We were on our way to Lusaka after having a very pleasant holiday in the tourist capital of a neighboring country. It was the Easter weekend. Our party consisted of two families, travelling in two motor cars. The friend and family who were accompanying us were stationed at a rural area in Zambia near the border. Our aim was to reach that place before nightfall so as to have a good night's rest and proceed to Lusaka early next morning.
The tar-macadam road leading from the capital to the border was well-maintained and the traffic was not heavy. We came across an occasional truck or car moving towards or away from the capital. We overtook one or two slow moving vehicles hauling boats on trailers, probably heading to the well-known holiday resort at the lake-side.
By 8.45 AM, we passed through a fairly large town on our way. The town was in the process of waking up and a number of shops still remained un-open. We were feeling quite hungry as our early morning breakfast was very light. We thought we would find a lay-by somewhere in the outskirts of the town where we could stop for a few minutes and fortify ourselves with some coffee and snacks that we were having with us.
I was driving a Datsun 1600, with my wife and the two children along with me. My friend and family travelled in the beige Volkswagen that followed us. Even though there was some distance between the two cars, being the driver of the car in front, I made sure that the Volkswagen was always visible in my rear view mirror.
A few kilometres away from the town, I noticed in my mirror another car far behind. It was a red Volkswagen. It was coming at a steady pace and kept its distance. Sometimes it went out of my field of vision in the mirror.
The road rose into an incline and I thought my engine was dragging a bit. I stepped on the gas pedal and the ninety-seven b.h.p engine responded quickly. The car surged forward. By the time we reached the top of the incline, we lost sight of both the cars behind. There was some level ground to the left, sufficient to park two or three cars, and we decided to pull up and wait for the other car. We moved to the side of the road and I switched off the engine.
We might have waited for five minutes at the most when we heard the familiar sound of the Volkswagen’s air-cooled engine and looked back expectantly. It was the red Volkswagen with its lone European occupant that passed us at a brisk pace. We looked for the other car but there was no sign of it.
All on a sudden I had a strong feeling that something had gone wrong with the other car and its occupants. I started my car and took a U-turn. We had to go back and find out the cause of their delay.
From the top of the incline we had an uninterrupted view of at least a kilometre of the road. Far away, we saw a crowd on the road and no sign of the car. "Oh God, what could have happened?" We rushed to the spot.
I stopped my car just a metre away from the crowd and jumped out. At a glance I saw the disheveled forms of my friend and his wife and children standing on one side of the road, a little distance away from the crowd and their car in a shallow ditch below the road, but on all four wheels. It had a funny, lop-sided appearance. A number of people stood in the middle of the road, forming a circle.
The realization that my friend and family were unhurt, not seriously anyway, sent a wave of relief through my mind, but it lasted only until I pushed through the crowd and had a look inside the circle of people.
A man lay crumpled on the ground littered with broken glass, near the twisted remains of a bicycle. There was blood all over his body. His right eye was popped out and his left eye looked at me in a fixed stare. Even when I asked the onlookers to put the man in my car and at the same time my wife and children got out hurriedly to make room for him, I knew he was either dead or dying. However I had to take him to the nearest hospital.
At first the people around were not too eager to comply with my request but when I implored to them, two or three people obliged. I told someone to get into the front passenger seat and direct me to the hospital. A young man got in reluctantly. We had come a little over seven kilometres from the town. The district hospital was situated near the centre of the town. I drove back along the same way we had come just a while ago until the large sprawling structure of the district hospital was seen. We passed through the gates and travelled a few metres before I could see the red bold sign of the Casualty. I took the vehicle as close to the entrance as possible, jumped out and ran in to some kind of a waiting room where there was no one. I passed through another door and entered a hall where a number of people were seated and a man wearing a doctor's white overcoat was examining someone through a stethoscope.
"Doctor, there is a dying man in my car. Can you please come out and take a look at him?" I almost screamed.
The man in the doctor's coat came out to the car without any hesitation. He briefly examined the injured man and said, "But he is already dead. There is nothing I can do for him."
I was totally disconcerted. "Oh God, what do I do now?"
"You drive along this road and take the first turn to the left. You will see the mortuary at the far end. Leave the body there and report to the Police", he said.
I got back behind the wheel as if in a trance and drove in the direction indicated by the man.
(To be continued)