We arrived without further disaster, having carefully obeyed the injunctions painted on the inside of the vehicle telling us not to spit, fight, vomit or break windows. By now, it was nearly midday and Augustin took me to dine in his favourite xxx restaurant where the choice consisted of take it or leave it. I took it, then left it. I was brought a cow's foot in a large enamel bowl of hot water. When I say "cow's foot" I do not mean something based upon a cow's foot, but the entire article complete with hoof, hide and hair. Try as I might, there seemed no way of even getting into it. I declared a sudden loss of appetite. Augustin seized it and reduced it to bones with the dedication of a swarm of driver ants.Two notable successes marked this trip. Firstly, I charmed some money out of the bank to which I had so rashly committed my finances. Secondly, we arranged a lift back to xxx with the sous-prefet's mechanic. This was, I foolishly thought, an incredible stroke of good fortune. After being driven for hours round various xxx areas of the city on incomprehensible errands, we set off for xxx. The road is very narrow and patronized [sic] by huge lorries with trailers hauling cotton and petrol back and forth between xxx and the xxx rail link. I noted with dismay that when he passed one of these monsters by swerving over to the verge with one wheel inches away from a three-foot drainage channel, the driver closed his eyes tightly.
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