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Jo'Burg Days: A Lucky Escape

Barbara Durlacher tells of an unnecessary car chase that was not the least bit funny.

'I'm so tired, even my bones were aching,' she thought as she indicated a left turn off the motorway. These ten days at the Grahamstown Arts Festival had been exhilarating and fun but hard work. Lots of partying after the two daily performances and once her excitement at being back in South Africa was over, she realised that she had still not recovered from her flight from the UK. Then, there was the uncomfortable festival accommodation with six girls in one room, two of them sleeping on the floor. The exhaustion was beginning to tell.

Although they all enjoyed the drive from Durban to Grahamstown, and the lovely scenery through the Transkei, the return trip with them all sharing the driving was a great strain. Everyone said how difficult it was to stay awake during the last 150 kms of their spell and several times she found her head drooping as her eyes closed momentarily. Luckily there was no traffic in the dawn hours, but they should have known better than to travel straight through on Thursday night when they were all exhausted.

'Did you enjoy the party this evening, Merle?' she asked, nudging the inert figure in the passenger seat.

'Wha's that? Oh – the party. Ja, it was OK,' came the listless reply, as Merle turned to rest her head against the cool window. 'Aren't we there yet?' she asked irritably, 'I think I'm going to be sick! If we don't get there soon, we'll have to stop, and you know how dangerous that is. Dad always says that's the last thing we must do; it's better to go to the nearest garage. We must never stop on the road. Just step on it, stupid, before I throw up.'

Entering the paved driveway to the luxurious Umhlanga Sands estate, Nickie drew up with a flourish and Merle hurled the door open and ran into the house, not even bothering to kiss Nickie goodbye or wish her 'bon voyage.' 'Silly cow,' Nickie thought, 'she's not really going to be sick, she just likes the attention. Not sorry to see the back of her. Hope we don't meet again next year.'

Swinging the car expertly back onto the highway, she glanced at the milometer and calculated she'd be home in 12 minutes if she kept her foot down and ignored the lights. Light-headed with fatigue, she opened the windows. 'Better get some air, it'll keep me awake,' as she gratefully inhaled the fresh breeze. Then, on her right, the other car swooped in dangerously close, the driver waving and beckoning, as he flicked lights and indicators. Heart in mouth, she pressed the accelerator and the powerful car responded immediately, surging forward and leaving him behind.

'Thank God,' Nickie thought, 'don't know who that is. I was driving so fast I couldn't take my eyes off the road, but he certainly gave me a hellava fright.'

Easing her foot off the pedal, she momentarily lost concentration, but when she looked round the car was behind her again, so close she expected to feel the bump as it rear-ended her. She braced herself for the crash as she whispered, 'God, no! Go away! What'll I do ...? I'm frightened,.I'm driving somebody else's car, in a strange country in a city I hardly know, I'm not sure where I'm going, there's not another car on the road, and I haven't got a phone.'

Ahead she saw the exit for Durban North, and without a moment's hesitation swung the wheel and turned off, screeching round the bend as she struggled to keep the car on the road. She glanced into the mirror, and froze in horror as she saw the headlights right behind. 'He's gaining, where can I go?' she gulped, her heart in her mouth.

Then she realised that she had turned too soon and this was not the exit to Durban North and the highway to Westville. A split second’s decision and she swung the wheel the other way and took the next exit. As the car crested the rise, she saw she was on the highway to Ballito and Charka's Rock, going back the way she had come. Fear flooded her veins, the petrol gauge was low, and it was 30 kms to Ballito. 'Might not make it at the speed I'm driving!' Then, off to her left she saw the lights of an Engen filling station and without a moment's thought, she pulled over and screeched into the forecourt.

She had the door open as she pulled to a stop and, leaving the engine running and the keys in the ignition, she jumped out and was halfway to the office when she heard her name called. Turning she saw the other car behind her.

'Nickie, come here!' the voice called.

'Wha?... Who's that?... GOD, LUKE! What on EARTH do you think you're doing, you bloody fool?' she yelled as she ran up to his car. Wrenching open the door, she slapped his face as hard as she could, pummelled his chest and beat him about the head. Bursting into tears of relief and anger, she raved. 'You absolute IDIOT! Don't you know better than to frighten a girl like that? You saw I was alone. You terrified the life out of me! I could have had a serious accident!!' and she gave him one last punch as she wiped her streaming nose on her skirt.

'Ugh – well yes, I suppose,' mumbled Luke, shaking his head after Nickie's hysterical blows. 'You see, when I recognised Patrick's dad's car and you, I wanted to suggest coffee and a chat before you fly back to England. I thought you knew it was me. I just wanted you to stop! Then I got sort-of interested in the chase, just like in the computer games I play and I just wanted to win... sort-of. I never thought you'd be frightened...'

'It's a wonder I wasn't killed,' Nickie said flatly, as she got back into her car. 'I never want to see you again, EVER... and don't bother to say goodbye. You're a stupid fool! You never think of the consequences! Whatever happens to you in the future will be no more than you deserve!'

The Citizen newspaper Monday 24 July 2006

...'Airline boss gunned down on highway.
....barely a month after Cape Town magazine editor Megan Herselman was shot dead in her rental car just metres from the Rivonia offramp while on the phone asking a friend for directions, yet another prominent person was shot and killed execution-style on the N1 highway between the Rivonia Road offramp and the bridge over Rivonia Road in Johannesburg on Saturday. This latest murder is said to have taken place while he was waiting for a friend to arrive to lead him to his destination.

As a stranger to Johannesburg ... 'Herselman was allegedly shot while trying to find directions on the road, and... according to information from a man claiming to be the deceased's friend in the latest shooting, Saturday's victim had also only been in the country for about two to three months. ...His friend, whom the deceased had been speaking to on the phone asking for directions, says he heard the sound of shots over the phone and rushed to the scene, to find the victim's car pulled over into the emergency lane with the headlights and hazard warning lights on and the engine still running. He found that he had been shot ... twice in the head and neck. He was sitting in the driver's seat with his seat belt on and he was slumped towards the passenger side of the car...'

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