Saturday, 28 December 2013

The Cyclists on East Coast Park ~ Part III

The Cyclists on East Coast Park ~ Part III

(Continued from Part I and Part II)

Our visits to East Coast had been very infrequent in the past several years, save for the occasional barbecues and evening drinks by the beach with friends. So it was with a little trepidation and curiosity that we mounted our more than forty year old selves on our bikes early that morning. 

Much of East Coast Park was exactly as we remembered. Morning joggers, bikers, skaters, walkers, amblers, dog owners with their pets, young and aged couples, families, children playing in the sand, the smell of the sea, the ships in the distance, all of it as though the place was frozen in time. We rode past bike rental shops, food joints that would wake up to business closer to noon, little tents of overnight campers, even the cable ski park was beginning to buzz with activity. 

As always, the whirring gears of their race bikes was what announced their arrival, and in less than an instant a whirlwind of cyclists had bolted towards, past and away from us and disappeared from sight. It took a long time for the dust to settle. 

The world, as we knew it, unobtrusively slipped away behind us to give way to mostly deserted grasslands and sea almonds and white beaches, which soon segued into dense foliage and twittering critters and fragrant air. The colours were more brilliant than we had ever seen. The waters sparkled like polished stones of lazurite, the leaves glowed in the light of the sun as if it were their own, the clouds dazzled like snow. Enthralled, we ploughed on until we heard them again. Annie and I sensibly hopped off the path this time to give way to the returning heroes to whiz by. 

Were they the same riders from all those years ago, it was impossible to tell. Were there five or seven or nine, how could we know? All we could see, back then and even now, was a blur, a haze of colours going past like a streak, cyclists in fast motion. Nothing more was known about them, nothing more needed to be known. As with art, these are experiences to be dazzled by. A fleeting glimpse was all it took for us to be overwhelmed with wonder and marvel. 

It is perhaps fitting that Annie and I should have met our ends in a biking accident. What is ironic though was the way the incident panned out. We were at our usual spot opposite the airfield, watching the giant birds launch into their journeys in the skies. When it was time to go home, Annie and I got on to the main road from the pavement and mounted our bikes. We had only begun to pedal when the driver of an Audi car, headed in our direction on the opposite lane, chose that very moment to lose control and let his car careen wildly and come crashing into us. Life must have been knocked out off me instantly, I do not remember feeling any pain. Annie didn’t linger too. The driver of the Audi was not as fortunate, he writhed in pain for a long time before he was carried away in an ambulance. I suspect he survived, I haven’t seen him since. 

My first memory of death is that of a group of cyclists swiftly descending upon Annie and me to help us get on to our feet. We were curious to see our human remains but the cyclists cautioned us against doing so. “It will be harder to move on,” one among them said.

There were six of them, I could now see. Four guys, two lasses. The girls appeared to be in their early twenties, dressed in front-buttoned shirtwaists and a turnover collar. Two of the guys were in their mid-forties; one seemed to have leapt straight out of an Ernest Hemingway novel, the other was a modern day family man dressed in a floral-printed shirt and shorts as if he had last been on his way to a family picnic on a Sunday. I later learnt he was only a recent addition to the group. The other two guys were merely lads, not more than sixteen or seventeen years old, I should say. I didn’t want to know how they had died so young. I didn’t want to ask. Their faces looked serene and content, they did not warrant any unpleasant probing into their lives and deaths.

But even in death we create memories. I remember being thrilled at the epiphany I had when I laid eyes on the cyclists. 

“That is some incredible biking you all do out there,” the words tumbled out of my mouth. “Breakneck speeds!”

“It cannot kill us,” one of the young lads jested. “Not anymore.”

I am adept at doing wheelies now, Annie excels at stoppies. She can twist and turn and pirouette on the front wheel of her bike more gracefully than a ballerina. 

Speed is not a constraint when concerns of bodily harm no longer exist. What we enjoy the most are the meteoric rides on our bikes. We whiz past, biker and bike moving together in one fluid motion. We see the adventurers on our trail. Not all of them can see us though. But I think our girls are beginning to. They turned eighteen this year.

We still haunt our favourite spot opposite the airfield. Annie and I have introduced the others to our preferred activity of leisure, and we have invented our own games. On a good day like today, we race with the aircrafts, tearing alongside the runway, catapulting ourselves into the skies, doing somersaults in the air, and landing on the ground lighter than a feather does. For me, this will always be the place where reality ends and magic begins.

Saturday, 21 December 2013

The Cyclists on East Coast Park ~ Part II

The Cyclists on East Coast Park ~ Part II

(Continued from Part I)

This has been my favourite bike trail for as long as I can remember. It is about thirty-five kilometres, the entire route, and it takes me about two hours to cover on a good day. I am a slow cyclist, but in my endurance lies my strength.

As kids, we’d be panting by the time we reached the area with the grasslands and the beach. In our teens, we’d usually make it past the jungle but would return after a little picnic at the pier. It was only on my seventeenth birthday that we made it as far as the airfield, and since then I have never taken a shorter route. 

But it was only as an adult that I first noticed the cyclists. The incredibly fast ones. Well actually, Annie pointed them out to me the first few times. We used to think there were five in all, we could not be precise though. They’d zap past us like a swarm of irate bees; it was impossible to tell how many they were. 

We’d see them twice. The first time was always at the start of the grassland where they’d race past from behind us, leaving a vortex of buff-coloured air in their wake. Our second encounter with them was always somewhere in the thick of the jungle. They’d come hurtling towards us like a tornado. We would hear the whirring gears of their race bikes from afar. It was hardly sufficient warning. We would barely have time enough to dismount and step away from the path for safety, and they would have whizzed past us, leaving everything shuddering behind them.

“Amazing!” exclaimed a breathless Annie one day. “They are incredibly fast.”
Her observation was accurate. The gang covered the entire route of thirty-five kilometres in the time it took us to cover two kilometres, which was about seven minutes on average. Which was more than twice the world record. You could always argue there was no certainty they went the entire way to and fro, and that we may simply have been beguiled into believing they were the swiftest. Back then I had no doubt in my mind; the cyclists hurtled at such breakneck speeds, it was impossible for them to stop or slow down before they had reached the very end.

Our hearts and minds, free of the nagging doubts that age brings, we cycled in the East Coast Park as often as we could. As we grew older, we were not always able to go as far as the airfield, but we always crossed the grassland into the forest and waited for our winged cyclists to race past. They never disappointed us.

I married Annie when I was twenty-four and she, twenty-six. We had twin daughters a year later. Little darlings they were, they took to cycles like moths to a flame, much to the delight of Annie and me. 

We moved away from the East Coast when the girls were two. We moved up north, real estate was arguably more affordable there. So it was a good fifteen years before Annie and I decided to move back to the East Coast. By then, the girls had flown the nest. I was forty and disillusioned with life. So was Annie. And because wisdom and good sense tend to dawn upon us only after we have indulged in a bit of foolishness and labelled it as mid-life crisis, Annie and I decided to plunge our life savings into setting up a bicycle shop in the East Coast. 

Business got off to a rocky start. Things had changed in the past decade and a half. We soon discovered that too few people took to cycles anymore. But the ones that did loved bikes with an ardent passion. This was the lot we catered to. A handful of avid bikers. 

They were a delightful lot. They regaled us with tales of their rides, many having scooted past the airfield (we were euphoric to learn that the bike trail there had survived the onslaught of urban development) to discover many more bike trails, all paths leading them to regions of surreal beauty. 

We wondered if the supersonic bikers still stormed the East Coast Park but none of our clients seemed to have a clue. But that was not altogether surprising; not everyone’s paths led them through grasslands and forests and bridges. But even so, none of our customers had bikes that could propel them to inhuman speeds. So when business affairs had settled to a comfortable routine, having grown mostly by word of mouth - the delightfully old-fashioned way - Annie and I decided to set forth on our Kona Entourages to rediscover our path.

(To be continued ...)

Friday, 20 December 2013

Sandrine's Case by Thomas H. Cook

Sandrine’s Case by Thomas H. Cook

I can’t quite remember how I stumbled upon this book but after reading the first few pages – a courtroom scene and an unexplained death – I was hooked. Professor Sam Madison, the narrator, is being tried for the death of his wife Sandrine, whose death is initially ruled by the coroner to be a suicide but the police suspect foul play and Sam is accused of murdering his wife.

The book unfolds mostly through a series of courtroom scenes and Sam’s memories of his wife and the events leading up to her death, seamlessly interwoven in a neat narration technique.

Halfway through the book, the plot takes an interesting twist and Sam starts to suspect his late wife may have deliberately planned her suicide so as to make Sam appear guilty of killing her. When I reached this bit, it was an A-ha moment for me, as it was something I had started to suspect by the time. (Trust me, this is not a spoiler at all!)

Having reached thus far, I read the rest of the book in barely two sittings, curious to know what was to come next only to found the conclusion and resolution a tad disappointing.

In retrospect, looking at it from a different perspective, I think the book did end on a very poignant and perhaps even noble, even if somewhat bizarre, note, but it was not a very satisfying one for me. There were no loose ends though; it was all neatly tied up, which I always yearn for in a mystery or thriller. Any unexplained remnants and I curse the author for letting me hang loose, obviously not the place I am happy to be in.

Cook however delves into the sensitive facets of relationships and human character. There are some beautiful passages in the book that made the reading of it worthwhile.

Here is Sam describing how the little town of Coburn County altered for him during his trial –

“Coburn County was the problem, it seemed to me, a college town only seventy miles south of Atlanta, a quiet place whose privacy had been violated by the media coverage of Sandrine’s death, the subsequent investigation, and, still later, my arrest. Every step I the process had further served to turn the town against me, so that … I’d genuinely feared that no matter what the evidence – or lack of it – its stalwart citizens might well find me guilty at the end of my trial. Sandrine had once said that when she thought of hell, it was an eternal walk through a shadowy alley. By the time of my trial, I’d come to imagine it as a never-ending fall through a gallows floor.”

And he talks of how his being a professor might have already rendered him guilty in the eyes of the jury.

“I faced the jury silently as Morty continued, faced these twelve women and men who, I felt certain, were quite prepared to kill me. It was obvious to me they despised me, and I knew precisely the cause of their hostility. For wasn’t it just such windy professors as myself who’d poisoned their children with atheism or socialism or worse, who’d infused their previously unsullied minds with dreamy fantasies of changing the world or writing a great novel, while at the same time teaching them not one skill by which they might later find employment and thus avoid returning to their parents’ homes to sit sullenly in front of the television, boiling with unrealizable hopes?”

This is the first of Cook’s works that I have tried, and I think I’d like to read some more.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

The Cyclists on East Coast Park ~ Part I

The Cyclists on East Coast Park

Do you know that stretch of East Coast Park where, once you’ve entered it, the rest of the world seems to slip away behind you in an instant and you find yourself in a place that is at once wondrous and surreal? 

Large tracts of lush green grass flank the bike path. Sea almonds with buttress roots stand in majestic elegance, their large leaves playing with shafts of warm sunlight. To the right, the grassland gives way to a narrow beach of soft, white sand, that spills into the sea, which on a good day like today bears a milky green hue mirroring the skies in a dulcet turquoise garb. Even the ships that are usually docked so as to block out the horizon seem to maintain a deferential distance from the shores here.

The bike path unfolds in gentle curves, its route defined by the trees. But a few minutes into the ride, the path usually veers to the left, trailing away from the beach. On a bad day, when the skies don the grey colour of a mourning widow, and tumultuous seawaves, foaming with fury, hurl themselves on the beach as if in grief of bereavement, the path quickly curves away and leads you to the safety of your home. 

But on a good day like today, the trail meanders gently like a lullaby and the landscape around you transforms itself as if you were slipping into a dream. The tame grassland gives way to a thick forest. The bike trail shrinks as tall trees demand to close in on you from both sides. Leaves on the low-hanging branches kiss your cheeks; it is their way of capturing your scent and leaving their mark on you, that is how they remember you on your next visit. The crisp, salty breeze of the seaside is replaced with cool, sweet-scented air, freshly churned out by the wilderness. You hear the gentle rise and fall of waves on the shore, but it is a distant music drowned by the urgent calls of wild birds and the persistent trills of crickets and katydids.

When the path has had its fill of the forest, it plunges down into a shallow pool of muddy water. As you splash through the puddle, you emerge on to the end of a pier overlooking waters bluer and greener than you have ever known. You skid to a halt, pausing for breath, overwhelmed by the infinite expanse of water and skies. 

When you resume, the path leads you along the pier, away from the waters, and onto a narrow bridge of concrete slabs that go all clickety-clack when you cycle over them, with the soothing rhythm of train wheels running over the joints of rail tracks.

On the other side of the bridge, you exit on to reality. First, you hit a pavement cruising along a mostly deserted road that converges with a larger road a little ahead. You pause at the traffic light. Trucks and cars race past, drenching you in a cloud of dust. The light turns red, and you cross over to the other side. 

More bridges, more roads, and soon you are cycling on the edges of the city. Straight asphalt roads, straighter than a crow can fly, no twists, no turns, no surprises here. When the time is right, you get off the road and push your bike over to the pavement. And then you wait, looking intently across the road. 

The aircrafts are lined up, each patiently biding its time. The one at the head of the line drifts noiselessly into position. The pilot revs up the engines. Then like a bull at the gate, the aircraft charges straight ahead with a mighty roar. Before you know it, it leaps into the skies, flying farther and faster until it disappears from your view. 

You return home the way you came, only it’s faster this time. Every time. 

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Birds of a Feather Flock Together

Birds of a Feather Flock Together - Image courtesy of JeeYoung Lee

Folklore has it that, long long ago, all living beings spoke the same language. 

(Of course, this was all long before mankind and animals and birds went their separate ways and conjured up their own secret tongues so as to keep from each other what they really thought about the other and what they planned to inflict upon each other.) 

But back when everyone understood each other, and the world was in peace and harmony, it was the ravens that were mankind’s trusted messengers. Not the pigeons. The use of pigeons to ferry messages across mountains and seas was a romantic notion that took root much later. 

The bearer of messages has a very important role to play. 
His is a task that requires much wit, deep awareness, the ability to make complex decisions in the face of danger, bravery so as to not allow any private messages to be intercepted, and enough empathy so as to be able to express joy when the message is a happy one and dignified solemnity when the news to be conveyed in tragic. 
These were the qualities in ravens that made them aptly suitable for the job.

Above all, what set the ravens apart from other living beings was the speed and efficiency they exhibited in transmitting messages, thanks to their knowledge of the shortest routes and paths, which enabled them to travel as the crow flies. 

Of course it helped that the ravens were found in abundance - in the jungles, on the streets, on treetops, in people’s backyards, in their gardens, on their windowsills eating breadcrumbs, and sometimes inside their kitchens if no one was looking.

Our big, black birds found it offensive to have rolls of paper tethered to their claws. They preferred, instead, to have the addressor tell them the message, which they were then happy to repeat to the recipient. As I said, this was back in the times when all living beings spoke the same tongue. So this did not pose any problem at first, and the message creators and receivers were only too happy with this arrangement, as were the ravens who were politely treated to goodies every time they received or imparted a message. 

All the trouble started when the ravens started to contort the messages. At first it was harmless distortion, and some of the misrepresentations were in fact very funny to begin with, created out of boredom and the overall monotonous nature of their work and lives. But then the ravens took to telling tales and lies, and in no time untruths and falsifications were being transmitted back and forth until eventually mankind declared war on the animals over a simple misunderstanding and the world was engulfed in several decades of violence and mayhem.

Did you know? 
One of the collective nouns for a group of ravens is a storytelling of ravens.

At another period of time, when pigeons began to rise to the fore as messengers of love, the ravens took to stealing the pigeons’ eggs out of spite. They, the ravens, reckoned that if they could stymie the growth in pigeon population, the ravens would regain what they considered their rightful place as trustworthy and reliable messengers of the living world. It did not take long for the rest of the world to figure out what the ravens were up to, which only made pigeons more popular than before.

Did you know?
One of the collective nouns for a group of ravens is an unkindness of ravens. 

Before long, mankind learned not to trust anybody but his own clan and started to deliver messages by hand. 

Did you know?
One of the collective nouns for a group of ravens is a nevermore of ravens. 

Enraged by the ‘disrespect’ they perceived, the ravens took to ambushing human messengers whenever the latter had to travel through thick jungles and forests. Clad in shockingly black feathers, the ravens were indiscernible from the thick blackness of the night; so no one could ever tell who was responsible for the attacks.

Did you know?
One of the collective nouns for a group of ravens is a conspiracy of ravens. 

So as to not lose any more of his brothers and sisters, mankind developed advanced technologies that would obey his command and do no more or no less than instructed to. This involved the erection of transmission poles and wires to dispatch messages in the form of invisible little pieces of information strung together by invisible threads of … well, invisible stuff.

The ravens, helpless when confronted with things they had little clue about, then took to sitting on telephone wires yelling blue murder, crowing and cawing about the unfairness of it all, but with little action to back up their claims. Everyone ignores them, and now no one understands anymore what the ravens cry about perched above the world and dumping turd on unsuspecting passersby.

Did you know?
One of the collective nouns for a group of ravens is a parliament of ravens.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...