I’m standing on the side of a road. It’s an unremarkable road, but then, why would it be otherwise? Its asphalt skin is flaking, crumbling; forming pockmarks in its faded black face. The smells of melting tar, petrol fumes and burning rubber waft in the humid air. The sun is fierce, omnipresent.
This heat is on the cusp of unbearable in bike leathers; it can only be twenty-five degrees out but it feels like forty-five. I can’t take them off, I’ve tried; they’re sweated on. I could take shade, but I need to be on the road or I’ll never get a ride out of here.
I’m standing on the side of a road, not because I like standing on the side of roads, but because I don’t know how not to be. Once I was tearing down the road, petrol coursing through my veins, carefree and naïve as only a new motorcycle rider can be.
A hundred miles an hour one minute, zero the next.
I can imagine what my dearest wife would say if she could see me now, something to the tune of, “you idiot, why didn’t you take your phone?” I suspect, followed by, “you should have never got that bike.”
Okay I probably wouldn’t say that last part for fear of castration, and, well, it wouldn’t be entirely true. Buying the bike was equal part mid-life crisis as it was an attempt to escape twenty years of brewing marital discontent, if only for sweet, fleeting hours at a time.
There’s an emergency phone a little way down the road but I won’t make that walk of shame to call her; it’d feel too much like defeat.
The exhaust is still coughing out grey-black smoke, but not as bad as it was. Had I not thrown out the owner’s manual it probably would have informed me that this kind of thing wasn’t supposed to happen. Manual-less and a slave to masculine convention I tried to fix it, burning my embarrassingly expensive riding gloves in the process. Turns out I know sweet fuck all about how motorcycles work other than how to make them go, and even then…
You’d think the smoke would draw in a sympathetic motorist, someone who empathized with a stranded biker. Statistically speaking, with all the cars streaming past, one of the drivers should have felt some passing pity. As of yet though, no cars have even hinted at stopping.
I suppose I can’t blame them. Let’s be honest, ten minutes ago – eyes narrowed to my own self-indulgent path – I wouldn’t have stopped for someone in my situation. People these days just assume you’ve called some sort of roadside rescue service anyway, why would they bother stopping just to pretend that they had a clue about motorbikes? A qualified bike mechanic with exactly the right tools and spare parts on hand could help, but that’s about it.
I’m standing on the side of a road watching throngs of cars hoon past as if they all have a great purpose, trying not to make comparison between them and ants for fear of cliché. But then, ants don’t have loud, obnoxious horns or emit a cocktail of poisonous chemicals, so it probably wouldn’t be a good comparison anyway.
A boy racer in a Skyline overtakes an old lady in her little Honda, exhaust groaning in victory. A blue-collar four-wheel drive smokes as it hovers behind a suit and tie BMW.
I’m standing on the side of a road wondering where they’re all going. Are they speeding to the hospital to see a loved one, or just picking up milk?
In this shit-fight do people’s intentions matter? Can one speeding car, faceless as the next, be more important than another?
Drivers go about their ways hidden in mobile vaults of steel; every ounce of discernable character contained within. Shut off from the world, with the air-con blasting and radio blaring. How can you connect with the road, be aware, when your only sense processing it all, is sight.
On a bike it’s different, you use all five of your senses. You see the road stretched out in front of you, feel that guttural rumble between your legs, smell the petrol fumes and hear other vehicles as they swish by.
You can taste the freedom…
Or at least, that’s what the sales guy said as he ushered me to sit on an old Harley Davidson.
“Mint condition, one owner,” he said, “reliable as.”
Next thing I knew my credit card was out, that excitement brewing as I punched in my numbers.
I’ve always wanted a motorcycle, and now, at the tender age of 45, I have one.
I’m standing on the side of a road starting to think that maybe it isn’t just motorists apathy that is preventing my rescue. Maybe it’s me.
I must look slightly dodgy. Okay, I do look dodgy. It’s the beard. I haven’t shaved for four days, and while I’m nowhere near looking like the fourth member of ZZ Top, it’s enough to cross over the prickly border from stubble to beard-dom.
Bearded or not, people are dubious about hitchhikers because of that one time some guy turned out to be a murderer and sadistically tortured and killed the people kind enough to lend him a ride. Well, that’s happened more than once, but it’s just a stereotype. I guarantee if you looked at a ratio of successful, murder-less hitch hikings to murderous ones, you’d probably find the murderous ones are misrepresented in the media.
If someone would just stop I could assure him or her I wasn’t going to brutally murder them or their family. My profile on hikermatch.com (if it existed) would say something like: Easygoing guy, likes a laugh, sleeps on car rides, doesn’t get motion sick, loves kids and I-Spy, would consider riding in the boot.
Wait; hold on, another biker. He’s pulling over.
“Break down?” He grunts through his beard.
This guy is every part the biker I’m trying to be. He’s wearing jeans, a Hun helmet and aviators.
“Where ya headed?”
“North, Auckland,” I hesitate, “Ponsonby.”
“Long way from home huh?” He sniggers, “Not headed that way sorry mate.”
He starts riding off, “Nice gloves.” He shouts as he rumbles back into the flow.
It’s a long walk to the emergency phone. There’s only one number I know to call, and with every number I press I feel my balls shrinking in anticipation of her presence.
“Where are you? What you didn’t take your phone? That stupid bike…blah, blah, blah.”
I’m sitting in a Suzuki Swift in full bike leathers, Michael Buble crooning,
“Let me go home, I wanna come home.”
Defeat is such a bitter taste.
The little engine whirs as we struggle to hit one hundred. She hasn’t even spoken to me yet, hasn’t yelled or cursed me. Rather, other motorists are baring the brunt of her seething anger.
She honks at a car that just barely cuts her off, slaps the wheel with her palms.
“Fucking idiot!” She yells.
In twenty years of marriage I’ve learnt one thing, actually no, two. The first: Sit still and shut up when she’s like this, and two: sit still and shut up when she’s not, or she soon will be.
Her knuckles are white as she strangles the staring wheel. Better than my neck I suppose. She hasn’t been this mad at me since I turned up at home on the bike for the first time.
Settling into my drive of shame I stare out the window, hoping that tow truck has picked up my bike by now.
There’s a hitchhiker, archetypal with dreadlocks, jandals. Perched optimistically on the roadside his sign reads ‘Auckland, Please.’
We should really pick him up, who knows how long he’s been there. He might not want to call his wife either.
I look away as we drive past. Shame? Guilt? I can’t be sure.
Wait, no! Fuck this! I’m no hypocrite, I’ve gotta go pick him up.
“Stop.” I say.
“Stop the car!”
“Why on earth would I-“
I grab the wheel and tug it to the left.
“What the fuck is wrong with you!”
“Just pull over woman!”
She does begrudgingly, and as soon as the car is stationary I clamber out the door.
I’m running down the side of a road, leathers tight forcing me to run like a T-600 out of Terminator. Sweat pours down my face, gets in my eyes.
When I get to where he was, he’s gone. When I look back, so is she.
I’m standing on the side of a road, not because I like standing on the side of roads, but because my wife is a miserable bitch.
After a while I get picked up.
“What happened mate?”
“Where you headed?”
About the Author
Kyle Rush currently lives in Auckland, New Zealand, and is studying English and New Media at AUT University. He’s been writing for the last three years as an outlet for an overactive imagination. His favorite authors are Joe Haldeman and George R.R Martin.
Kyle is completing the Short Story Writing for Magazines Course at NZ Writers’ College.
Main photo credit: Flickr.com_Gre.Ceres