My heart pounds in my ears. My breath comes fast. I am cycling through the apocalypse, I think as I pedal a few wobbly, independent yards. It’s the second day of quarantine and I am trying to learn how to ride a bicycle – a bucket list item that has somehow remained unchecked for the 40-some-odd years of my existence. My husband runs behind me, reminding me “All you need to know is how to stop.” But I don’t know how to stop, not yet. I fall even before I am halfway through the block. I return home with scraped calves and a bruised ego. Later, multiple glasses of wine help me recover from my embarrassment and loosen the knot in my stomach that seems to be a constant companion these days.
Most mornings, I wake up groggy with half-asleep hope that the virus outbreak was a nightmare, like the others where I show up for an exam naked and unprepared. Too quickly, I realize that this time there is no easy relief. The world is on pause and the streets are silent. The only sound I hear is the leader of the free world, on TV, telling us he is doing an incredible job. The global economy and the stock markets are in freefall while “the curve” of death and disease continues to rise ominously. The weight of the world’s hopes and prayers, obviously, isn’t enough to flatten it. All meanings shift shape. Hugs are now deadly. Grocery bags have turned lethal. Strangers are not exciting anymore. Today, love is expressed by staying apart. Who can tell what’s what anymore?
I choose scraped knees and elbows over news and statistics. I return to the bike the next day and the day after that. Each day I pedal a little bit farther. As the world descends deeper into chaos, my balance improves. You just need to know how to stop, I remind myself as I learn how to go around curves and make turns. I can at last, and at least control my direction. I explore streets made smooth as a baby’s bottom with my tax dollars. I see old men work in their rose gardens. I see young couples push their twins in strollers. I see high schoolers trapped at home, out for a run outfitted in the universal teen attire of Lululemons, ponytails & ear pods. I see a bluejay at the intersection of Street H and Street R often enough to realize that the intersection is its residential address. I see star jasmine vines in full bloom and learn that the strongest whiff of its heady fragrance can be had at least 4 feet downwind, close to sunset, going at the speed of no more than 6mph. I see ancient oak trees touch each other from across the street, mocking social distancing rules. Their moss covered branches curve down sinuously and kiss the lush green grass. They seem unimpressed with the world trying to imitate their immobility without their grace.
I focus only on the road ahead. I try to stay upright. “You just need to know how to stop,” I say to myself over and over again.
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About the Author: Preity Bhagia was born and raised in Delhi, worked in Dubai and has now made a home in Houston, where she lives with her husband and two children. She completed her degree in English literature at St. Stephen’s College, Delhi. She is an entrepreneur by day and a writer by night. Her work has appeared in The Pinch, Huffington Post, Keep Calm and Stay Curious and Medium.com. She enjoys travel, performing arts, her kids’ jokes and a great cup of chai.