It was about thirty minutes before mid-night and they were on their way back home – nay, trying to find their way back home.
There was an elaborate spread of tasty Indian food [ albeit veggie ] at one of the colleagues’ places, more particularly consumed aside a couple of glasses of beautiful wine following three scores of a can’t-leave-come-what-may aperitif.
The road was empty, the night was mesmerising and the environment filled with crisp cool breeze. Two car-loads of eight people were returning home – nay, trying to find their way back home because they lost their way.
Both the drivers – expatriates in this country, were long experienced on wheel business, possessed international driving licenses, drove in many countries and generally steady on their footwork on the accelerator and brake. Yet, and somehow, they lost their way.
Fifteen odd minutes moving around various lanes, roads and part of highways, they concluded that they had indeed lost their way. An African full moon straight up the sky, both the drivers were communicating with each other through cell phone and getting continuously nervous about safety and security on the deserted road with cars-full of passengers that included children, women and men who were barely about 3 days old in this African country.
Luckily, they found one local pub and also a sentry in front of the half-closed door of the pub. Without getting down from the car, one driver inquired how to reach the address written on a piece paper. Conversation was in English. The sentry asked him to follow the road for about a kilometer and turn right once he spotted a garage on the right side of the road.
They followed the instruction and indeed found the garage and that too, pleasantly – much before one kilometer.
Perception of distance was relative and varied from one human to another, from one culture to another and also from one country to another – they thought.
The garage was still open and one mechanic was attending to a very old Mercedes Benz car. The supposed owner was standing next to the mechanic and enjoying his cigarette. They slowed the car but never found any road going to the right. Scared to proceed any further, they decided to ask the supposed owner of the old car.
He told them that if they would proceed for about a kilometer, they would find a garage on their right hand side and then they should turn right to drive for about 12 kilometer to find their address.
Skeptical, they thanked the man and rolled the car forward rather at a much slower speed. Eight pairs of eyes looking at the right hand side of the deserted road out of the moving cars, they crossed one kilometer but did not find any garage.
They continued their journey for another kilometer and passed through a closed school, a doctor’s clinic, one petrol pump and one unlighted house. Scared and frustrated with their failure, they decided to declare that they were genuinely lost.
They called up their colleague, but could not tell him their co-ordinates so that he could go and rescue them. The colleague advised not to stop the cars but continue driving till they found any person to ask their position.
They followed the colleague’s advice and bumped into not one, but six people all armed with guns inside three stationary vehicles. They would have almost met with the finality of their lively adventure, had it not been that those men turned out to be the armed security guards in mobile patrol vans.
The guards were kind and spoke with their colleague on phone who reached the spot in less than twenty minutes and rescued them straight to their homes.
The following morning at work, an evaluation was taking place as to how did that happen the previous night what had happened. After listening to the drivers a few times, the colleague found the clue.
There was indeed a garage in about one kilometer from that pub that remained open quite late at night daily. It was also correct that there was a road on the right hand side of the garage that would surely take them to their homes.
Unfortunately, they did not reach home as they did not realise that ‘garage’ did not mean a garage to service automobiles, as everyone found in various countries, but a ‘garage’ is a petrol pump in South Africa !
[Local knowledge – no substitute]