I breathed a sigh of relief after our Police Clearance Certificates arrived, and I thought to myself; now we are ready for Thailand.
But that was before Stefan announced: “Maybe we should get our motorcycle licences for Thailand.”
I have come to learn that Stefan has many grand ideas, but somehow they always tend to sprout forth or be implemented at the very last possible moment. But he phoned around and managed to book the last available slot of the year to write our Learner’s Licence, in the small town of Malmesbury. We bought a K53 book, brushed up on the road signs and the rules of the road, drove out to Malmesbury and both passed the written test. But, having never been on, or driven a motorcycle before, I knew my difficulty was not going to be the written test but the practical one. And, once we had our practical test booked in January, three days before we departed, I realised, with horror, that we had less than one month to practice and no motorcycles to practice on!
My nightmares of being arrested on arrival in South Africa, were now replaced with nightmares of motorcycles, clutches and brakes, all accompanied by my father’s voice, warning me of the terrible dangers of driving a motorcycle.
Anyway, we duly set off for Billy’s Motorcycle School in Bellville. There were twelve beginners in the class and we all started on scooters, driving around and around the parking lot. Then we practised starting and stopping and even weaving between traffic cones! I felt relieved that I could manage this and, after a short break, was ready to get back on that scooter to practise some more. In my mind, I had decided to just learn how to drive a scooter, to avoid the intricacies of gears and clutches. But Billy had bigger aspirations; he wanted us all to immediately progress to motorcycles.
“Come,” he grunted at me pointing to a huge, black bike. “Get on.”
“I’m not ready,” I replied, my mouth turning dry with fear. “I think I’ll stick to the scooters,” I suggested in a small voice.
“No, come, get on,” he insisted, not at all interested in my feeble objections. He quickly showed me the gears, but fear made it hard to concentrate.
“Okay now … GO!” he said walking beside me. “CHANGE GEAR!” he yelled after me, as I moved off. And there I was, put-putting around the parking lot on a big, black motorcycle, going only just fast enough not to stall.
Stefan whizzed by. “Hey! go faster,” he called out. I did not respond. I sat transfixed, not looking left or right, not wanting to go faster or slower, not wanting to change gears … not knowing how to stop.
Stefan whizzed by a second time. “Accelerate, I can’t go that slow,” he called.
Then he made a third pass. “I’ll topple over if I go so slowly,” he encouraged.
“Do you know how to stop???” he shouted the fourth time around.
“No,” I finally squeaked, taking my first breath in twenty minutes. I had been desperately trying to recall the drawing of the motorcycle controls in the written test. I knew there was a brake that I should never touch if I was turning the handlebars, but which one was it?
“Use your foot break. Do you know where it is?!” Stefan yelled the next time he passed.
And so, finally, I stopped.
“You know, you were not the worst,” Stefan said afterwards, trying to bolster my confidence. “I had to help one girl when she rode straight into the pavement and the motorcycle kept going without her, and another girl’s bike fell on top of her twice, and she burnt her leg.” Oh? I had not noticed, maybe I was not so bad?
“You were only the third worst,” he added.
POSTSCRIPT: We both passed!
FRANSCHHOEK, SOUTH AFRICA: 26-12-2014