I learned how to ride a bike so I could get away from my house.
It took me a while to find a teacher, since bikes are considered archaic and a waste of precious metal. A girl in my physics class taught me, in exchange for a pack of electric cigarettes. The smoke changes color depending on your mood, she informed me in between drags. Learning to ride was filled with her pale hand waving away clouds of purple, occasionally crimson, sometimes sickly green. I fell a lot. The second time I went to the drugstore to pick up her cigarettes, I remembered to grab a box of Band-aids for the scrapes and cuts I was accumulating. We couldn’t practice anywhere public, as it would be deemed suspicious. Instead, I had to settle for a strip of paved road that had been abandoned years ago, when the mandate for magnetic highways had been passed.
Hours of losing my balance and my tutor cursing me out for accidentally pedaling over her feet paid off. As soon as my hands stopped shaking from nerves, I slipped the final package of cigarettes into her hands and flew down the cracked asphalt without looking back. I knew where I was going, but everything appeared different on a bicycle. I was so focused on steering and avoiding the intermittent pothole that I almost mowed down the person that had warranted this rendezvous.
Now it was my time to swear incessantly. If I wasn’t all too aware that our meetings were supposed to go undetected, fly under the radar, be a casual exchange, I would have screamed at him that he should have warned me when he saw me whipping down the road, swerving just in time to dodge a stray cat scurrying across the road.
Out of breath from screaming, I tried to calm myself with deep, even breaths as I leaned against the side of the deserted barn, wary of falling through a rotten section of siding. After the time my foot had gone through a step halfway up the ladder that led to the loft, I couldn’t sink all of my confidence in the farm’s infrastructure. Once my trembling from a mixture of fury and terror had subsided, he finally addressed me.
“Do you want chocolate?” Without waiting for my inevitable, enthusiastic nod, he carefully peeled the foil off a bar of pure ecstasy and broke off half, placing it in my open palm. The treat was gone in three bites. Government-regulated diets and meal plans aren’t too kind when it comes to indulging in sweets. While I ran my tongue over my lips, savoring the sugary delight, he went on. “Your next trip out here will be your last.” I couldn’t help but eye the gun tucked in his back pocket. He noticed the path of my stare and added, “The wrong people are catching on. It’s not safe for you to stay here.” Oh, of course. My so-called parents had restricted my curfew by an extra half-hour. There was that call from our neighbor to the police, which detailed my weekly trips to the tumbledown outskirts of the city. And the most loyal person who had stuck by my side for ten years was no longer speaking to me.
“I’ll be here. Five o’clock sharp. With nothing but the shirt on my back and the bike I ride on,” I said.