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Wild Grass

by  BobCurby

Posted: Saturday, January 23, 2010
Word Count: 2276
Summary: My second book of wild events from my childhood gets under way.

By Bob Curby

Chapter 1

I stood in my leathers watching the sun rise over the distant city of Lusaka. The air was heavy with the morning dew and the smell of the charcoal burners that had been filling the air with wispy smoke all night. I sniffed it; it always was a pleasure to breathe in the early morning air out in the ‘wetlands’ of Makeni, 10 miles out of Lusaka. I glanced down at my watch, it was 6:45. I had to be at work by 8:00, there was plenty of time.

Before I could sit down at that desk I had to get to the main road, and, even though only 3 miles away, the journey was never an easy one. Our own road, 780 metres long, was not even a gravel track, it was a mess of deep tyre tracks, ruts from the Landrover in the rainy season. Having to ride a motorcycle down that track was like trying to hop along a tightrope. I rubbed my hands, remembering the bruises from the last ride, just twenty four hours earlier. I fell down six times on that short stretch; the bike showed the signs, blobs of mud, strands of grass, a few leaves and little scratches. It annoyed me every time I had to ride down it. My father had told me simply to ride either side of the ruts. I had angrily responded, “That would be fine if you and your men at least drove in a straight line instead of weaving about like you’d been on the piss!” I tried once to ride between the left hand rut and the 2 metre tall savannah grass, or ‘elephant grass’ as we called it. That was a disaster. I couldn’t see the tree stump in the long grass and when my left foot rest hit it at 20MPH, it was bent backwards. Three toes suffered fractures and the bike was forced into a 90 degree left turn, depositing me onto the hard ruts before careering 40 metres through the tall grass, finally coming to rest in the middle of the remains of an old corrugated hut that had fallen down years before.

These memories fresh in my mind, I pulled on my helmet and stepped to the big bike, inserted the key and watched as the instruments lit up. One kick was all that the well serviced engine needed to burst into life. I muttered to myself once again just how ridiculous the first 3 miles of my journey would be, at an average speed of 25MPH on a bike built to cruise at 100. I dreaded the stretch of road that passed by Kanjombe Stores, about half way to the main road. There, the two part Alsation, part Ridge-Back dogs would try to puncture my front tyre with their teeth. I stood astride the bike, sighed, pulled down the visor and eased up the stand as I flicked first gear into the box. As the clutch bit and the throttle raised the revs to just over 1000 I had a sense of foreboding. Something didn’t seem quite right. I pulled the clutch back in, placed my feet on the ground and blipped the throttle. The engine seemed fine. I checked out the tyres, the brakes and flicked through all the gears. Still I felt strange about the bike. Once again I selected first gear and released the clutch. In a few moments I was negotiating the ruts and then I was out on the gravel track that lead past The Cross Cow dairy farm on the way to the road from Makeni Quarry to the tarred main road. I was thinking about the dogs at Kanjombe Stores as I opened the throttle, accelerating up to 25MPH. The moment I was about to drop into 2nd gear, the event I was having bad feelings about decide to manifest itself.
The locking key for the joining link on the drive chain left its seat and a second later the chain left the drive sprocket, wrapping itself around my right shoulder and hitting my crash helmet with a sound like a cannon. Without that helmet, I would have gone the same way as the pioneer of land-speed record racing – Parry-Thomas, who was killed by the drive chain from his car ‘Babs’ on Pendyne sands. The impact of the chain tore my very thick leather jacket and succeeded in concussing me whilst cracking my shoulder-blade. The bike itself only suffered the destruction of the chain guard and merrily went on its way without me for about 20 metres or so before a bump in the road took its wheel off line and it slewed to a crunching halt in the gravel.

I lay in the road on my back, totally unconscious, with the chain wrapped around my right shoulder. My father had already gone and no-one was due to travel down that road for another hour. It was by sheer coincidence that Harriet Mackateer from the twin to our Lechwe ranch, “West Lock”, decided that the ranch needed some supplies. She told me later when I was back home that she could see the bike on its side but was not aware of where the rider was until she saw my body passing by her window. She stopped immediately. Her front wheel had missed my right foot by less than the width of the tyre, her rear wheel was set to crush my ankle when she stopped the heavy Landrover just 4” short of doing so. I still don’t know how Harriet, just 5 feet tall and looking like a 13 year old, picked me up from the road and laid me in the back the Landrover. I woke up in Lusaka General Hospital, looking up at the nurse who was checking my pulse.
“Hello Mum,” I said.
“Don’t speak just yet, I need to update your charts for Doctor Williams.”

My mum was at the end of her night shift in Accident and Emergency when I was brought in and had insisted in staying on until I woke up. It’s a strange feeling waking up in hospital when the last thing on my mind was getting past the dogs at Kanjombe Stores. Do you think it’s bizarre enough when the nurses look like your mum. Well it’s even more bizarre when the nurse IS your mum!
“So, how did you come to be lying in the road wearing a bicycle chain?”
“Well, I got tired of just wearing my leathers, so I thought I’d look a bit more stylish with the chain…..”
“You’re lucky Harriet wasn’t Dick Van Niekerk…”
“John Mackateer is pretty thankful for that too…”
“Do you have to make a joke of everything?”
“Well, you cracked your scapula.”
“It’s a BSA mum, not one of those Italian bikes.”
“If you didn’t have concussion I’d be sending you down to psychiatrics for tests!”
“So, I cracked my shoulder blade OK, what’s that mean for me…?”
“No riding on bikes or horses, no lifting of anything heavier than a fork full of food OK!?”
“When can I go home?”
“When the doctor is happy – two or three days I reckon.”
“What about work?”
“Certainly not for at least three weeks.”
She clipped the chart back on the bed rail and at that moment the doctor arrived. He poked and prodded and listened and looked, all the time making those annoying noises, you know what I mean –
“Oh yes.”
“That’s fine”
So it went for about ten minutes.
The doctor spoke briefly to my mum, then to me and they both left.
I looked for my watch, it wasn’t there, in fact, nothing I possessed was there. I lifted the covers, I was dressed in what looked like one of those ‘shift’ waistless dresses the girls were wearing that year. I needed the loo, but I wasn’t getting out of bed in a dress! I decided to press the button.
Like a genie out a lamp a nurse appeared.
I expected her to say “What is your wish, oh master.”
Instead she came over to my bed, pressed the cancel button and said, “What’s the problem?”
“er, I need to pee.”
“That’s ok – just through those doors, second door on your left.”
“er, I’m in a dress!”
“So’s everyone else – go on nobody will be bothered one bit.”
Do you know how it feels when you are an 18 year old ‘cool dude’ to walk through to the toilet in a shift dress with almost no back? No? Well if I’d been naked I’d probably have been happier – at least people would know I was a MAN!

I scuttled to the toilet and dived back into bed, pulling the covers up swiftly. A couple of people sniggered and I glared at them. This was probably the seventh or eighth time I had been in hospital, yet I didn’t remember having to wear a dress before. I wanted to know where my personal stuff was, especially my watch. It was a present from my dad and was worth a few bob. I pulled open the drawer and there was a small bag with a label attached, upon which my name and date of birth was written. Why do hospitals do that? Well, my mum says there may be two people with the same name, so date of birth is the only way to know which one you are dealing with.
“What if they were both born on the same day?”
Well, it’s a valid question isn’t it?
Thankfully there was no-one with my name and date of birth in the hospital, so my stuff was all there. I grabbed my watch and stuck it on.
Fortunately the leather gloves I had been wearing that day had prevented it from getting scratched and it was pretty robust. I lifted my arm to my ear so that I could hear the regular ticking of the precision Swiss 21 jewel movement. I felt more comfortable with my old friend back on my wrist.

I lay back against the pillow. I wanted to go home. I felt fine. I decided it was time I went home.
“Nurse!” I yelled. No-one came. I pressed the call button again. This time the nurse appeared a little slower. “What is it young man?”
“What’s wrong with me?”
“That’s a silly question isn’t it, with your arm all strapped up and a bump on your head. You had concussion and your shoulder is broken, the very fact that you ask shows you are not up to speed yet.”
I sighed with exasperation and stared hard at her for several seconds. She reached out to press the cancel button which was just above my left shoulder. As her hand passed by my ear, my left hand grasped her wrist. She was about 5 years older than me and not plain or homely like many of the nurses had been. He face was only 10 inches from mine. I looked into her eyes. She was going to say something but there was only a slight quiver of her lips. They were plump and red, her cheeks were slowly joining them in colour.
My mother’s voice hit me like a baseball bat as it always did. Instantly I released the nurse’s wrist and she turned away with a little cough. My mother pressed the cancel button. She was wearing her coat, ready to go home.
I grinned, a sickly sort of grin, or so she told me later. “Hi again Mum, coming to take me home then?”
“No I am NOT! You are staying right there – and if I get any reports of you trying anything with the nurses, big as you are my boy, I’ll take a belt to you, you got that?!”
“Yes Mum.”
She kissed my forehead and left.
Did I listen to that warning? Did I heck!
At midnight a student nurse, barely a year older than me came to take my pulse and check that I had taken my sleeping tablet. She woke me up to give me a tablet to make me sleep. Now what is the logic in that?
“Here, take this please, here’s some water.”
“I’ve only one hand so you’ll have to put the tablet in my mouth while I hold the glass. Alternately, I can hold your hand while you put the tablet in my mouth and then put the glass to my lips. Better still, I can hold both your hands, you can put the tablet between your lips and then….”
“That’s quite enough!”
“My girlfriend says that now and then….”
“You have a girlfriend? That’s a surprise – now take this tablet and no more fuss.”
I took the tablet and she turned away. Her small round bottom was only a couple of feet away, so I smacked it. I would like to tell you my mother’s reaction to that the next day, but it is too painful to relate!

My girlfriend arrived at about 11:00, she had been told about my ‘little episodes’ as my mother put it. Why are mothers so thoughtless? Why do they feel they have to make you even more miserable by telling your girlfriend!? So, that was the end of that relationship.

It was two weeks before I was released from hospital and another four before I got back on that bike. I had no idea then that a far worse accident was just around the corner.

FA©T 2010 – Steve Goodings