Another competition entry.
This one is also a memoir, concerning M- and someone referred to by the designation J-. Not to be confused with J- who writes stories with me, J- the ex I still see, J- the ex who I don’t, or J- my friend from university, this J- was – in the loosest possible sense of the word – my boss.
I’m not sure if this story is too sentimental. It’s mostly true – the events are in any case – but I was never actually that angsty*, and certainly not that philosophical, as a teenager. I even had one or two thoroughly awesome friends at Ellon following M-‘s move, but for the sake of the plot, they have been omitted.
Let me know your thoughts anyways – I’d really appreciate some pointers on this.
*Mum would disagree I’m sure…
15 was an awkward age, made more so by the loss of a friend.
“I don’t know what you’re moping for – it’s not like she’s dead,” my mother had muttered as I skulked into the kitchen for yet another consolatory cup of tea.
“No,” I would think, quietly to myself, “But I am.”
I had always been a bookish child – more comfortable in the worlds of Ivanhoe and Robin Hood than at secondary school – and seemed to be unable to connect with people unless there was paper and pen between us.
When M- had joined my class, I had found a kindred spirit and we would spend hours trawling the woods by my house or writing stories, hidden away from the cold Scottish winters in her computer room. When her family moved to Warwickshire, I had thought it was the end of the world.
After she left, school became something of an ordeal and I would sulk away my lunch hour, hidden at the top of the third floor biology staircase. I lived for my music – the crackled sounds of radio recordings on an old cassette offering some comfort in my isolation. I maintain that people who call their teenage years ‘the best of their life’, can’t remember being teenagers. The way I recall it, it was a miserable time for all concerned.
Weekends were different though. They gave me a chance to be myself, and not – as my peers considered me – the school odd-ball. I worked at the local boarding kennels at the time and when I was there I was an adult, a member of the work force. It became something of a second home, and I would feel the cares of the week falling away as I walked the dogs through the rugged Aberdeenshire countryside.
It was at about that time the kennel owner’s son, a twenty-something man we knew as J-, purchased his first motorbike. It was a stunning machine – a BMW R850R – and, he claimed, the only blue version in Scotland.
I had always been frightened by motorbikes. Hearing crash stories and having seen some vague statistics involving death and the vehicles had made me somewhat wary of them. I routinely sang the virtues of four wheels over two and cited countless figures which proved – to my 15 year old brain in any case – that cars were faster anyway.
Nevertheless, when J- asked me if I’d like to ride pillion, I jumped at the chance – if only to be able to say once and for all that cars were indeed a superior mode of transport.
I donned J-‘s mother’s set of biking leathers, creaked myself somehow onto the back to the bike and peered out through the slit of the helmet, over J-‘s shoulder. The familiar kennel close looked small and incomplete, viewed through the visor. I compared the sensation to blinkers on a horse, narrowing my world to what lay before me.
The bike lurched and we moved forward, swinging between the potholes on the track which led to the main road. Having been instructed not to tense my muscles, I took a deep breath and went as limp as my leather shell would allow.
We arrived at the junction and after two taps on J-‘s shoulder to let him know that I was ready, we screamed onto the asphalt.
The road was not a large one, connecting only the scattering of villages and farms that lay between Inverurie and Aberdeen to one another. The first stretch we rode was low and winding, our progress hindered by the pendulum of the bike as it swung between the corners. Familiar sites went gliding past – we could not have been travelling above 30mph, but the rushing air and roaring engine conflicted with the truth of my eyes, creating the effect of slowing time.
It was the fragility of the situation which stung my heart – we flew by woodland, gorse and heather, all bathed in dappling sunlight. I wanted to touch the world around me, to bask in the beautiful, concentrated images being forced through the small, clear shard of my helmet, but I knew that were I to shift my weight unexpectedly, both J- and I would come crashing to the road, shrouded in fragments of blue-stained metal and chrome.
I stayed still within my black-hide armour, drinking in the wilds around me. It was intoxicating – a primitive desire to go faster fighting with my surroundings as they begged me to slow and look.
And suddenly we began to rise, out of the valley and towards the freckling of clouds in the clear blue sky. I no longer wanted to slow down and cling to the places I had been, I wanted to see what came over the bough of the hill.
And it was glorious – a patchwork of greens and golds, spotted with hay-bale buttons and fringed with the deep bruise-blue of the Grampians in the distance. Open and eternal, the sight of what lay before me made me gasp for air. It was as if the helmet dissipated then, leaving behind only this endless, stunning world that opened wide into the sky. And me.
From our brief vantage point at the top of the hill I saw everything clearly – all the roads we could travel, all the hills we could climb, each presenting their own myriad of possibilities as this one had. We took off along the straight path ahead, hurtling into the next valley, and being bombarded with other places, other sights and sounds.
And all of this, all of this beautiful world, was mine.
It suddenly didn’t matter that M- was gone, that school was miserable. I would see her again and school would end in three short years, through which I would cling to the memory of that moment of clarity. To begin with, I thought that my epiphany had been due to the bike and the speed at which we’d travelled, but as time passed I came to realise that I could recreate the almost incomprehensible joy simply by looking around me at the stunning place in which I lived. The helmet had forced me to narrow my view, to look ahead rather than behind, but all the hope and passion and unchanging wonder that I had needed at that point in my life came from the wilds around me. Even now, hundreds of miles away in the viciously flat Fenlands, I find myself taking comfort in the fact that just a few hours drive away – on the road over that next hill – is home.