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Tuesday, February 18, 2014
They say that the bicycle is the modern man's principle instrument of personal liberation. While it is true that the bicycle - in most cases - needs to be ridden on roads, the product of the industrialization of our planet, it nonetheless brings the rider in touch with nature. As the rider moves about solely by the power of his muscles, the slow pace of travel and the nature of his propulsion make him aware both of his surroundings as well as his own physical and psychical being. The strict limitation imposed on the quantity of luggage further liberates him from the chains of personal belongings and thus sets his spirits free.
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They say that in these modern times, a bicycle is the principal instrument of man’s liberation. A romantic exaggeration perhaps, but for me it would be a very welcome break in the daily routine. I felt a wave of exhilaration even as I imagined myself, free and untamed, riding down the open road.
Not only would it provide me with a healthy dose of recreation but also with a perfect excuse to get away from the house every once in a while. It wasn’t that I was being kept in the house by force, but at the same time it had become increasingly apparent that I was constantly under the direct influence of either Sarah or Laverne. Not that I was complaining about anything. Granted, I was the butt of their jokes more often than I would have cared for, being smaller than either of them, and chronically unemployed. In the end though, they did treat me fairly. You are what you do, I guess. Sarah, my wife, was a successful career woman, working in an architect office. Her mother, Laverne, ran a lucrative consulting business from home. As for myself, after a brief stint of unsuccessful job hunting, it was decided that it would be best if I stayed at home, helping Laverne with her business. What would have been a learning opportunity and a good starting point boiled down to taking care of all of the aspects of housekeeping. Gradually, we all came to admit that I was effectively doing the job of a maid. With the exception that a maid would have gotten paid whereas I didn’t. With my savings long gone, I lived my life with no means of my own whatsoever. Our unspoken agreement was that, in lieu of a salary, Sarah and Laverne would take care of my every need. I have to give them credit that they never spared any expense if taking care of my needs, but at the same time, I had absolutely no say in how my needs would be taken care of.
That is why I started to think about taking up cycling. Not so much to get into shape, though it wouldn’t hurt, but to have the opportunity to get away, to be alone with my thoughts for a while. Another consideration was that the tight cycling shorts and the shaved legs wouldn’t exactly be incompatible with my day to day clothing. I had also considered swimming for that reason, but I figured that the public changing rooms were simply too much of a hassle, and anyway, I couldn’t spend as much time in chlorinated water as I could on a bike.
“Cycling gear,” I shout out when they asked me what I wanted for my upcoming birthday.
Perhaps I shouldn’t have answered so directly and let them know that I had the whole thing thoroughly thought out, but what was done was done. I tried to repair the damage when Laverne asked me just what ‘cycling gear’ stood for.
“Well, a bicycle, of course,” I said, as if I had to really think about it, “then maybe a cycle computer, perhaps a pair of cycling shoes, one of those sweat-absorbing sport shirts, a pair of shorts…”
“How about we start with the bicycle first?” Laverne replied, “Try it out for a while just so we can figure out what else you really need.”
Sarah was more accommodating to my wishes. She patiently watched as I showed her all the models I had considered for my present. Mountain bikes, trekking bikes, even some racing bikes, though I was a little scared of riding one. I even ventured as far as to propose some cycling clothes.
Eventually, the big day came. It wasn’t as relaxing as I had hoped because in addition to my regular tasks, I worked my ass off in preparing the party. Still, with the anticipation of my present, I took it all in good stride until my work was all done. Once off duty, I changed into my party clothes and waited at the door to greet the guests properly. There weren’t that many guests, my mother and sister, and some of our friends, yet I couldn’t avoid the usual formalities. Even though it was my party Laverne wouldn’t let me forget my true status in the house.
When we had finally exchanged the pleasantries, Laverne led me out of the door. When I saw the bike-like mass of gift wrapping and bows I simply couldn’t help myself but to throw my arms around Laverne’s neck and plant a big kiss on her cheeks. I realized immediately my error when I saw her wipe off the pink imprint of my lips on her cheek, but she just smiled benevolently. I thanked her again, this time properly, by plucking the gauzy fabric of my skirts in my fingers and dropping a deep curtsey. Then I did the same for Sarah.
I proceeded to unwrap my present with the proper decorum, taking care not to create an excessive amount of torn wrapping paper. The wrapping was quite elaborate which made the unveiling of the bicycle tantalizingly slow. By the time I had managed to unwrap the bicycle, all of my enthusiasm had left me. It had become painfully obvious that my new bicycle wasn’t going to serve as an instrument of my liberation from the world of femininity but rather quite the opposite. What I got wasn’t a mountain bike, a trekking bike, nor a racing bicycle. It was an old-fashioned, pastel green ladies bike with wide, back-swept handle bars with a weaved basked attached to them, a wide seat, three gears and clunky pedals.
But, as I had learned that under no circumstance I should show Laverne or Sarah ingratitude, there was only one course of action for me. Holding back my tears, I dropped another curtsey, thanking my benefactors. There was a small round of applause from the on-lookers.
“Why don’t you take it for a spin?” Laverne said.
More humiliation followed when I had trouble getting on, and Laverne had to help me.
“God only knows what you would do with a men’s bike,” she said, loud enough for everyone to hear.
“The seat needs to be lowered a little, that’s all,” I protested weakly as she led me around her spacious driveway.
“Sure, honey,” she said sarcastically, then, when she finally let go of the handlebar, added, “don’t go too far out now.”
Truth be told, I wasn’t sure I was ready to leave the driveway but because she pretty much pushed me out on the street, I would need to take a very tight corner to turn back. Tighter than I dared to, so I rode out onto the street.
They say that riding a bike is, well, like riding a bike. Once you’ve learnt how, you’ll never forget. While it was by no means the first time I had rode a bicycle, I had absolutely no prior experience to riding one wearing a full skirted ball gown and high heels. Even though I rode as slowly as I could, it still took me almost ten blocks before I had gained enough confidence to turn around.
Going back, however, I was starting to actually enjoy the ride. I now realized that my high heels could also be used to stop my feet sliding off the pedals, and that the un-aerodynamic and definitely not sporty upright position that the wide handlebars and the frame had me assume actually wasn’t so bad because in my tight corset, this was pretty much as far forward as I was going to bend. Two block from home, I had even managed to build up enough speed to feel the wind sweeping my face. It didn’t sway my hair as much as I had hoped, but it did flutter up my chiffon sleeves considerably. Sitting comfortably upright, with one hand on the handlebar and the other holding my full skirts in place, I rode triumphantly back onto the driveway. Having been gone so long, I was surprised that everyone was still outside, though they were engrossed in conversations that they hardly noticed my return. I circled the driveway a couple of times before Sarah caught my eye and helped me dismount. Effortlessly, she set the bike on the kickstand while still keeping one hand around my waist.
“I know it’s not quite like the bike you wanted, honey,” she said, “But I hope you still like it.”
Feeling her other hand join the other on the small of my back, I snaked my arms around her neck.
“At least my heels won’t get stuck in the pedals,” I whispered.
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I watched as Harriet rode into out courtyard. With her athletic figure, she didn’t look the least out of place on my old men’s racing bicycle. She was covered with perspiration and I couldn’t help but to admire how it made her taut muscles glisten in the afternoon sun. She dismounted as effortlessly as I never could. As always, I stood in awe, and fright, of my wife’s best friend.
“That’s a mighty fine bike,” she said, “don’t you miss it? Don’t you miss pedaling down the open road? I bet it gets boring, riding that old ladies’ bike of yours all the time.”
Silence was the only way I could respond to her taunts. Still, even without provocation, she walked up to me, pressed me against her sweaty body and lifted me in the air. Twirled me around once, then, when she saw she wouldn’t make me squeal like she wanted me to, set me down and went to our bathroom to take a shower. For once I was glad I was wearing my full apron.
I was setting the table – wearing a different apron – when she came out.
“Had a nice ride?” my wife, Marsha, asked her as she kissed her hello.
“Fantastic,” she said, still keeping her arm about Marsha’s waist.
“Say I’ve been thinking,” Harriet went on, “Why don’t we let that husband of yours go for a proper ride? He’s gotta miss it.”
I should have kept on setting the table but I couldn’t help it. With a swishing sound, I turned around to face the women, to see what humiliation Harriet was now cooking up for me.
“Nah,” Marsha said, her arms wrapped around Harriet’s neck, “I don’t want his heels getting stuck in the pedals.”