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The Broken Promise

Page 2

Annie Ryall

Approaching Kandahar at sunset, our driver stopped the truck near a meagre stream and gestured that they needed to pray.  After their salat al asr and in the interests of domestic harmony, they used sand and water to wash out the Suzuki grease which had sullied their pristine white robes. We gleaned from their gestures that their wives would not be happy if they came home with grubby clothes…

They dropped us and the bike off at the local bike shop, not much more than a shack with a hard mud floor. Out the front was a motley collection of old motor bikes – Indians, several old army motorbikes, a Royal Enfield – all in dubious states of repair, but highly valued and a status symbol for the bike shop people. So when our 1975 Suzuki water-cooled (the first of its kind) came on the scene, it was like the iPhone 11 landing in a pre-digital world. Something to be admired, and desired.

The mechanic, who wore a kurta and traditional Pamiri hat and looked about 14, conferred with his colleagues, who all squatted on the ground around the injured beast. The head mechanic then spoke through the Mullah (who was called to be our translator), and declared proudly that yes, they could fix the bike. He then held up two fingers.

Two days?  That would be great. 

The Mullah shook his head.  No. He means two weeks.

We were mortified, but really, what choice did we have?  

I headed for the grocery shop near our run-down accommodation and was thrilled to find Kraft cheddar cheese and Sao biscuits. This became my staple meal for the time I was there. At least it made a change from gristly goat’s meat in a tepid bain-marie. Georges had a cast-iron stomach, he could eat anything, as long as it was disinfected with red wine.  Water was a poor excuse for liquid to him. 

Time limped along, every couple of days we would call in to the bike shop to check on progress of our Suzuki Water Bottle. Necessity was truly the mother of invention for these guys. There were no parts available to fix the engine, so they fashioned them out of old jam tins and random washers. The soldering iron was used to great effect. Several barefoot boys in kurtas ran around, helping with the repairs and serving the ubiquitous green tea to customers.

The bike was much discussed and admired in the town. One of its admirers was a young man called Farzaad, known to our hotel owner. He was a man of relative means in Kandahar and had his eye on the Suzuki, how it could give him status in the community. 

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