9 - 15 December 1999
Issue No. 459
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875|
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The joys of drivingBy Fayza Hassan
Usually, my daughter and I go to work together. Ever since she acquired her licence, she has been doing most of the driving while I do most of the talking - a rather fine combination, I thought, she being such a skillful chauffeur and I, a talented chatterbox. I did notice that in these circumstances she rarely adds anything of consequence to the conversation, but then I am used to this attitude from an audience who often seems overwhelmed by my verbal flow. I therefore paid little attention to the ominous silence that punctuates some of my wittiest remarks.
Last week, however, my daughter had the flu and I had to drive myself to work.
On the first day of her illness, she was worried. "Why not pamper yourself and take a taxi?" she suggested tactfully. I firmly refused and set out on my course bright and early. I did feel a bit lonely to begin with, but with the Arabic Music Troupe singing Ya Salat El-Zein, one of my favourite old songs, on the radio, it was not too bad. I used to prefer Henna Ya Henna as a sing-along song, but it had been playing when I had a bad accident a couple of years ago so I have banned it from my driving-alone repertoire.
Thinking of the accident rattled me a little, but I soon felt positively empowered and quickly reached the Corniche, which did not look too crowded at first. This was going to be fun, I told myself. My buoyancy dropped in the immediate environs of a large supermarket on the Corniche when the driver preceding me executed a perfect letter C, for no reason I could fathom, right in front of my car. I hit the brakes, hard.
I was taught to drive by my father. He passed on to me a fastidious respect of the rules of the road, together with a collection of sentences to be shouted out of the window (he never had an air-conditioned car) at any offending motorist, in which the illicit activities of the female members of his/her family featured prominently.
During my daughter's phase of political correctness, she had asked me repeatedly to refrain from abusing women's rights. I therefore concocted some equally offending comments, drawing on my knowledge of the animal kingdom. This did not go over well either, because she also happened to be, and still is, an animal rights activist. My son-in-law, a deeply charitable person, has gently objected on several occasions to certain references involving pedestrians' physical and mental challenges. Since I would hate to offend either of them, all I am left with is the authority to roll down my window (our A/C has never worked properly) and roar. So I roared at the idiot as I neatly contoured his car. He roared back twice as hard and sped by me to inform me of what he thought of my looks and my age. I was thoroughly annoyed and was about to use some of my father's choice phrases when it occurred to me that his car was in very poor condition. Bumping it once more (against mine, for instance) would not have made any difference to him. Better let it go, I told myself, although I was seething. When I calmed down, I noticed that someone was whining Tell Laura I Love Her on the radio. I shut him up and put on a tape of Lutfi Bushnaq, which I thought was more cheerful by far.
Near Magr Al-Uyoun, the traffic was at a standstill. I had plenty of time to agonise over whether I should turn towards Garden City or go through Qasr Al-Aini. In the end I had no choice: a huge bus swept me willy-nilly towards Qasr Al-Aini. I rolled down the window but once more thought better of it and decided to give his family a rest. After all, my car is rather small and his bus loomed large: he could have crushed me and not even noticed. The traffic policeman on Tahrir Square was a teenager suffering from chronic indecision. "Should I let these go, or do those deserve a break?" he must have been asking himself, standing in the middle of the intersection and helplessly contemplating his hands as the traffic lights turned from green to red and then to green again. Finally, a truck driver took matters into his own hands and raced past the youth, forcing him to take refuge against one of the new urns scattered around the square. I made a note to tell my daughter that I now knew what their purpose was, and hurried after the truck.
I found no parking space, as expected, on arrival. Cars were emerging from the parking lot in droves as I tried in vain to get in. Behind me, a driver was honking his horn spastically, though he could plainly see that the way was blocked. I reflected that neither my daughter nor her husband had ever said anything about physical violence. Maybe I could leave my car, walk slowly towards his, grab him by the neck and hit his head hard against the steering wheel... When the parking attendant came to take my car, I noticed that my jaws were locked and my throat dry. I tried to tell him something while handing him his tip, but no sound came out. I was completely exhausted. As I walked on wobbly legs towards our office building, I told myself that I now knew why my daughter never answers my prattle when she drives.