I’ll never forget the day my mother came to fetch me from school in what seemed to me like a giant monster truck. I was sitting on the curb in my confining olive green and white tunic dress, when in she pulled… a sore thumb amoungst a car park of perfectly manicured nails. In place of her Mercedes was the third hand, gun metal grey Pajero – it’s headlights like two nervous eyes coyly blinking at me for approval. Right then and there something in my awkward, 10 year old heart recognized and resonated with the weathered outsider, who’d been offered a second chance.
I immediately loved how the car felt, and that I had to take a big step up just to get onto the worn in seats. There were so many dials and gadgets to look at and even though none of them really worked properly – I like to think of them as vintage jewellery and knick knacks that the ol' gal would wear to feel more sparkly. The same way I would one day slip on a pair of heels whenever I needed to feel a little taller.
On car rides to school I sat in the front with a selection of tape cassettes – everything from Leon Schuster to the Carpenters. Upfront I drowned out the squabbling and squirming from my younger sisters in the back seat, and looking down on the other cars in morning traffic I was someone completely different. I was more than just a misunderstood shape continuously being rammed into a mould I’d never fit, like a plastic circle in the hands of a toddler who relentlessly tries to force it through a square hole. I was a DJ and a superhero staring out of the window, allowing myself to ridiculously day dream of things that may never come true.
Soon enough, giant leaps into the front seat became short hops into the driver’s seat and I was learning to drive in the middle of a flock of sheep in the back roads of Hermanus.
Dad: “If you can drive this car, you can drive any car. Now listen, feel where the clutch takes and pull off.”
All the dings and dangs along her silver pelt were worn the way a marine would adorn his medals. I sometimes wished that I had visible marks to show the road I had travelled, to tell the stories of my life. All the celebrations like new parts adding to my mechanics, all the challenges from a chip of paint falling to the floor to large irreparable dents that would become part of my makeup.
Through the most turbulent of landscapes to the smoothest of roads, The Paj became a constant guardian angel. A non-judgemental listener to my monologues and ramblings. A back up plan. A reliable ally. An old rusty memory box filled with trinkets and tales. Like:
That time we all piled in and took a varsity trip to the farm and Chantel Bennis nearly killed herself on a four wheeler.
That time we used her to ship a load of actors down to Durban for work and ended up staying in the dingiest flat on the beachfront. What a crazy, fun, drunken weekend that was.
That time we had to pull our mates out of the mud – wait, which time? There were so many!
That time she doubled up as a hippy live in van and kept me toasty warm at Splashy Fen while everyone else was shivering in their tents.
That time I broke up with suitor #17 in the middle of a storm driving back from holiday and the wipers weren’t working. Neither were we.
The many times I shared giggles and wonderful conversation because the radio packed up and all we could do to pass the time was to get to know each other.
That time I moved my entire flat in one shift – packed to the roof of her boot.
The countless times, I don’t let taxi’s cut in front of me because the Paj and I aren’t scared of a little rough housing. And because driving her sort of makes me feel like the girl version of the Camel Experience man.
That time Ed nearly had to eat all the illegal herbs we had with us as we drove through a roadblock.
That time I let My Guy take the wheel and learnt to let go.
The other day, I got to thinking about friendships and how maybe we need a two way maintenance plan to keep them running. Who would have thought that my longest friendship of 18 years would be with a beaten up old car, held together with bits of rubber tape and chewing gum. In a world where we’re so determined to cover up each scratch and speed over each imperfection in the road, it can become easier and easier to stop seeing each other – really seeing each other. Maybe if we took the time to look under the bonnet of a car no longer appreciated, it’d be a lot easier to understand why it squeaks as it turns a corner, or why you need to jiggle the reverse gear if you don’t want it to stall. That way instead of getting hurt or feeling let down – you’d understand the story behind each whimsical misfire and work out your own little give and take devices to make it work, or just let it run the way it should. I love the Paj, because it’s not afraid to be just exactly who it is… easy for a car, not so easy for a human being whose inner workings can be far more complex than a tricky radiator or a stray wire here and there.
Driving the Paj is, and will continue to be, a fun adventure and a journey full of lessons and listenings. It’s taught me to be more patient, more tuned in and less quick to jump ship at the first sign of fault. It’s inspired me to enter 2013 with a kinder heart and to be courageous enough to rework some of the cars I’ve left behind me – or rather gain perspective of the road ahead in another cars seat.