I noticed the cop behind me when I glanced in my rear-view mirror. Sure I was speeding, but only a little. It’d be fine. Someone else’s car drove out of a street on the right too slowly, and I braked in a smooth and safe manner. Everything was going well.
The slow driver pulled up at a set of traffic lights, and I pulled up on their right, not wanting to continue driving behind them. I noticed the cop pulling up on my right (the turning lane) and felt the quiet relief that all upstanding citizens feel when the fuzz leaves the immediate vicinity.
Someone beeped. I looked at the car to my left, wondering if they were so stupid they thought I’d done something wrong. No; it wasn’t them. I glanced right. Surely the police weren’t beeping me? That was just silly.
OR WAS IT!?!?!?!
He beeped again, and motioned for me to wind down my window.
“Your registration sticker is out of date,” he said – in the usual copper monotone, just a shade deeper than the average male voice.
I looked at the lime-green sticker and then back at him, remembering a vague feeling of guilt back when the registration was due – such a long time ago. But I’d paid it – of course I had. “We’re definitely registered,” I told him.
“Pull up somewhere ahead so we can talk,” he said.
I nodded, and watched for the green light.
He followed after me with lights flashing until I pulled over onto the side of the road, wondering if pulling over onto the shoulder was illegal. Was it illegal sometimes, but not for an emergency? Was this an emergency? Should I keep driving until I found a better place to pull over – or would he think I was trying to make a hasty getaway?
I turned off the car and made as if to get out – the shoulder was narrow, and if he wanted to talk to me he’d have to stand in the road.
“Get back in the car,” he said.
I got back in the car, and turned the key so I could open the window (which is electric). The car alarm immediately went off, screaming at that piercing frequency so beloved by insomniacs everywhere. I fumbled for the alarm button, pressed it – nothing. That’s right: I had to turn the car off first.
I turned the car off. I turned the car alarm off with the button. I pressed the button again to de-arm the car. I turned the electrics on. I wound down the window. I switched off the car again.
“Your registration sticker has expired,” said the cop, ignoring my display of incompetence. “Is this your vehicle?”
“Yes,” I said. “But we paid. We always pay.”
He went and checked a database. I checked my scrawled notes at the back of my diary. “Car rego” was in my list of large expenses for the month of May – specifically, May 18th. I’d ticked it off, indicating that it had been paid. Thank the cosmic bunny I write everything down. That tick reminded me – the vague guilty feeling was because I’d paid it only one day before it was due – not allowing enough time for the new sticker to arrive before the due date. But the sticker should have simply arrived automatically in the mail. That’s what rego stickers do when you pay rego.
Apparently not this time. And it was more than just the sticker.
The cop returned.
“We paid,” I told him serenely, “on May 18th. Or a day or two before that.”
“According to the database, you are unregistered from that date.”
“Okay, so we have to prove we paid it. That shouldn’t be hard.”
“I’m very sorry about this, ma’am.”
“That’s all right,” I said, with the assurance of my tick-mark dancing before my eyes. “It’s not your mistake.” Or mine.
“Unfortunately I need to issue you with a traffic infringement until you’re able to prove that you paid. It will be for $1100.”
“You’ll need to send it in,” he said. “With that proof of your May payment.”
May, I thought. I was pregnant then.
How sick was I in May? All I remember is lying in bed trying not to vomit.
I did pay that bill. . . didn’t I?
“We won’t need to actually pay the fine, will we,” I asked him, “if we can prove we paid in May?”
“Unfortunately,” he said again, “because of our records, I can’t let you drive away until the car is registered.”
“All right,” I said cautiously. It was a sunny day, and I wasn’t going to work. I’d already taken a moment to SMS Mum and tell her I was stopped by the cops and thus running late. She was running late too, and asked if I was all right. I hadn’t had a chance to reply.
The cop gave me a number to call and pay three months’ rego over the phone. Since I don’t have a credit card, this meant calling CJ. CJ was mildly concerned that $780 was unaccounted for and that his pregnant and ill wife was in the custody of the police beside a road somewhere, but he paid the bill and relayed back the receipt number.
At that point, I was free to go.
At Mum’s place, I checked back in the day-to-day section of my diary (in which I write EVERYTHING because I know exactly how my mind works – or doesn’t) and discovered that I had “Car rego TOMORROW” crossed out on May 17 – a second indication that I had paid the bill. My system means that if something has a single line through it, it means I have dealt with it. It’s a good system.
When I went home, I found the bill itself in my filing cabinet, marked “Paid 16/5/11” in purple pen. I had literally kept my notes in triplicate. It was very easy from there to find the receipt number.
Baby Brain: 1
The fuzz: 0