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Playing chicken at the petrol pump



According to my on-board computer, I have 38km left in the tank and I’m not in a good way. It’s Monday afternoon, and I’m playing “chicken” with the petrol price. Consider it a form of rebellion, a protest, or maybe it’s the embarrassment of filling up just before the decrease of the fuel price on Wednesday, but either way, I intend seeing this one through.

If my anxiety will allow it.

There are two types of people in the world. Those who take their petrol gauge seriously and those who don’t. There are those who consider the petrol warning light to be a subtle hint at the fact that maybe – sometime soon – there will be the need to contemplate refuelling. And then there are those like me who consider it a failure. How could I have allowed things to deteriorate to the point that my vehicle had little choice but to shine a light of shame at me? And for the world to see! A light that indicates so much more than the warning of impending cessation of mobility.

My wife, on the other hand, is happy to stare death in the face. She’s quite prepared to drive until even the light lacks the energy to glimmer and until, like the vehicle itself, it gives up all hope of salvation. There have been times when I have attempted to drive her car when it has been so low on fuel, that even the light won’t go on.

I didn’t realise quite how steadfast she was in her approach to her fuel tank until some years ago when she admitted that she had, for some inexplicable reason, run out of fuel while driving. At the time, she had wisely chosen not to call her then new husband but rather to phone her father to act as saviour. And the two of them conspired never to tell me of the incident.

This was a wise decision, considering how I had apparently reacted when I attempted to drive her petrol-less vehicle. “If there’s one thing that doesn’t have a sense of humour,” I would plead, “it’s the petrol light.” Ninety five unleaded isn’t a laugh a minute. It’s one of the few things that doesn’t mess around – like a blood pressure sleeve. But even that can be fooled by circumstances. A petrol gauge simply doesn’t have the capacity for jest.

Which is apt, considering that the petrol price is no laughing matter.

The dramatic swing of the fuel price isn’t a uniquely South African problem. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has created a global crisis that hasn’t been experienced for some time. Coupled with the steady march of inflation and fears of recession in the United States, South Africans are innocent bystanders in an event that isn’t within their control. And whereas the government fuel levy is something that should be revisited for the sake of the country, the price of fuel still isn’t as onerous as it is in other parts of the world.

That said, this still isn’t an excuse to get stuck before Wednesday, when I intend replenishing my gasping tank. And if I do run out before that? It’ll be my father-in-law I call. Because I know he can be trusted to not tell.

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