I turned the key. The engine chuntered, whirred…and stopped. I tried again, and again. Same result. I sighed. I was stuck by the side of a back street, somewhere in Pakistan, with an immobile vehicle.
This is not an ideal situation. Before coming to Pakistan we received thorough safety and security training, and much of it seemed to revolve around attempting to avoid precisely the kind of situation in which I found myself. Alone, stuck, on a hot day. Diplomats in this position would be calling their emergency contact number and having a helicopter buzz in to pick them up, but people in my position don’t have access to that kind of thing. The day was hot, and getting hotter. A trickle of sweat ran down my back in a particularly insidious manner.
Suddenly a taxi approached. It is always easy to tell when a Pakistani taxi is approaching. It makes a sound like two pounds of rusty screws inside a tin bathtub being thrown down a flight of stairs. The rusty bathtub approached and I hailed it with enthusiasm and not a small amount of panic. I explained to the friendly driver what my predicament was, though no explanation was really necessary: clueless foreigner, immobile car – breakdown. It’s not as though I was stopping to enjoy the view, which consisted of a few half-dead shrubs, a rusty dumpster, and a great deal of dust.
“No problem” said the taxi driver. “Push it, it’ll start ok”.
I went to the back of my own car and started pushing, regretting almost immediately my decision to buy a black car. The taxi driver was in the front seat. I pushed, and sweated, and my palms sizzled audibly, and the car started moving. After a few seconds I broke into a slow jog and the engine chugged into life. The car drove away, slowed down, turned round, and came back to me. I never once entertained the notion that the taxi driver would do anything else. Pakistan is rather wonderful in that way.
I thanked him and offered him some money. He refused, of course. I insisted, of course, and of course he refused again. I smiled and stuffed it into his top pocket.
The next day I got the battery changed. Fewer breakdowns, hopefully, but also fewer opportunities to be blessed by an unexpected person.