by Orville Green
My first bicycle was a present for Christmas the year I turned six. I had outgrown the pedal car that had replaced the tricycle of several years earlier.
My father made time after work to hold me upright and run alongside while I learned to balance on two wheels and, in a relatively short time, I was doing well on my own.
I was allowed to ride only on Myers Street, never beyond Price Street in one direction or beyond Thompson Street in the other direction, and I had to be visible from our gate at all times.
Before I could balance well enough to make a u-turn in the narrow street, I had to dismount and turn around on foot whenever I arrived at my prescribed boundary. I soon became tired of that and was determined to practice making complete turns. Late in the afternoon, when the groups of primary school children had gone home, was the ideal time for my self-instruction.
On my first attempt, I mounted the bicycle and rode toward Price Street, then coaxed myself testily to undertake the turnaround. The bicycle traced a wobbly path as I tried to maintain my balance while moving at a snail’s pace. My effort was successful and, elated, I rode toward my gate and started another attempt at turning around in the street.
About midway into the turn, with the front wheel aimed toward the Jones Town Baptist churchyard -- which was almost directly across the street from my home -- I felt a sudden push from behind, and before I could determine what had happened I was headed straight for the churchyard’s barbed wire fence. I reflexively put my hand out in front of me for protection, as the front wheel hit the sidewalk and I was thrown at an angle toward the fence. I landed on the sidewalk with a nasty tear in my right palm, just below the thumb.
My first sensation was searing pain, then embarrassment; but anger quickly took over when I heard the raucous laughter of a girl who, I realized, had deliberately pushed me. As soon as she noticed the blood oozing from my hand, she dashed off in the direction of Thompson Street. Someone helped me up and rushed me inside my house, where the cut, which probably should have been stitched, was ‘dressed’ and bandaged.
Several weeks passed, during which I neither saw nor heard the girl who I was convinced had intended to kill or, at least, maim me. My hand was healed, some bruises on my bony knees were barely visible and my confidence as a cyclist had been restored. I continued to practice making turns on the bicycle until I could do it in tighter and tighter circles. I mastered the manoeuver.
Then, on a peaceful afternoon, I was standing at the gate, ‘looking out,’ when I saw four girls approaching from Price Street. I recognized one of them as my assailant of a few weeks earlier, and as soon as our eyes met, she burst into the same raucous laughter that had haunted me for the past few weeks.
As they approached me, she was gleefully telling her companions of the incident that had brought us together, and I could feel the anger rising in me again. I felt I had to do something to pay her back for my injury -- although she was much bigger than I was -- and to put a stop to her boastful recounting of the indignity I had suffered.
I made the decision in a flash, raced to the backyard, grabbed my bicycle and rushed into the street. The girls were already several houses past mine, but were walking slowly and chatting animatedly. They were still scoffing at my embarrassing encounter with their friend, when one of them looked back and saw me heading toward them at full speed. “’Im a come!” was all she could say in warning and they set off at a gallop, with me hot on their heels.
Their excited screams mixed with laughter as they tried to outpace me on the bicycle. With head down over the handlebars, and rump suspended above the seat like a true racing cyclist, I cranked the pedals for all I was worth.
The fleeing quartet threw frequent, anxious glances over their shoulders to see if I was gaining on them, causing them to bump into one another as they ran. Although I was unsure of my intention, I threw caution to the wind, aimed the bicycle and charged into a tangle of unsteady legs. With screams and curses the girls fell in a single heap, with me and the bicycle on top.
I quickly climbed down from the pile of bodies, pulling the bicycle after me. The girls scrambled to their feet and, crying as they went, ran as fast as they could toward Thompson Street. After straightening the twisted handlebars, I remounted the bicycle and headed for home a few chains away, bursting with a feeling of accomplishment.
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