A while ago it became necessary, for various reasons, to make a trip to a town some hours to the north of Rawalpindi. As this was before we purchased a car we had to make the trip by bus. You might think that would be a hardship, public transport being generally regarded as less preferable to private, but Pakistan is blessed with the Daewoo bus company. This company – Korean, I think – has brand-new, air-conditioned buses which run to time, which have TVs, and whose staff even go to the trouble of handing out free snacks and cold drinks during the journey. It’s an excellent way to travel.
Anyway, I digress. We hopped in a taxi and started to make our way to the Daewoo terminal. It was a spectacularly bad choice of vehicle: run-down, clunky, and in remarkably bad condition, even by Pakistani standards. The rear windscreen was a piece of clingfilm. It rattled and banged like a loose door in a strong wind. The driver was intent on stopping to fill up with CNG (compressed natural gas, the same LPG that some people use in the UK). We insisted that we were in a hurry, so he grudgingly agreed to get us there and fill up afterwards.
“Do you have enough gas to get us there?” we asked, more than a little anxiously.
“Oh yes, no problem. Don’t worry” he assured us.
Well, he didn’t. About three hundred yards from the terminal the car gave one last, sickening rattle and the engine died. Coasting to the terminal was out of the question since Mehrans have a top speed roughly equivalent to that of a sloth with a sprained ankle. We came to a halt by the side of the road – a four lane road, with cars weaving in and out at high speed, I might add. He jumped out and started to push. I jumped out and started to help. Jodie stayed in the car and started to pray.
Pushing a car down a Pakistani highway is the kind of thing life insurance companies don’t cover you for. If you read the list of exclusions it’s in there somewhere, between “training to be a lion tamer” and “flying metal-tipped kites during thunderstorms”. Cars blared their horns as they swerved around us. Buses screeched their brakes in anger as they narrowly avoided slamming into us. And the driver and I plodded stolidly on. We came to a junction where two more lanes of cars joined our road, meaning that even more cars were desperately trying to avoid hitting us. It really was quite terrifying.
And then it was over; we pushed the car to the side of the road, paid the driver, took our bags, and dashed to the bus station, only to find that instead of being five minutes late, as we had thought, we were actually forty-five minutes early, which gave us plenty of time to thank God for his protection and to vow never again to stop a taxi driver filling up with CNG.