I can write this now because I’m reasonably sure that the old lady I’m going to tell you about is dead. At the time, about twenty years ago, she was very old, perhaps in her eighties, and so even if one allowed for extreme longevity, she’s probably gone.
I had just bought a BMW, a second-hand car, but the first car I wasn’t ashamed of. The previous cars had been a succession of nightmares. The first was a Beetle that wouldn’t start, and once it got going, refused to stop. After that came a limp sausage of a Citroën, and then two disastrous Nissans, one a liver-like maroon, and the other a pukish green, both bought on a whim and without the patience to wait for a sane colour. The BMW was white and sedate and perfect. It came as close to a car I’d like as a car can ever come, given how little I cared about cars in general. It wasn’t so much that it was great as it was that it wasn’t complete shit.
The Sunday after I got this BMW, Mia and I drove it a mile down the road to the Pick n Pay in the Adelphi Centre in Sea Point. We parked in the underground lot of the centre and went shopping. When we came out, bags in hand, an old lady was struggling to reverse her blue Honda out of its bay. As she meshed the gears and stalled the car, I saw that she had crashed into my new second-hand BMW. Its rear number plate was bent and there was a smear of blue paint across the fender.
“Hey!” I called out as I rushed closer. “What are you doing?”
She lowered her window. “Excuse me?”
“You’ve scratched my car,” I yelled. “Look!”
“I didn’t,” she mewled. “I promise.”
Mia and I were on our haunches, examining the damage.
“See,” Mia called out. “It’s blue, like your car.”
“I promise,” the old lady whimpered. “I haven’t bumped into anything.”
“But look at it,” I cried. “Here, and here!”
The blue paint on my car was a little lighter than that of her Honda, but it was probably to be expected.
“But I didn’t,” the old lady said, seemingly near tears.
“What do we do now?” Mia muttered without moving her lips.
I stood up. “How can you do this?” I asked the old lady.
“But I didn’t,” she said again. “Really—”
She made to open her door, but I stopped her. “Never mind,” I said and waved her on. “Just go.”
“I promise I didn’t—” she said, a trace of uncertainty now in her voice.
“Just go,” I said again.
“Can you believe this?” I asked Mia when she’d driven off. “It just takes one old—”
“What’s your number plate?” Mia asked.
The BMW was identical to mine, but it wasn’t mine. Mine was parked one lane back from where we were.
Mia and I looked at one another. “Go!” she cried. “Just go! You can still catch her!”
I ran out of the parking lot along the same exit lane the old lady had taken, but as I got to Rhine Road, her blue Honda turned the corner into Main Road and was gone.