It is cold.
I have just decided to carry on, trying to ignore the tightness in my chest, and the retching tickle at the back of my throat that says one thing: “Cough!”
My ears are already tingling.
“We are the Hellequin,” I pick up the dialogue from a new audiobook. It had faded as I climbed the first hill on my cycle route, which gets steeper toward the top in reality and imagination; and I began to question whether I can make it. I have been trying to count the number of times I had climbed this hill, and I picture the road at the top to prove that I had indeed been up here on two wheels before.
My nose is already running.
Today, the hill is steeper in imagination, and my breath is shorter than normal. It’s the first day in a week I have been well enough to do any exercise, thanks to a seasonal cold.
A loud noise: a car’s horn
A light colour flies past my right hand—the bonnet of a car within a foot of my front wheel.
A laughing face and a waving fist.
I hear the horn again, and realise it’s a Ford Ka: full of lads’ faces and Adidas jackets. Then I’m in paroxysms as I kind of start to work out that it’s bloody amazing I haven’t fallen off. I stop pedalling, ditch the bike and cough until I retch for a bit.
I can’t decide whether I’d shouted the word straight aloud, or if it was just the only thought in my head. I’m pretty sure I cried: “Shit!”
So, here I am: snot and shakes at the side of the road, and I’m wondering if I should walk my bike back, or just leave the bastard there.
The bike’s fine.
I’m not coughing, but I’m angry. I’m furious. Now I do shout, unquestioningly, a word I can’t type.
Do you have any idea what you just did, you Ka-ful of little shits?
Have you got any thought in the direction of just how dangerous this was, or what it means to me as I am right now?
Sure, I’ve got a cold, and I’m coughing like a man drowning in porridge. Sure, I’m on the side of the road dripping snot and cold sweat, and I’m angry that the only word I could discern from your barrage was: fat.
They couldn’t know. They couldn’t guess, and I doubt they thought much before pulling that incomprehensibly dangerous stunt.
They couldn’t have known that cycling is desperately important to me, mainly because of that spat-out word: fat. They couldn’t know the feeling I get from sputtering to the top of that first of several hills, how freeing it is for me. They couldn’t have a bastard clue that I can only cycle thanks to the 4 discs destroyed in my spine. I cannot walk like I want to, I cannot play sport, I cannot jog or easily lift weights.
They couldn’t know I’m terrified of cycling.
They couldn’t know that last year, cycling took 2 days out of my memory forever. They can’t know that I’m scared whenever I get on the bloody bike. Yet, I love the feeling of doing something physical, and get to feel somewhat normal—even powerful as I pedal my gigantic carcass up steep, Dale hills.
Cycling took six weeks out of the most important and inspiring work I’ve been able to do, and kept me from supporting my colleagues at a time when every hour counted; and I regret that now that our startup has fallen-over and my friends are no longer colleagues. Cycling gave me a stammer, when my job is to communicate, and I can’t help but love getting back up on 2 wheels when the only way to balance is to go faster.
That stupid moment will be forgotten already. A quick laugh, maybe a hint of regret in one of their memories. Maybe not.
No, they can’t know my context, and I can’t stay as angry as I am.
They didn’t know, and that somehow helps.
You can’t know someone’s back story when you do something to them, and they couldn’t possibly know that balancing on two wheels is one of the most important things in my life right now.
No, I have to finish the route.
So I do, and I feel free again.
If anything, I feel freer of phlegm.