Across the street from Freetown’s iconic State House once sat the prestigious Paramount Hotel. In 1961, Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh attended a state banquet there. Guests of integrity, means, and power walked its corridors. Back in the 70s, my friend Modupe and I, sixth-form friends at the also prestigious Albert Academy secondary school, were nowhere near being such honored guests. We sat in his father’s new 1971 VW Beetle parked under the cool shade of a mango tree in the hotel’s parking lot, watching people go off to work or school. But we were not there to people-gaze. We were there to take his father’s vehicle out of the parking lot because, as teenage boys, driving our parents’ cars consumed us. Also, Modupe’s father, a disciplinarian, refused to teach him how to drive. As his loyal friend, I was stepping into the role of driving instructor. Vroom, Vroom!
I glanced at Modupe in the driver’s seat, but I clould see he was having second thoughts about the plan we had hashed out: to “borrow” his father’s Beetle after he had taken the Paramount Hotel shuttle to Lungi Airport see his daughter fly off to the U.S.
“Are you sure you are a good driver,” my nervous pupil asked.
I pulled out my newly acquired license: stapled pieces of paper that opened like a concertina. “We have run out of license booklets,” the Road Transport Authority clerk had explained. Modupe was not impressed with my credentials. Still, he started the car and asked me about the driving process.
I told him the accelerator-clutch maneuver was the most challenging part of driving a manual-shift car. Then I started my instructions. He followed them, depressing the clutch, placing the gear stick in reverse, and slowly releasing his foot from the clutch. The car eased backward: A driver is born!
“Good job,” I said and smiled.
He beamed back. Our eyes were still locked when his triumphant beam morphed into terror.
“Aw fᴐr stᴐp?” he shouted, his eyes bulging.
“Mas di brek!”
He stamped on the accelerator. The car shot backward, smashed through a large potted palm plant flanking one side of the hotel entrance, and did not stop until its rear end had climbed the wall that fenced off the grand hotel, the very same Britain’s The Telegraph described as one of Queen Elizabeth’s favorite.
We sat in the car in stunned silence, staring at the ground from our elevated position, the car angled a few degrees from vertical, its back wheels up against the wall. We opened the doors and climbed out as the dust from the flowerpot settled, and people, attracted by the loud bang, streamed out of the hotel and gathered around.
“Wetin apin?” voices asked.
“I was waiting for my father, then Ade,” Modupe pointed at me.
“Udat bin de drayv,” angrier voices demanded.
“Ade said he would teach me to drive …”
Mortified, I slinked away from the hardening crowd, but Modupe pointed at me
“Ade said it was easy…”
Fortunately, the hotel manager, a kindly woman, saw that our car had more damage than the wall. She scolded and told us to go away.
I climbed into the driver’s seat and drove the car back to its spot in the parking lot.
An hour later, a troubled but calmer Modupe decided on the story he was going to tell his father: A rogue taxi had run into the back of the VW, but it took off before we could get its license plate number. He begged me to wait with him until his father returned with the hotel shuttle. Feeling partly responsible for what had happened, I agreed.
Not too long after, the stern-faced father stepped off the bus, snarling, for him a sign that the sendoff had been successful. Modupe’s face crumbled into distress.
“What happened?” the father shouted.
I grabbed my head with both hands as Modupe launched into his narrative. “Ade, Ade, Ade,” I headlined Modupe’s story.
When Modupe stopped talking, the father first glared at me. I felt like a rotten piece of meat. Then, marksman-like, he trained his eyes on Modupe.
“I didn’t leave my car with Ade. I left it with you,” he fired and marched away.
Neither Modupe nor I spoke. And our friendship never recovered from that experience, but not, as you would think, because I felt he betrayed me.
No. Instead, I learned that the best laid plans can quickly fall apart under the pressure of reality. Our mistake was that we did not anticipate adversity and when it appeared, we did not have the ability to adjust to it. Perhaps that was the mistake of the Hotel’s owners too.
Adesanya Hyde studied economics at Fourah Bay College, The University of Sierra Leone. He lives in the USA. He retired from the IT profession in 2017 and has been exploring photography and writing.