This means I carry only banknotes, credit card and driver’s licence. During the regular movement of cash from pocket to bartender, it’s easy for a piece of plastic to go astray. This time it was my licence. I don’t understand why we need a licence to drive but not one to have children.
I don’t know who has my licence. All I know is that it’s not me. And hasn’t been for weeks. I don’t know what the consequences are of driving without a licence. They certainly can’t be as severe as, say, breeding without a brain. And there’s a hell of a lot of that going around these days.
I’m a little upset that I still haven’t been through a single roadblock. Threats of immediate imprisonment forced me to spend the entire festive season drinking within a three-metre radius nowhere near a public road, church or school. It was great.
Normally, I wouldn’t bother about replacing my licence because I drive perfectly well without it. Also, in many ways, going to prison is a more attractive option than visiting the vehicle licensing department. Or any government office, really. The queuing, the weeping, the suicide attempts. It’s all too dreadful for words.
I do, however, need my driver’s licence for ID purposes, even though I’m against a world where people have the right to ask you to identify yourself before giving you whatever it is you want. It should be enough that you have a functioning, human face and can speak at least one language.
Hiding out on the Cape peninsula, far from the febrile incubator that is Durban in summer, I went to the licensing office in Fish Hoek. The glittering jewel of the deep south holds a special place in my heart because it’s where my second marriage exploded like an over-inflated puffer fish.
There were only four people in front of me in the queue, but that didn’t stop me from sighing and muttering and rolling my eyes. I lost my place in the queue when I had to retrieve them from the other side of the room.
I’ve had a driving licence since I was 18 and hoped the system would show that I had over the years complied with the multitude of requirements - eye tests, fingerprints, photographs, polygraph, DNA samples, ability to simultaneously pat my head and rub my tummy while repeating Red Lorry, Yellow Lorry and so on - enabling me to simply pay a modest fee and get a duplicate on the spot.
Hope, however, is an alien concept among those who inhabit the dark world of motor vehicle licensing.
“Third door on the left,” said the man at enquiries. There were only two doors. The mythical third door is actually a corridor that leads to, I don’t know, a portal to another world, perhaps. A world where nobody needs permission for anything and mermaids frolic in fountains of cold beer while happy chocolate cows graze in lush fields of fresh marijuana. I felt myself salivating and started off down the corridor.
“You can’t go there,” said a woman with the eyes of a snoek on a hook.
“Why not?” I said. “Because of the drunk mermaids and edible cows?”
The man at enquiries says “Third door on the left” around 150 times a day. That’s 36000 times a year. It would be an atrocity - a human rights violation - to tell him there is, in fact, no third door. Blocked from entering the corridor of eternal pleasure, I returned to the counter.
“There is no third door to the left,” I said. He didn’t look at me so much as through me. It was as if I never existed. “Next,” he said. I backed off and made my way to the second door on the left.
“Is this for the eye tests?” I asked a woman at the end of a longer queue. She pointed at a sign above my head. “Eye Test” it said. I laughed and said I hadn’t noticed it because it wasn’t in braille. She did something with her mouth. I couldn’t be sure if it was a smile or a snarl. A smarl, maybe.
My turn in the chair coincided with a shift change. This wasn’t good. The tired dude who didn’t give a damn was being replaced by a fresh dude who didn’t give a damn.
There’s not much you can do to get your eyes ready for a test. I opened them wide, blinked rapidly a few times, then rubbed them vigorously, turning the entire room into a blur.
The tester, whose eyes were redder than mine, asked me to confirm something on one of the forms I’d filled out. I couldn’t see what I’d written. Bad start. I also couldn’t find my reading glasses because I was wearing a pair of camo shorts with a multitude of pockets designed to accommodate ammunition, condoms, grenades, flick knives, compasses and all manner of illicit substances.
By the time I found my glasses, he had lost interest and was waiting for me to wedge my face into the machine.
The test was basic. When the letter M appears in the viewfinder, push the toggle in the direction it’s facing. It quickly became apparent that I was going to have to wing it.
After a while, it didn’t even look like the letter M. It could just as easily have been a little man in a rowing boat fishing on a lake. I joggled my toggle valiantly, at one point laughing openly at the futility of it all.
“You failed,” he said. It seemed possible.
“My left eye’s pretty good,” I said. He shook his head. I went on to explain that I’ve never had any trouble seeing cars, people or animals in the road, hence my still being alive. But if I ever did encounter a teeny tiny M loitering in the breakdown lane, I’d just ignore it. I wouldn’t shout, “Oh my God, a teeny tiny M!” and wrench the wheel, rolling the car and killing everyone around me. He gave me a smarl.
Luckily, I had an ace up my sleeve. En route, I’d stopped at the mall and gone to an optician for an eye test. I passed with flying colours. Well, flying enough.
That test involved reading half a dozen letters on the back of her door (a test that has been in use since 500BC) and another test involving peripheral vision. That was my best result. One doesn’t survive two marriages without possessing excellent peripheral vision.
Somehow, an optician’s eye test outranks a government eye test. An admission that certain things are best left in the hands of the private sector doesn’t come along that often. If only it applied to more things. Like ministries.
So I now have a temporary driver’s licence valid for six months. Presumably I will at some point get a message that my permanent licence is ready for collection. I will pick it up and go off to celebrate at The Vic, where the card will once more fall from my pocket and eventually be picked up by some cheerful punter and used to chop a line in the bogs.