So there I was, lying on the street, clutching my left knee in pain on a busy intersection on one of Maastricht’s main bridges, trying not to feel flustered or helpless. But that was easier said than done. My hair was an utter mess. Sweat had begun to make its way down my back. We had a lunch reservation at a fancy restaurant in less than half an hour, and I wasn’t sure if we were going to make it.
And of course, not a single passerby had stopped to ask me if I were okay, if I needed any help. Then again, it was foolish of me to expect otherwise. This was not Beirut after all.
Right next to me was the reason I was there in the first place: a too-big bike with backpedaling for a braking mechanism.
I hadn’t ventured far from our hotel when I found myself loosing what little balance I had, dropping to the floor before I could stop it from happening.
This was the first time I had ever fallen off a bike- and as you can imagine, it wasn’t pretty.
At this point, you would expect me to do what any normal, sane person would: push the bike back to where we had rented it from, and ask for a smaller size or a refund for the rental and stick to taking the bus or walk everywhere.
But after I dusted myself and checked that nothing had gotten torn or broken, I got on that bike and attempted to find my balance once more. I was still very much flustered- holding my breath at every intersection or stop sign as I just couldn’t master backpedaling. In fact, that feeling stuck with me so much that I couldn’t enjoy the first part of our lovely, fancy lunch.
So why didn’t I just give up or find an easier way to get around? I mean, my own husband thought that it would be a lot better for both of us if we didn’t continue. He also clearly reminded me that this was my first time on a bicycle in the past five years and so my skills were in dire need of polishing.
For one, I’m pretty sure that the Dutch would have laughed at me: a grown woman unable to ride a bike, a task so simple that toddlers do it- and without a helmet! My cycling abilities had been ridiculed before, having owned a smaller-than-my-actual-size one during my graduate studies. It was not something I wanted to endure again, believe me!
I was also pretty sure that we wouldn’t have gotten a refund, as I should’ve have known better and checked the bike’s suitability before going ahead with the transaction.
But I also had placed cycling in my old home a priority on my to-do list.
To sum it up, I had only learned how to do so when I had lived there and it had become my ticket to freedom. No longer did I have to rely on buses or walk back home when they stopped operations for the day. No, I was just like everyone else and I loved it. So much so that upon returning to Beirut, I lamented our city’s hills and lack of suitable infrastructure that relegated me to relying on other people for rides everywhere.
So I wanted to replicate the experience to feel that I was home once again and to show Ahmad what a significant part of my life was like.
Maastricht can be very scenic when the pieces fall in place, so I was excited to lead him through some of my favorite streets, to show him the magical route by the Meuse River and the municipality building, to go past PLUS (where I did my grocery shopping) and to my old neighborhood and university. To do so by bus would be boring- and walking would just take too much time.
Eventually, I did find my balance again and I did make my way through these streets, taking it all in, but also feeling like I had done that just yesterday. They say you never really forget how to ride a bike- but I would’ve appreciated if the lag time to remember had been significantly shorter so that I could have enjoyed the whole journey.
I did struggle with the braking to a point where I was going to collide with a passing van while crossing onto the other side of the road. That shook me enough to declare that we would not have our picnic at Fort Saint Peter, as I had initially planned. I did end up pushing the bike back to the hotel on the last stretch because I was too exhausted to continue- a total surprise since I thought I had become in shape with all that running.
Let’s just say that in addition to all the souvenirs and foodstuff I picked up from the Netherlands, I also got quite a bruise to remind me of this adventure- but I’m not complaining. I would do it again in a heartbeat- maybe with real brakes this time.