It’s a bright sunny day in Nairobi, and we’re having a horse riding lesson. Considering that standard riding school mounts in Kenya are all ex-racehorses with issues, it wasn’t going too badly. We were still on board, still in the arena, and still had all our own teeth.
This was about to change with the command to ‘canter without stirrups’. Up came the stirrups, in went the heels, and off went the horses.
It turns out, the ability to stay on a fast-moving horse requires a certain amount of stability and a properly attached saddle. And while Suzanne may have been perfectly stable when her saddle was on top of the horse, maintaining a seat as it slips gently round the horse’s stomach requires acrobatics worthy of the Chinese State Circus. Suzanne has many excellent qualities, but a talent for gymnastics ain’t one of them.
A broken knee, a hip to ankle cast, a lot of foul language and a pulmonary embolism later, the riding idea was knocked on the head, in favor of how to drive the children to school. Enter Francis, the endlessly cheerful man who worked in the garden, brandishing his Kenyan driving license, and offering his services.
With hindsight, I should have been able to see what was coming after my own experiences with Patrick, our former gardener, whose lessons ended abruptly when his attempts to turn the car in a spacious driveway resulted in the partial demolition of the staff quarters and half the driveway hedging. Still, Francis seemed confident, and had you not actually witnessed the cyclist and bicycle disappearing down into the storm drain, you would never have known what the bang was. Certainly Francis gave no sign that anything was awry, simply careened on down the road, oblivious to Suzanne’s horrified expression, to the dent in the wing mirror and to the designated side of the road..
I only entered the story an hour later, during which time the cyclist had been plucked, unharmed, from the bushes, his bicycle had been retrieved and assessed for damage, the police had been called, (and failed to appear) and a helpful crowd has assembled to watch. Eventually, everyone agreed that it was best (and safer) for Suzanne, complete with hip to ankle cast, to drive herself, Francis, her son George and the cyclist to the hospital, where he can be fully examined and pronounced fit.
Suzanne at this point realized that their total cash available is George’s dinner money, and, despite the best efforts (and small loan) from the kindly Kenyan hospital cashier, is forced to call me. The content of the text shall remain confidential, but suffice to say the word ‘ducking’ appeared frequently. Those of you familiar with predictive text will understand instantly. I belatedly appear at the hospital with cash stuffed down my boot, to a sea of curious faces, a frantic blonde hobbling around on one crutch, a boy in full school uniform complete with tie and blazer, Francis (still beaming away), and a slightly disheveled Kenyan with a tear in his trousers, Xrays in one hand, and a bicycle with a wonky wheel in the other.
The story should have ended here, had not the cyclist decided that despite being given the all clear by the doctors, he may suffer unspecified future harm from his grazed knee. Suzanne was advised to get independent verification of his health, the medical treatment, and the generous recompense given for the bicycle damage by filing a report at the local police station. It was a simple matter, the legal obligations had been fully met, and we could all be home (or in George’s case, in school) by 9.30am.
It may come as a shock to many of you to discover that not all the Kenyan police force are impartial. When your Swahili is limited to buying groceries and day-to-day living, you may miss the finer points of a conversation involving taking the nice ladies to the cleaners, but by 11am, things were becoming clearer. By now, Francis, despite having claimed responsibility, was no longer a person of interest, and focus was shifting to Suzanne as the perpetrator of the heinous crime.
By 1.30pm, her repeated (furious) protestations, her plaster cast and her crutch were weakening the case against her, so I was the next available suspect, despite having only appeared on the scene an hour after it happened, and only then to hand over sweaty and rumpled cash. This appeared to be irrelevant to the case against me, and so we remained.
By 4pm, we all had completely numb backsides from sitting on hard wooden chairs, were hungry, tired, and irritable and were regretting ever handing over the money for the bicycle and medical bills, because now we didn’t have any left to bribe our way out even if we’d wanted to.
Ironically, after 7 hours of detention, and irrefutable evidence of innocence, we were saved by the bell. The school bell.
The prospect of more children arriving, the increasing interest of the rest of the police station, and the need to make an official record of the incident saved the day. It seems the hatred of paperwork transcends language and culture, and as we obviously didn’t have any cash handy, we were just not worth the effort. We were politely told that there was no case to be answered and were ushered off, while the cyclist was given a stern lecture, presumably about the evils of bringing in such pathetic and penniless prospects. And so we trooped off home, to the comfort of a chair with cushions and a large gin & tonic.
So it’s true. The insurance companies were right all along. Horse riding is expensive, does make you sweaty and uncomfortable, and does cause injuries. Long, long after dismount.