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Sarah Britten

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

4 Elephants and 5 Litres (Part II)

Over yet another rise, around yet another bend, and I’m thinking that, economical hatchback or no, we’re not going to keep this thing going much further, not unless somebody’s invented a car capable of running on fresh air and that hasn’t happened, obviously. So I will have to make a decision sooner rather than later. I’ve been mapping out more scenarios – some of them involving 18-wheelers that drive in the yellow lane – and I’m thinking that maybe it would be better to get stuck on a farm road than on the side of the N2.

The more I think about it, the more I think this is a good idea. Now I’m scanning the verge for signs to farms. Again and again, I think “maybe I should stop there” and again and again I fail to brake and turn, allowing these possibilities to recede instead into the distance as we press on to a point where I know I must stop, and soon.

And then there they are. Four elephants in a row, each with a rider on its back, marching in slow procession along a fence to the left. “Elephants,” says Kevin. A sign for Kwantu Elephant Safaris looms up. I brake hard and turn in through a gate, bumping along the dirt road next to the fence and around the paddock to what appears to be the parking area. I park the Jazz next to a combi and we climb out. It feels good to stop; I’ve been taking strain.

In the distance, the elephants continue their measured patrol of the paddock. A bird calls, a lark. It’s very pleasant, here in the fresh air under a wide blue sky, and I congratulate myself out loud for possessing the unwitting nous to stop here of all places.

A man in a green uniform bearing the logo we saw on the sign outside approaches us. We explain that we are about to run out of petrol, and could we siphon some out of this combi parked here? We’ll pay him for it, we’re quick to add.
“Eish… no,” says the man, shaking his head and smiling as if to pacify us. “S’for the guests.”

We’re going to be spending the night here, I tell him crossly. Please my man, Kevin says. Please, we just need 5 litres. We try wheedling, begging, threats. The man smiles uncertainly, but he won’t budge. “This combi, it’s for the guests,” he keeps saying. Poor guy, just standing there minding his own business when these two self-righteous strangers rock up and start demanding things.

Kevin paces while I stare gloomily at the car. This is the first time I have driven a Honda Jazz, which is a revelatory experience because I once considered buying one. On 702 on Fridays there’s this car show with Adam Ford and Saggy Moodley, and they always carry on about how fantastic the Honda Jazz is; they recommend it to anyone who phones in. In the end, though, I decided that I could never love a Jazz; I could never see it in the parking garage at work and feel happy that I owned it as I walked towards it aiming my remote and weighed down with worry. So I bought a Hyundai instead.

Kevin phones the other writers, who must be way ahead of us by now. His battery is about to die, which only adds to the tension. We’ve run out of petrol, he explains, and this guy won’t help us. After warning them that they might have to turn around, he ends the call. The man in the green uniform hovers uncertainly. “I’m a journalist,” Kevin tells him. “I write for some major publications, I’m going to write about this. I will tell everybody that you wouldn’t help us!” (The thought occurs to me that in the context, as threats go, this one is not especially motivating.)

And then he appears, apparently out of nowhere. Think Clint Eastwood meets Animal Planet. “Is there something I can help you with?” he asks, pleasantly. He’s tall and stringy, maybe in his late 40s or early 50s, and there’s a quiet implacability about him that suggests that he will be polite, but he won’t take shit from anyone. Unlike the reluctant combi man, this guy is clearly in charge around here.

 

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