AUGUST 8, 1999: My chauffeur is not what I would describe as an intrepid member of the lion tribe. I say this because of his nothing short of peculiar behaviour at the city’s military check points.
My car is one of those unassuming match box types that no self respecting terrorist or female suicide bomber will want to be seen dead in, I mean to say. But Lord Stanley obviously thinks otherwise. I of course am peacefully at the back peering into some file or rustling documentation completely on another planet, quite unaware of the mayhem and destrcution being strewn about as Lord S ploughs his way through the Colombo roads. I faintly hear frantic horning as old Stan has yet again blocked some busy young executive on his way to careering to his death in a snazzy BMW. From the corner of my eye I notice the closing gestures to an obviously ripe and meaningful discussion an irate bus conductor has had with Stan as he shakes his heavy fist at us for hogging the road. Stan also has the habit of stopping dead at pedestrian crossings especially when there is nary a stick insect waiting to cross the road.
ME: “What is the matter? There is no one crossing. Go soon.”
STAN: No Madam that gentleman in the Kadé looked towards the crossing. I think he was thinking of crossing it.”
ME: “Well let’s be daring and run the risk of running him over, or I’ll be late.”
And check points! He spots one a mile away, and slows down to 1mph. Now for a man who goes about town at 10mph on a clear day, it is a feat worthy of the Guinness book to be able to slow down any further. A soldier brandishing the luminous stop sign sees us coming and starts sweating under the collar smelling danger. He hides the stop sign behind his not so ample back -being a member of the haalmassa regiment – and whistling a happy tune tried hard to avoid eye contact with Stan. To no avail. Lord Stan stops right in the middle of the barricaded area. He then peers over at the three armed chappies scattered around and inquires politely if they want us to stop. He invites them to search the boot. Meanwhile we are getting notorious.
Some of the soldiers sneer and roll their eyes in their sockets. Others wave us impatiently on our way. The sarcasm is completely lost on dear old Stan. And so while other drivers are being reprimanded and shot at for ignoring stop signs and check points, bullets are all but thudding into the flaky upholstery of my Daihatsu Charade because Lord Stan is stopping and/or slowing down at check points without being directed to.
ME: Stanleeey they didn’t tell you to stop. They might think we are trying to plant a bomb if you stop in that suspiciuos looking way.
STAN: No Madam.Only if we go fast, they kill. We stop. We show them we have nothing to hide.
ME: They already know we have nothing to hide. I may look many things but certainly not one of those darn suicide bomber types. And you (poor fool I added under my breath I wouldn’t dare talk to him like that) don’t look as if you can assemble your thoughts let alone a bomb.
STAN: No Madam. Trust me.
Reluctantly, I do.
But the influence of the angry mob that greets us when we are at large on the city roads is gnawing at that trust. Just the other day one of the army soldiers at a check point, rudely shooed us off with impatient gestures when Stan stopped unasked and unsolicited.
I pointed this out to him. Stan stood his ground undeterred. Determined no doubt to drive a bullet through both our brains or have us in the cooler for suspicious behaviour at army check points.
ME: These are dangerous times. Soldiers are jittery, they will shoot first and ask questions later. If we stop without being flagged down they may think I’m not only trying to embrace their principles but their repellent bodies like those suicidal females.
STAN: Madam. You don’t worry. I know. I look after.
Those are comforting words. I trust his judgement on the temperament of check point chaps once again.
I casually look out of the car window. I see inebriated pederstians meandering carelessly on the middle of the road. Three wheelers hurtling along precarioiusly on the sidewalk. Private coaches running people over as they compete to get to the next bus stop and bag the most passengers. Car owners who think they own the roads too. Pot holes, policemen flailing their arms like seismic semaphores, round abouts, horning, shouting ,screeching …..my mind is in a psychadelic nightmare. I see myself for one brief dreadful moment behind the wheel and I cringe with horror.
Stanley is alarmed. ‘What madam what?” he asks with genuine concern having caught a glimpse of my contorted face in the rear view mirror.
“Nothing’ I say smiling. But I think he knows the strength of his barganing power. How else could he be earning more than his own employer.
This article was first published in the Sunday Leader on August 8, 1999
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