August 07, 2009

Little voices

We’ve all heard it at some stage in our lives: those little voices in the back of the mind, about three quarters back and to the left. Some hear it more often than others, although I wouldn’t recommend admitting that to anyone – longest three months of my life (here’s a tip: they let you go when you say there’s only one left).

Whether it’s the voice of reason, a higher power, an ancestral spirit offering guidance, or the neighbour’s African Grey, I don’t know, I don’t care. Some hear it, others deny it (wise choice), but I do believe it has a part to play. Whether you choose to listen or not, that is where reason and belief comes in… (eish, for me that was quite deep – I’m sure I felt a chill).

I always thought a higher power would have a smooth, bold baritone voice – a voice like maple syrup running over polished marble pebbles in a pine forest on a hot day. A voice that could command respectful action from anyone, no matter how comfortable the couch was. A voice that would say stuff like: “Your actions today will determine the path you’re destiny chooses – therefore, go forth wisely, tread softly, live truly”, or “Beware thy pony’s scornful kick to thy head – it could serve thee well in the long run” – something inspiring, something worthwhile, something you can pick up chicks with…

I’m getting a raspy little hag going: “…told you so!”

The thing about these higher voices: you can ignore them… it! You can ignore IT – if you want, but you do so at your peril.

This all dawned on me on the way down…

This realisation was not the product of a late night debate, or the result of a mushroom induced epiphany. Strangely enough, this all came to the fore on a bicycle… well, above a bicycle actually. Above a bicycle, in mid-air, twisting slightly, immediately after that raspy voice said: “I wouldn’t do that if I were you”.

OK, quick update on who I am and what I enjoy: I hate running!

So when you have a dog who loves it and needs at least two manic and slobbering inducing runs per day just to keep him from attacking the living room sofa, you buy a bike.

Quick update on the dog: he goes “boing” all the time – bounces like a rubber ball – and eats Eveready bunnies for breakfast. His favourite party trick is to bob around unsuspecting visitors’ ankles, wagging his tail and twisting from side to side with a big stupid grin on his face. This lasts exactly as long as you, unsuspecting visitor, pay him sufficient attention and tell him what a cute dog he is. When he believes his initial impression is fading, and precisely when you expect it the least: “BOING” – he bounces to eye level (yours), looks you straight in the eye, and before you’re brain has time to register “big brown dog, foaming at the mouth, in my face!” his eyes say “Howzit, remember me?” a split second before “SLOSH” – a wet, sloppy-slobber lick in the face! By the time you register what just happened he’s already sitting three meters away looking coy, going “wasn’t me.” And he’s good – people believe him! They keep their distance from me though. Stupid dog. His name’s MacGregor – he’ll want you to remember that… and bring a tennis ball.

Because of his boundless energy I have to ride that bike hard. If I don’t, he runs up to the bike and tries to snap my ankles… (no smartypants, there’s no grammatical error there: he won’t snap AT them, he’ll snap them right off! He’s nuts!)

Try imagine the following (my neighbours don’t have to): hairy, bandy-legged creature with flappy ears and foam at the mouth, going a 100 miles an hour through town, tongue hanging out and lungs wheezing for air. His little feet a blur as they whizz around in circles, pedaling for all his worth. In his shadow a beast, foaming at the mouth, resembling a rabid dog from the netherworlds; its eyes trained intently on the ankles its trying to sink its canines into – the very ankles of the hand that feeds it… every day… sometimes twice! I’ve been told it’s quite a sight.

And I was rescued once! A lady came across this scene and managed, Schumi-like, to maneuver her car at full speed between the dog and me – bless her! She thought I was being attacked (and who could blame her?). I abused her good nature to catch my breath while she valiantly fought off “the vicious canine” with her brolly. Of course MacGregor thought it was a wonderful game and chased her around the car a few times – the foam around the mouth really does the trick. When I saw her breathing harder than me, I managed to coax the dog away with a bare ankle, and then tried to explain to her that he really wasn’t all that aggressive. To prove it, Mac treated her to one of his “o-so-innocent” smiles, pottering around her ankles like a mother hen around her chicks, wagging his tail, smiling his head off – all fluff, innocence and cuteness rolled into one. Shame, she never saw it coming: BOING –“Howzit!”–SLOSH and off to one side to view her reaction: a frightfully uncoordinated retreat, brolly flying over the car as her arms windmilled backwards. It was a mere mercy that her car’s front seat stopped her fall. I didn’t need a higher power’s voice to tell me we needed to get out of there quickly, so I shut her door, flashed her the brightest, widest smile I could manage, and waved her off with a “thanks again, and drive safe now!” MacGregor was doing the same, which bought us the second we needed to escape before reality hit her (and a lawsuit hit us).

In that situation a higher power has no say – nobody (divine or not) has any idea, at any point in time, what that dog will do next. So I don’t blame the raspy hag for that one.

However, when one is sitting on an elevated starting mound of a BMX track, surveying the track below, thinking along the lines of “stupid kids on stupid little bikes do this every day, how hard could it be?” – at exactly this point I believe the voice could come in handy. This is the ideal opportunity for her to make an entrance – impart some wisdom, make a point, even nag a little – but she doesn’t! At this pivotal point in one’s day, a simple “let’s think about this” could make a huge difference in one’s life – the one being mine. But nothing – not even a “psst”.

The only little voice I heard that day was from the dog’s brown eyes looking up at me, almost amused. There was no sound but the message was clear… But who listens to a dog?

I am man, I have bike, I will conquer track! Stupid dog should’ve bitten me right there.

The decision was mine: “Here I gooo….ooaaahhhhHH!!!

I had no idea that mound was so high and that things could get away from me so quickly. I should’ve known this was not such a good idea when I immediately struggled to find the pedal… or rather, some silly little high-pitched voice should’ve told me.

However, I was lucky and managed to find the pedal just before I hit the first ramp (she must’ve known I would). I don’t remember much about being airborne but know I wouldn’t have scored any points for execution or artistic impression. Beyond this ramp the first burm awaited. For anyone who doesn’t know what a burm is: it’s a very sharp turn and they build a wall on the outside so you don’t fall out. What you also wouldn’t know is that you have to go into a burm slanted at an angle to avoid being shot out over the wall and into orbit. Unfortunately a small rock before the burm threw me off balance.

I say unfortunately, because at this point I still had a chance. However, losing my balance put me in exactly the right angle for that burm, which in turn whipped me around 180 degrees faster than I could blink. This is where I noticed the dog again – right in front of me, in the middle of the track – and he was smiling. I missed him by inches, but didn’t manage to miss the ramp that immediately followed. By the time I realised I had hit it, it was already too late – I was in the air, both feet off the pedals, with the horrific realisation of testicular consequence to follow.

By all that is holy I hit the ground on two wheels – one millisecond after my feet hit the pedals – and was hurtling at breakneck speed and uncontrollably into the next burm. This one threw me out centrifugally with what I will always swear was a “whoopeeee” (although the local newspaper later reported of a wild banshee).

Miraculously still on both wheels, this is where the dog and my paths crossed again: me wide-eyed and shouting because everything was happening too fast (I was also trying my best to sit on the seat, not be impaled by it) and him running along, slobbering happily going: “woof, woof, watch out, woof”

Watch out?

Burm three was the mother of all burms – I suppose she had to be: I was going downhill, at speed, with absolutely no control and no hope in hell – orbit didn’t seem such a bad option at this point. I hit that burm with my brain still suffering from synapses-overload from burm two – got whipped around 180 degrees (again) and was spit out the other side. It was a good thing I wasn’t wearing a helmet – if I had I’m sure my face would’ve been stuck to the back of it.

I made it through somehow – I shouldn’t have (on various occasions). I had managed it however by pure dumb luck – the screams were for effect. The final hurdle was a mere bump… and the reason why I risked one quick pedal just before the ramp – to get some air, end off on a high…

And there was the raspy little voice: “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”

No bells, no whistles, no flutes or ukuleles… just one phrase one half-second too late.

The bike went up, I went up higher. The bike twisted slightly in mid-air, so did I. And here things changed. I came down – and realised how useless this higher voice of mine really was – and the bike came down too. I hit the ground, shoulder first, head second, hip and thigh tied for third, followed by (in no specific order) the rest of my rapidly untangling anatomy. The earth very quickly reduced my velocity to zero which unfortunately made me the perfect target for the bike – it was still up there but quickly succumbing to that evil bitch we call gravity.

I don’t know how he knew it, but through it all, that dog didn’t move an inch. When I hit the ramp he was already standing there – at exactly the spot where my dusty slither would eventually meet with the bike’s pivotal arch, where it all came crashing together in a crumpled heap of bruised bones and twisted metal.

And as the dust started to settle, the voice commented: “…told you so!”

I’m done with these voices – from now on I’m taking charge of my life, my destiny is my own...

I think I’ll start listening to the dog!

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