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Don`t Play Stupid Games with Motorcycles!

by BobCurby 

Posted: 08 March 2010
Word Count: 3399
Summary: This is a graphic description of a really bad crash in which someone dies - if you're squeamish DON'T READ THIS!

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By Bob Curby
Chapter 3

Lusaka International Airport was built in the late 60's, out in the high savannah northeast of the city. Up until then, air traffic, mostly Viscounts, DC3's and 4's, landed near the governor's residence in what later became the City Airport. With the arrival of aircraft needing longer runways, and the President, having moved into the vacant governor's residence, seeking quieter nights, the International Airport was built.
Being out of town and in the middle of nowhere meant everything could, in fact HAD to, be designed and built from scratch. The first major construction was the road, a 20 mile long dead straight road from The Great North Road, to the Terminal.
This road, in the early days of construction, had only limited traffic of construction workers and delivery trucks during the day. At night, the road was an eerie grey ribbon straight as an arrow and silent as a graveyard.

That's when it became our domain. By 'our' I refer to the three motorcycling friends, Alexandro Pediastres (Alex), Nikkolai Zerkov (Niki), and me. We used the road to test out our bikes after tweaking and tuning them. It was about the time I had acquired an unusual Japanese bike, from a company that usually made small power plants for appliances where there was no electricity. I refer, if course, to Honda. Long before the oriental motorcycles destroyed the British motorcycle industry, they tried them out in southern Africa.

So it was that I acquired the Honda 125cc 'Benley', an unbelievable bike with twin cylinders and upswept exhaust pipes. With pistons no bigger than an average man's watch and revving to over 10,000 rpm it stormed away from bigger bikes.
I recall being laughed at by a guy on a Triumph Bonneville as we waited for the lights. I held up 4 fingers, not because I was doubling an insult, but simply to say - "4 seconds, and I'll pass you". He laughed again, the lights changed and I allowed him the satisfaction if being first off the line. A Bonneville is fast, I knew that, but I also knew that 0-100, the Benley could hold off an E-Type Jaguar. In 4 seconds the Bonneville was close to 60mph, and then I passed him at 70mph. How I wished I could see his face as I took it all the way to 100.

So there I was, part of a little group, Alex on his 500cc Gilera from Italy, and Niki on his Norton twin. They never laughed, the smiles went from their faces the first time we all rode together and I stayed with them in spite of efforts to shake me off. We would regularly attempt speed trials on the airport road, knowing it to be empty. We knew it was a 40 mile round trip from the GNR to the airport and back, 40 minutes in a car doing 60 mph. We were desperate to do it in 20 minutes, but it isn't possible to maintain 120mph in both directions, but our times got better every time. The best we ever achieved was the round trip in 27 minutes.

Picture in your mind, three figures clad in black leather will full-face helmet and visor, on biggish bikes, two sounding like humming tops and the third sounding like a vacuum cleaner, hurtling up and down a 20 mile long 'arrow' in the late afternoon sun.
After a while we'd get bored and do stunts, like locking the throttles at 50mph and then all stand up, two at the rear, one in front, until we felt the bit where there were some bumps in the surface and then sit back down.

Then Niki decided on a new game, a deadly game, one that almost ended his life and that of Alex and certainly changed mine. Niki, on his big Norton, persuaded us to hold speed at about 50MPH, me almost on the white line, Alex almost on the edge of the tar. Swirling plumes of dust, sucked up by the Gilera, danced and skipped on the grey tar behind us. Whilst we held position, Niki would storm ahead at full speed until he was two or three miles ahead of us. Then he would turn quickly around and head back to us at full speed, on our side of the road. I can tell you, it took nerves of steel to hold position knowing that from the time we would see him until he burst the air between us would only be a second or two. It certainly gave us an adrenalin rush, and what an experience that was. Adrenalin is released when the brain thinks the body is in extreme danger, and under the influence of it, people have carried out almost super-human feats.

It was exciting to do this over and over again. Had the national traffic police become aware of our little game, it would have been very quickly stomped on. A tragic death would have been avoided too. Oh no – not Niki, though how he survived I still do not know to this day. Maybe whatever apparent invulnerability I seemed to have crash after crash had travelled across to him. The day of the tragedy we had performed our stunt a hundred times, and it had run into early evening. African evenings have no twilight. In Africa the sun comes up, traverses the sky, all the time burning anything that isn’t robust enough to stand up to it, then it sets. When it sets, it’s just like a light being switched off and fading to black. Usually at 5:55 p.m. it was sunny, low in the sky, like the British sun, and cooler. Then at 6:00 p.m. the last vestige of the sun disappeared below the horizon and at 6:01, it was pitch black. The last run that Niki did on that day was at 6:05; we all had our lights on, like long fingers poking out into the darkness.

We saw his tail lights disappear into the distance and we knew soon he would turn and make the run. At least we would see his light a little sooner than we usually saw the ever-growing black dot. It was then that the Triumph TR4 passed us at about 60MPH. I closed up towards Alex. I tapped his arm and we instinctively knew we had to pass that car again and somehow stop Niki. We were about 100 yards behind the TR4 and closing when we saw Niki’s light. Less than a second later the Norton buried itself deep into the radiator of the TR4. Then, with an awful tearing sound, it exited the bonnet, passed over the driver’s seat, decapitating the poor man sitting in it, bounced in front of Alex and shot off into the undergrowth. I hit the rear of the TR4 first and ended up beside the head of the driver on that rear seat. Half a second after me, Alex glanced off the nearside rear wing of the TR4 and disappeared into the bush to the left.

The suddenly there was silence. By this time the car had reached a small tree and attempted to do a spot of tree-felling, but failed, catapulting me onto the spurting torso of the driver and out onto the sandy ground. I lay there in that silence for what seemed like a lifetime. It was only twenty or thirty seconds. I knew the driver was dead, I knew I wasn’t, but what of Alex and Niki. I stood up and ran for the road, I was amazed how far away it was, over 100 yards, but being a rugby player I was a good sprinter and with the adrenalin, I know I broke the Olympic record, but who was there to bother? I found the Benley and was impressed that even the front wheel was intact, possibly thanks to the rubberized rear bumper of the sports car. The headlight was still on and there was a small crack in the lens, but the beam was good. I sat astride it and pulled off my helmet so that the faint sounds of Alex or Niki would have a better chance of reaching my ears. I swung the headlight through 180 degrees. I only saw the car. I heard nothing.

I had to make a decision to do something. I needed help. In the distance I could see the lights of the airport perimeter and control tower, which was lit up even though there was as yet no complete runway. The tower provided air traffic control across the area and was fully functional. I decided I had to go there and get help. I was about to attempt a re-start of the Honda when I heard a sound in the bush. “Great, someone’s alive!” I thought as I swung the headlight. What I saw made me jump. Two lionesses came into full view, sniffing the air. “Shit! They can smell the blood!” I had to get them to move first, but how? I remembered that in a whim I had fitted an illegal police siren to my bike, for fun and off-road, now was the time to use it. I flicked the switch and the siren motor started up, the sound went from a low rumble to the familiar high pitched scream. I kept the light on the lionesses, who turned and fled from the one-eyed banshee, whose kill they had obviously disturbed. “They’ll be back, and if not them, hyenas will, I must get to the airport, and quick.”

The Honda burst into life, I did a spectacular ‘wheelie’, one on another day I would have been proud of, and soon was hurtling towards the airport at a ton plus. Because the airport was under construction, it had steel gates with the usual hard hat signs attached. I almost went through these flimsy mesh gates, just managing to skid and turn broadside to them. A second later a large floodlight lit up the entire road around me.
“What is going on?” A voice demanded from the darkness beyond the gates. “You, you look bad, you need an ambulance?”
Of course, I was covered in the blood of the driver of the sports car.
“No, not me, this isn’t my blood – quick, there is a bad accident back down the road, this is the blood of the driver of the car, I couldn’t help him, he’s dead.”
“If he dead, we not need to hurry.”
“Yes we do! My two friends are there and maybe they’re dead or very badly hurt, and I saw lions.”

The security guard immediately called on his two-way radio and after a lot of crackling and twittering from its speaker interspersed with almost incoherent words, me flicked it off and came towards me. He pulled out a bunch of keys and opened the gates. “Ambulance coming with fire engine too, they doing nothing anyway, no hairy planes.”
Another time I would have been amused by his description of man’s finest attempt to be like the birds, but there was nothing to laugh at.
“Thank you – it’s about 3 miles, er 5 kilometers, down the road. I’m going back to keep the lions away.”
“How? You got no gun! You need gun – I come!”
Before I could say anything he grasped an old Lee Enfield army rifle, flung it over his shoulder and leapt onto my pillion almost squeezing the breath out of me as he wrapped his arms around my waist. We roared back down the road and when we stopped it was quite a long time before he let go of my waist. With shaking hands, he slowly took the rifle off his shoulder.
“You drive like devil. No wonder you have bad crash!”
“Sorry, but we had to get here quick!”
I swung the light around there was nothing to see, had we gone too far, or not far enough? I shone the light up and down the road. I couldn’t see the tell-tale skid marks. The man looked about for a few seconds. “Where crash, I see nothing – you trick me? Now you gonna try rob me?” He pointed the rifle at my chest.

“Hey, cool down man, either I went too far or not far enough. Just be quiet and listen, and look out for the tail light of the sports car, it still had one alight when I left.”
We stood in silence, our ears straining and our eyes hurting with the attempts to see in what is in effect black velvet. Then he made me jump as he suddenly bellowed out.
“There – a red light – look.” I swung my headlight in the direction he was looking; we had stopped about 300 yards short. He started to run, and I followed, soon passing him as I reached over 20 mph, then I throttled back and swung off the road. In the beam of the headlights were the two lions and, further back, some hyenas. The man yelled and fired off two rounds into the air. The animals fled once again.
“Thank you.” It was a relief to see them run back into the bush. I knew that this time they wouldn’t return. The guard started to walk towards the car. I put my hand on his arm. He wrenched it free and walked on. I followed and was about to tell him he shouldn’t go any closer, but he spoke first.
“That Geoff’s car, wondered why he late. He dead you say – you sure?”
“Trust me, I’m sure, you don’t need to be a doctor to know he’s dead.”
“OK, I see lights there, ambulance and paramedics coming – we look for your friends – where they go?”

“My friend, if I knew that, I’d have gone straight there. I have to tell you, one of my friends rode straight into the front of that car, his bike flew through the air and went there – “ I directed the light at the spot I last saw it “ – but we, I, didn’t see where he went.”
“Maybe lions got him now!”
“Don’t say that!”
“We go look – that way.”
In a previous life he had been a tracker and now in his twighlight years was content to sit in a hut as a security guard for local construction companies. He hadn’t lost the knack, even in the dark. He had made quick calculations as to which way a body would go if the bike went one way. He pulled a small torch from his pocket and we head at an oblique angle to the road. I cursed as my toe struck something sharp, even with my boots on, it hurt. “Ow!” He stopped and shone the torch downwards. There, under my foot was a piece of shiny metal, one of the fork struts from the Norton.
“Right way.” He said and pressed on.

We found Niki partly suspended in an Acacia tree. Later in hospital they removed over 60 long thorns from almost every part of his body. “He dead.” The man said without breaking stride, “We find other friend now.”
“He not dead!” I said back in his own broken English, “We check first, then we find other friend!” Spend a day with this guy and I would have lost 17 years of valuable learning of the English language. He hesitated. “You sure about Geoff, how come you not so sure about him.” He gestured at Niki’s back with a torch. I was about to say in frustration “GEOFF’S GOT NO HEAD!” when Niki groaned and settled that argument. I quickly got as close to him as I could.
“NIKI! NIKI. Can you hear me? Niki…..”
He moaned again and mumbled something I could quite catch.
“EASY NIKI – you’re hurt bad and full of thorns, ambulance is coming, don’t try to move.”
“I…. aagh!” was all he could manage before the pain took him under again.
“Now we look for my other friend – come on.”
“Where he go – where he hit car?”
“Back there, we passed Niki’s bike going the other way – he’s between us and the car somewhere.”
He looked at the airport, then at the car which was 150 yards or so off to our left. He looked at Niki.

“Your friend…… there.” He pointed his torch at a very thick growth of the night flowering ‘Camels Foot’ bush. I saw nothing.
“What makes you think that?”
“Grooves in sand!” He pointed the torch down at the ground and I could see deep grooves disappearing into the bush. I almost laughed, and I’d thought he’d worked it out by maths or something.
We forced our way into the bush.
“Ow!” I did it again, this time taking the Gilera rear wheel in my groin. The man had been right.
“Here bike.”
“I KNOW; I just spoiled my chances of having children thanks to its back wheel!”
“Friend close by.”
“How do you know, grooves again?”
“No, hyena.”
“Yes hyena moving this way, they scared off from car, so they come here. Wait.”
He fired another shot into the air. There was a yelping and thrashing about less than 20 feet from us.
“Quick, this way!” I yelled as I dived towards the sound. Twenty seconds later I was climbing back out of the ditch I had fallen into. The tension of the events had got to the man and he was laughing like a demented Hyena. “Mind ditch!” he called.
“Here friend, what’s his name?”
“Alex, you wake?”
No response.
“Alex…. ALEX!...”
Still no response.

I climbed back to where the guard was standing. Alex was all crumpled up between the tank of the Gilera and the trunks of the Camels Foot shrubs. To me, in that torch light he looked worse than Niki.
I put two fingers against his neck, like they always do in films, I didn’t know why, but I did anyway. I felt the vein pulsating. So that’s why they did it, well I never.
“He’s alive, but I think he’s also hurt bad.”
“He not broken neck – I know good – may be legs.”

He had been so right. Niki had concussion only, not a bone had broken. The bike had taken the brunt of the shock, he had flown through the air and had that been all he had done, he might have died with the force of the landing wherever that had been. However, it transpired that he had left the bike at a steep angle; this had taken him to the top of the acacia tree which had then bent and broken under his weight and forward motion, taking the shock out of the action. He had finally hit his head hard on the upper trunk and passed out before breaking the main bough and falling almost to the ground. He had suffered some trauma to the neck and pelvis. It was six months before he was fully rehabilitated.

Kalinde, that was the guard’s name, was right about Alex, he’d hit hard and the bike had hit him. Had his bike been the Norton, it would have crushed him, but the light Gilera only succeed in breaking a lot of bones. When the x-rays were brought out we were amazed that Alex was alive, I reckon he had all the luck, not me. It was nine months before he was fully rehabilitated. I somehow think that I never was. It is possible that adrenalin in our blood stream contributed to our survival.

We attended the funeral service held for Geoff. Kalinde cried, so did the dead man’s wife and children. The police wanted a full report. Niki couldn’t remember, Alex wouldn’t and I chose my words carefully. Kalinde remained silent.
“So, you are saying that it was a serious error of judgment?” A policeman had asked.
“Yes, the dead man did nothing wrong. One of our bikes was on the wrong side of the road, he thought the headlights of the car were our lights; he was coming back to us from the airport. There was nothing we could do to prevent it. That day will live we me forever.”

And, it has.

FA©T 2010 Steve Goodings

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Comments by other Members

Richard Brown at 17:59 on 09 March 2010  Report this post

Gripping stuff! Gory too, as you warned.

A few typos (one in the penultimate line!) but I guess these can wait for the proofing. Three relatively small points:

1. Early on you allude to the deadly silence after the crash then, a bit later, to taking your helmet off to listen. Doesn't seem quite right.

2. It's not clear how the airport worker summoned the rescue services. Presumably radio but perhaps better to make this explicit? Could add to the tension.

3. No doubt the worker did laugh at your interaction with the ditch but it's a very odd thing to do in the midst of the disaster. Maybe worth inserting something like a recognition that the laughter could have been a nervous response?

Overall, your writing continues to be much tighter than hitherto. Well done!


Carlton Relf at 19:31 on 10 March 2010  Report this post
Hi Steve,

As usual, I was gripped from the start and could not stop reading until I finished the chapter. Very easy to read and am looking forward to the next installment!!

Kind regards

BobCurby at 00:59 on 15 March 2010  Report this post
Thanks Richard / Carlton

I have been in volved in some other things for the last week - I will re-write some bits of this and then commit it to archive.

Thanks again.

Felicity F at 22:41 on 15 March 2010  Report this post
Hi ... I have not read this because you gave a warning that it was gory, and I don't really like that, so have avoided it ! Sry, but from the comments it looks good !

BobCurby at 01:23 on 16 March 2010  Report this post
You were wise, some of the stuff I write has given people nightmares!

Thanks for commenting on the comments!


BobCurby at 12:22 on 20 March 2010  Report this post
Critiquers - I have been off-line for a week and will be re-writing parts of this - I'll let you know when I have done so.


BobCurby at 18:20 on 04 April 2010  Report this post
Suggestions taken on board and uploaded again.

Your views would be appreciated.


BobCurby at 00:37 on 10 April 2010  Report this post
Hi all,

Back again after a really busy week at work. I am going to archive this and upload the next chapter.


Richard Brown at 12:37 on 12 April 2010  Report this post
Shall look forward to it..


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