Sunday, September 20, 2009

Bleeding ankles

I have just seen a little girl learning to ride her bike. The scene was at once extremely familiar, and yet as I watched her, I realised how the little girl on her bike seemed totally out of context to the surroundings that she found herself in.

Let me explain further. You see, the scruffy little one must have been about 12 years old. She was decked out in a long, thick, soft pink coat that was a few sizes too big for her and reached past her knees, threatening to get caught in all those parts of the bike that seem hungry to grab a hold of just such a tempting morsel of clothing. She had a pudding bowl haircut, very unlike the styled cuts I see on youngsters these days. Barefoot and standing up on the pedals of her over sized single speed postman bike, she was struggling against the friction of the road and the large tyres, the concentration etched on her face.

Balancing on those pedals and being out of the saddle while trying to get enough momentum to keep the bike upright could not have been easy, but her natural instincts – so seldom called into play for most youngsters – had her leaning slightly forward to keep her centre of gravity. This meant carrying a lot of her weight on her arms which were splayed out wide to grab hold of the over sized handle bars of cold shiny curved steel, her small hands white-knuckled around the plastic grooved grips that were worn smooth over the many years of previous riders steering the bike all about town.

There was a slight wobble to this whole scenario, but not like you normally see with a youngster learning to ride today where they can sommer put their feet down to stop a fall. I should think this little ragamuffin had simply grabbed the only bike available to her, or as in the olden days, she had managed to get her hands on a big’ bike - so much more alluring and exciting than a children’s bicycle. No bright yellow easy-to-ride prissy little bikes for this tough nut. She was gritting it out on this old iron horse, that concentrated expression showing brief glimpses of pure joy before slipping back into the more earnest work of staying upright.

This image was one of days gone by for me and I have not seen this type of riding for a long time. It was a nostalgic surreal few seconds that was initially so calm and natural and then when I came back from my reminiscing, it looked so incredibly out of place. As if I was on a movie set or back in a small Karoo town and not the city bowl of Cape Town.

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