Unlike most males (adolescent or otherwise) – who got hard-ons from looking at the posters of sleek sports cars stuck to their bedroom walls – I was never very big on cars. Perhaps this was why I got my driving licence very late in life – when I was 31, in fact. Even then, the decision to go for driving lessons had been prompted by an ultimatum issued by my boss at work, “Get a driving licence or get a new job!” I guess that made sense: a salesperson without much mobility was probably pretty useless to the company.
Thus motivated, I enrolled at a driving school and started my lessons. Despite being reasonably competent at it, I had seriously unreasonable doubts about my own driving skills. That I might lose my job if I failed the bleeding driving test probably had a lot to do with this. So I hatched a scheme to stack the odds in my favour: I would give my instructor a carton of Camels (his favourite brand) every time I went for lessons.
This I duly did – before every lesson.
Pretty soon I found that my instructor, Pak Salleh, began looking forward to our lessons even more than I did. I was given first rate instruction, with Pak Salleh bending over backward to make sure my skills were honed to a knife’s edge (or at least, competent enough to pass the test).
We got on so fabulously that there was even talk among the school’s driving instructors that Pak Salleh was just about ready to marry me off to his second eldest daughter. Of course, these were just malicious rumours. No truth to it at all. Really! None whatsoever, OK? Zip! Nada! Ziltch! [A tad too emphatic, eh?]
In any case, when the day of the test finally came, Pak Salleh stationed himself right next to my examiner the entire time. The way he glared at the examiner, there could have been only be one message: if I even see the glimmer of the intention to fail this student, I’ll come down so hard on you that you’re going to be sorry you were born!
Would it come as a surprise if I said I passed the test? I should think not. The examiner was obviously fond of his testicles and was not too keen at the prospect of Pak Salleh squashing them underfoot should he have failed me. Self-preservation is such a powerful motivator, is it not?
A week later, I bought my first car: a Felda-orange, 1963 Volkswagen Beetle (that had had maybe 153,768 previous owners) for RM3,000. Though I refrained from sneezing anywhere near the car (for fear of it falling apart), I had quite a few adventures in it – like when the clutch pedal broke off during my first drive to KL, dead smack in the middle of a traffic jam at Bulatan Edinburgh.
Then there was the time when I discovered that while its turning radius for right-turns was normal, to make a 180-degree left-turn required an area as big a Negeri Sembilan. I struggled with this problem for about 2 months before a mechanic eventually pointed out that my tyres were all different sizes.
It might not have been a muscle-car, or a very plush ride. It might not have been too pretty to look at, or even mechanically sound. But it was mine; and I loved that beat-up old Beetle.
In its own quirky way, I guess it loved me, too. Right up to the point when it died.