I was impressed with this driver’s courage as we passed him and his bed on the road from Grahamstown to East London. The load on the roof of his car was rather flimsily tied, he was going at speed and seemingly unperturbed by any traffic cops on the side of the road.
I did this trip about 33 years ago, bringing to our new home in the university and cathedral city, a 100-year-old brass and wrought iron bed which I had found and bought in East London.
I’d been wondering around the city centre during a lunch hour of my first gig at the Daily Dispatch and came upon this antique shop, mostly shuttered because the owner had died six months previously and the family apparently had not had the emotional strength to start an inventory towards winding up the estate.
I managed to persuade the son of the deceased owner to show me around and in an annex to the main shop, came upon a lot of about 20 of these antique beds. I made an offer on the bed I thought was in the best condition. It took me over an hour to securely strap the bed to the roof of my 1300 Volkswagen Beetle. Even though the bed was dissembled, it still made for a massive contraption, extending on all sides of the car and into the air.
Under cover of darkness early on my next day off from work, I slipped out of East London to take the bed to Grahamstown. I was intent on avoiding traffic and security cops – both those of South Africa and the then Ciskei bantustan – who were bound to be conducting roadblocks once daylight came. I would go along the coastal route to Port Alfred before cutting inland towards Grahamstown – there was a lesser prospect of coming across Ciskei police on that route, except perhaps at the Hamburg turnoff. The loop around King William’s Town and Peddie was notoriously policed by the Sebe brothers’ men.
Although the chance of being held for a security violation was slim for a non-African black South African passing through Ciskei, bantustan cops applied the spot fine system to traffic violations. For a struggling student, this was a severe fate.
I had had a similar encounter previously with traffic cops in the Transkei bantustan, when I exceeded the speed limit coming down the hill into (then) Idutywa late on a Friday evening. I didn’t have enough cash to pay the spot fine and it was too late to bring me before a magistrate to plead my impecunious state. In lieu of spending the weekend in jail, I was forced by a difficult trio of cops to leave a valuable camera – essential for my studies and work – as security until I could send a postal order payment for the fine.
So, I certainly was going to avoid getting into a situation with my bed-on-the-roof potential traffic violation.
My heart was in my throat throughout that harrowing journey in the darkness – more so than for any journey I undertook across a strife-torn Eastern Cape at the time to do a reporting job or support a student protest. But I made it safely into Grahamstown before daylight broke.
For a whole bunch of reasons, not least because of our first journey together, I still love that bed, despite it being moved into a storeroom because it is not the most comfortable space for sleeping anymore.
So, as I passed this traveling bed, I saluted the driver. And I wondered, where was he headed with his bed? Was it going into a student digs, or a new marital home, an extension to a homestead, perhaps?
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