Rider

“How hard could it be?”

After all, I’d ridden a bike before. It’s been a while, of course, but I wasn’t a novice at the balancing act. Regardless, the last time I’d got on a bike was at my workplace. It was a Saturday morning, and having spent Friday night working a bit and then binge watching movies before I’d passed out from fatigue, I woke up at my desk and decided to ride around the office campus on one of the free office bikes. And so I went round and round our circular building. It was called the tower building for its shape. I wound my way like moon around the earth, making sure I stayed at a respectable distance, just enough to avoid an ugly crash.

That was about three years ago. That was my second time on a bike. The first was about 15 years ago. Desperate to learn, I borrowed my neighbour’s bike, which she never rode. It sat there, grappling in dust, gathering rust, its potential draining away, pointless. Since I didn’t know better, and it was a loaned bike, I couldn’t leave our building. I went up and down the front yard, which at less than hundred metres, still seemed rather lengthy at that frivolous age of 10.

And so when I moved to Canberra and realised everyone rode, to work, to parks, to the pubs, to climate protests, I craved to get myself a bike. Except, it was such a difficult decision. facing me was a gigantic world of wheels and tyres and handlebars in sizes, colours, and models I’d never heard of before.

I used to think gears were appropriate on motorcycles. Turns out, when you’re riding uphill—which is quite a bit in the Canberra region—you’d go nowhere without gears. I found out the value of gears the hard way Riding on a friend’s bike today for the first time since doing those office rounds, I stopped midway on a bridge and gravity snarled as it dragged me backwards. I had to get off and push.

Going down a slope, I wobbled before crashing right into a bush, scratching my knees, bruising the bike, and tearing my jeans. I fell again, scraping the same knee a little later. Never mind, I thought as I cruised down the serene bike path, as the lake expanded on my right. You can’t expect to be unscathed when you’re learning almost from scratch.

When I grazed the ground a little later, I was pissed. Shaken, frustrated, and embarrassed. But still determined. Despite an abundant lack of confidence, I rode home on a bike path my friend suggested. Loved every bit of it.

Non-existent rain and over exposure to heat has left the bush capital parched and yellowing. And yet, as I rode past them, a gentle breeze rode with me, assuring me that all would be well, that plants would recover, that I would recover. It caressed my jeans, sending cold shards of comfort through the hole onto my bleeding knee. Glorious.

As I unlocked my door and gingerly stepped into my home, I smiled. Happy and satisfied with myself.

I too can ride.

Renewed

I have to go.

There’s no reason—
or one to stay for.

There’s no sense—
or sensibility anymore.

There’s no pride—
only prejudice reigns.

There’s no soul—
so bodies a wander.

There’s no air—
except mechanised oxygen.

I have to go—
for beach breathes life
into my suffocation.

Cookies!

I’ve done quite a lot of baking since moving to Australia. But I’m no baker. I’ve never made delectable goods people would want to buy. 

I’ve baked vegetables, pumpkin seeds, and oat clusters. I’m a complete novice otherwise.

I volunteer at a co-operative food shop. Yesterday, one of the managers walked up to me as I cleaned the counter and asked me how I felt about baking. 

Unprepared. Unconfident.

And then, for the first time, I was asked to bake something. It was to be either banana bread or cookies. Nothing new or unheard of—we had s pre-designed recipe. I just had to follow instructions. If it said to boil two cups of salt, well… you know. 

I wouldn’t boil two cups of salt.

But I was making chocolate chip and tahini cookies. 

This wasn’t my usual marinate-vegetables-and-shove-in-the-oven recipe. It wasn’t anything like the pumpkin and oats mixture I bake all the time. To put it simply, it wasn’t simple.

cookies in the making

However, on paper, the recipe was pretty straightforward. It had fewer steps than the banana bread, and even though I’d have chosen the bread to stuff my face in, the cookies seemed far less intimidating to make.

I read the instructions over and over just to make sure I didn’t forget the salt or the vanilla, the oil, or the milk. 

It was a vegan recipe, and only a few days ago, I’d seen the recipe’s author bake some cookies herself. So I had a reasonable idea of how they were supposed to look. I recalled awe-ing at how flawlessly the cookies had spread and how much people enjoyed chewing them.

It was a lot to live up to. And that terrified me. Even though it was just flour, baking soda, and salt for the dry and oil, tahini, milk, and sugars for the wet, I still felt an enormous pressure over my head as I measured the ingredients, battling with myself over the difference between a heaped and flattened cup.

The recipe suggested 15 cookies. And as I balled up the cookie dough, smiling to myself at how much it resembled the cookie doughs I’d seen on television, I realised I was making far too many—I’d made thirty small balls instead of 15 big ones. Anxious, but still proud of my mixing capabilities, I greased the trays, arranged the balls, and popped them into a waiting oven. 

freshly baked cookies

For the next fifteen minutes, I was thankfully too distracted to bite my nails and check in on the cookies every two minutes. When they came out, smaller than I expected, they were more like blobs of chocolate-topped brownish flour than flat disks of chewy goodness. 

My heart sank. Perhaps I’d sunk the cookies.

The first taste-tester said it was good. But he’s a nice guy. The second affirmed the first guy’s comment, adding that the cookies were crunchy and crumbly—which is good, if you like crumbly cookies.

They were both more than less than helpful. I still couldn’t tell if the cookies were any good. And I didn’t trust myself to eat any.

We sold out of cookies in a day.

Many people appreciated my cookies. And yet, as a novice baker and an incredibly-doubtful person, it’s hard to believe.

Perhaps it wasn’t so bad.

Perhaps I’m not such a terrible baker, after all.

Perhaps I could do more…

Fans matter

old fan

Two days ago, I sat outside the cafe I volunteer at, trying to distract myself from my drooping eyes and get some work done. Just then, a cross breeze blew its way onto my face, grazing my cheek. A hot slap. It was 37 degrees in the late afternoon, and my laptop was so hot I couldn’t continue typing. I’d been sitting there for less than a half-hour.

It’s the hottest heat I’ve ever experienced. Having grown up in tropical Asia, I’m no stranger to high temperatures. My dark skin and an unhealthy obsession with zero skincare regimes have left me almost permanently tanned. And so when friends told me it’d be hot, and we wouldn’t want to do anything—even cooking elaborate meals—I was amused. I said nothing, however. I can handle the heat, I thought.

I thought wrong.

It came as a surprise to me that I’m not excited for the impending summer. It’s beautiful outside with lusciousness painting the town green, early morning sunlight beating off of hanging leaves, illuminating old brick houses making them, somehow, seem far more bright than they are. Sidewalks are abloom in yellow and purple and white, smiling, welcoming with warm head bobs.

It’s all lovely and inviting. Except it’s hot. Strangely enough, a lot of the houses I’ve seen in Canberra don’t have ceiling fans. Since I arrived just before winter, I didn’t think a no-fan home would be so bad. And yet, as I sit on my comfortable bed, now quite warm from me resting my butt on it for the last twenty or so minutes, mildly wondering if my heating up laptop would survive the summer, I realise—fans matter.


Image source: Unsplash.com

Honk!

One of the aspects of living in Canberra that I enjoy most is how quiet the streets can be even during peak hour traffic. Everyone follows (well, mostly everyone) the street signs. They yield when they’re unsure, stop for waddling pedestrians immersed in their phones, and always keep a decent distance from the bicyclists who could destroy their driving career with one legal procedure. And so, even if there’re fifty vehicles at any given time in an intersection, no one needs to honk like a raving lunatic. No one yells at the driver next door for being a prick in the neck or something crasser—yet ever so common here. As a pedestrian, it’s nice to watch the street proceedings, as in a cartoon or a dialled toy town—things and people going about their daily life without a hitch.

All this is so fascinating because in the city I lived and worked for over five years, there’s never a quiet moment on the streets. Some might call it active participation—think loud conversations on the phone mingled with the beep-beep of old cars, revs of new motorcycles, the whee… ee… ee… of an occasional ambulance, closely followed by the screech of tyres that desperately cut through the line, tailing the ambulance to navigate the traffic quickly. The cheaters.

I’d call it madness. And noise pollution. As if we didn’t have enough from the black, smoky, gas chugging its way through the exhaust of a thirty-five-year-old green-grey motor vehicle that should’ve been banned fifteen years ago.

I’d forgotten all that manic episodes. As I strolled down the street today, stopping at an intersection awaiting the green man to take over from the red one, I noticed a group of people on the other side holding signs, acknowledging climate change. They’re a popular group in town. They often conduct protests, mostly peaceful, silent ones, trying to sway the government and the public to accept the reality of climate change.

As if to jog my memory, except more violently like chocking someone that’d been running for twenty minutes, one of the signs said, “Honk for climate.”

They asked drivers whizzing through the biggest and busiest roadway in the city to honk if they acknowledged climate change. 

For a quick, painful moment, I remembered the city I tried so hard to leave. However, as I waited, observing the four-wheelers’ responses, I couldn’t help but smile. It wasn’t as bad, as loud, or as irritating as I imagined—because not everyone honked. Although it was amusing to see some shoving the end of their palm into their steering wheels, honk-honking until they crossed the protestors, most didn’t blare their horns. Instead, they gave the sign bearers a thumbs up as they went past. Yes, it was a thumb—I had a clear view, and I stood in a vantage point.

At that moment, my subconscious self reacted in a way my conscious self never would. My face broke into a smile. It was a fun way to get attention. And even though it could’ve easily turned into a noise hazard, I did appreciate the sensible drivers who showed their support mutely. As a pedestrian who’s lived through hearing numbness because of violent honking, it was a pleasant surprise.

And of course, what a creative protest.


Image source: Banter Snaps on Unsplash.