GIRL ABOUT TOWN: How I learnt to keep my foot on the pedal

Thursday October 04 2018

My driving instructor's funny story washed away my nervousness and I stopped panicking and began driving again. PHOTO | FOTOSEARCH


Many people say driving comes naturally, and most of my friends had driving as one of their (immediate) goals after campus.

But for others, like me, the word ‘naturally’ and ‘driving’ do not seem compatible; I mean how can they appear in the same sentence? — they are like oil and water.

After completing university, most of my friends went to driving school, at least those who had not been paid for by their parents after high school. My campus mates’ goals were to get good jobs then buy cars as soon as possible. It was the sign of ‘we have made it’. And besides that, there were some lucrative NGO jobs that required driving skills; and hadn’t we all been applying for those ones!

And though I dreamed of owning a car, the thought of driving made me shiver, literary.

So I thought to myself, perhaps I just need a driver. If I can only work hard enough, I can buy a car and hire someone to drive me around.

Of course reality checked in, and many years later I could not even afford to buy a car. Then I started saving up and eventually got a better job that allowed me to save some more, and I too, like the perfect middle class person, started thinking that a car should be somewhere in the horizon.


I registered for driving lessons at one of those schools considered top-notch. The first theory sessions were great and made everything look easy-peasy.


Day one of my practical session, the instructor asks me to get into the driver’s seat. But, “I thought you are supposed to first show me how to do it before I try it.” How wrong I was. I eventually got into the driver’s seat and tried my best to pay attention despite my nerves as my instructor explained the various parts of the car and how they work.

Then he said “Turn on the ignition.”

“What?” I asked, not accepting that it was time to be behind the wheel.

He gave me that look, that no nonsense look — you know, the kind that tells you to stop talking and start doing because there’s no way out of this. And I had heard rumours about how he was a very strict instructor.

So, I turned on the ignition, stepped on the fuel pedal before releasing the handbrake, and I forgot all the lessons on balancing the clutch and the throttle — everything evaporated from my head as I struggled to remember what pedal I was supposed to step on.

Panic set in and I was sweating profusely as I kept shifting my foot from one pedal to the other and the car lurched forward then stalled with a sort of grunt. I froze on the wheel, tightened my grip until my pretty chocolate skin turned white on the knuckles; eyes bulging, body leaning forward. I moved my feet off the pedals as my instructor asked if I wanted to crash the car.

I didn’t want to leave my ‘safe position’. And I was stuck gripping the steering wheel for a while.

The instructor kept talking but I could not hear anything. At some point, he called my name softly and asked me to relax before we continued. My eyes started tearing and I wondered what I’d gotten myself into. What was I thinking? Me, driving?


My hopes of buying a car were shattered at that instant; and the images of the various cars I had been comparing for a few weeks were shredded to pieces in my mind. And all I could see was just me looking like a rained-on cat, crying myself hoarse in front of a stranger and making a fool out of myself.

I have never cried like I did that day, and suddenly I felt an urgent need to go to the bathroom, in between having hot flashes and still being unable to control my tears.

After a few minutes, I collected myself and told my instructor I wanted to go home. He asked me to relax first in the car before I left.

Then he began this story on how he learnt how to drive, and his first experience was in a tractor. He had always been scared yet his family expected all boys to know how to use it for farming. One of his younger sisters made fun of him because she could commandeer that monster of farm equipment and he couldn’t bring himself to even get up on it.

But one day, when everyone was away, some devil lied to him that he could teach himself to drive the tractor and he climbed up and began doing what he thought he had seen his father doing.

He struggled for a while until he was able to lift one lever, but now the tractor was moving backwards towards the cow shed and he couldn’t figure out how to stop it, so he jumped off and it crashed into the shed and stopped by some beams. Luckily, he only grazed his knees and got a little dusty but he was quite shaken -- not really with the timely escape from danger, but in fear of what his father would say, especially about his cows. Because his father loved his cows more than many other things.

Lucky for him, the cows were out grazing.

He first told his mother when she came home and she looked him up to make sure he was okay then went to inspect the damage. She did not say anything.

And sure enough, when his father came home, the first thing he asked was if the cows were okay. His mother said they were okay but their son was slightly injured. His father looked him up, then, with a scowl, said: “I did not ask about him; is he a cow?”


But in a few minutes, with a sly smile and pulling his son close to him, he said: “You are now a man my son. We need to properly train you or the next time you will destroy your mother’s house.”

And his lessons began.

I was really amused by the story and started laughing, though in hindsight I don’t think it was that funny. But yes, I laughed away the nervousness and Mr Instructor asked: “Shall we try again?” His smile was enough to make me try again. And this time, I moved a few inches forward.


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