When Mr de Elba and I were in college, we didn't yet own a car. We rarely needed a car, and so this was okay. But once, Mr de Elba's Nana was in a hospital in the middle of Brisbane City and didn't need her car so she lent it to Mr de Elba for a few weeks because he had some events he needed to get to during that time.
The car was a little white Hyundai Excel: perfect for running around town. Mr de Elba found it tremendously useful for getting to and from his events and in the meantime it sat quite happily in the carpark out the front of his residential college.
One day, I walked over to his college to visit and we whiled away some hours reading, wasting time on his computer and talking about this and that. Possibly this. We had fallen into a state of inertia and were sprawled out on the bed and floor, wondering how long it was until dinner (not unlike the minions in my care in the present day.)
We gradually became aware of a very annoying noise. It had been going on for some time but we hadn't noticed exactly when it began. It was the sound of a car horn being continually deployed in one very long beeeeep. "I wish someone would stop that," said Mr de Elba.
"It's driving me mad," I replied.
Some time passed, and then he said, "It sounds like it's coming from the carpark. I'm going to have a look." We both went out onto the balcony to look over at the carpark which contained a few groups of disgruntled college men standing around presumably to see what could be done about the car emitting the noise. We remembered our current good fortune in being lent the Excel by Nana, and swelled with pride. We scanned the carpark to check it was still there, and it was. Good.
It was around about this point in proceedings that we realised that the continuous car horn sounded not unlike the horn on the Excel. And it then took us a few seconds longer than it took you, dear reader, to grasp the inevitable truth that they were, indeed, one and the same.
We raced downstairs and into the carpark.
"We dunno whose it is," one bloke said with a shrug. "Probably gone out," another assumed.
"Um, actually..." Mr de Elba started.
"What? Is it yours?" somebody asked.
"Well it's my Nana's..." he replied weakly. And we all trooped over to the offending Excel to see what could be done. We gazed in through the window.
These were the days of those old steering wheel locks.
Nana's lock had conveniently adjusted its position during the day, and had fallen down onto the steering wheel. It fell to where it could easily depress the centre panel, which of course was the car horn. Problem solved.
Mr de Elba said, "Right, the car's locked so I'll grab the keys." It was about then that those of us still gazing in through the window saw the keys hanging in the ignition. Problem not solved, in fact.
Which do you think would take longer - for the RACQ to answer a callout to a residential college at 4pm on a lazy Sunday, or for a kind friend to drive Mr de Elba from St Lucia into the inner city of Brisbane to the hospital where Nana was to retrieve the spare keys? Mr de Elba made the quick decision to do a mercy dash into the city, find Nana's hospital room, gratefully accept the keys, remain to engage in polite conversation for a decent period of time, all the while being mindful that the horn was still blaring in a carpark 30 minutes away, and dash back.
He unlocked the door, removed the steering wheel lock and horn fell silent.
My whole body felt a physical WHUMP of relief as the noise ceased and the men went back to their rooms. In the past hour, I'd built up a fair amount of stress because of the ongoing giant-mosquito-like noise ate away at my brain. More stress had been piled on to me from being the centre of embarrassing attention, but perhaps the most stress had seeped through my bones as I witnessed what the college men were doing to Nana's Excel while Mr de Elba was away.
They had whiled away the hour by trying to halt the faltering, stuttering horn which was ever-decreasing in pitch as the battery drained away.
Men being men (and Excels being small and light,) they had busied themselves by getting three or four of them on each side of the car and rocking it violently on its suspension, trying to dislodge the steering lock.
I'm sure Nana never did that to her Excel, for any reason.
And so I judiciously chose never to tell her.