Our visits to East Coast Park 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.