Motorcycle diaries

Written by

Zola Jesus – Vessel

1. In full acceleration, Maggie, my motorbike, lags a jolt. Then another, like someone yanking a ponytail from behind. The dash doesn’t light up so I can’t check until I pass under a street light. Yep. Out of gas. The backwards jolts become more frequent as Maggie gasps for gasoline.

I think. Where is the nearest gas station? Can I make it? I cannot. She sputters and coasts quietly through the thick night. I’ve never run out of gas with Maggie. I run my hand down the frame looking for a reserve switch. All I find are greasy fingers.

Welp. It happens. I take off my helmet, resting it on the right mirror, and begin pushing. I figure the station can’t be more than a kilometer ahead and I have my headphones, so I’ll be alright. I pass in front of Gurney, mostly closed. Two taxi drivers watch me quizzically then go back to chatting.

A man on a scooter pulls up next to me. “What’s wrong?” he asks. Oh, just out of gas, I say, taking out one earbud. Is it much farther ahead? He says not far and tells me to get back on. I’m curious. Slowly, with one hand on the Maggie’s back bar, he starts us off. Eventually we pick up pace. I’ve never done this before. He asks me where I’m from — they all want to know where I’m from — so I ask him too, as we coast at 40 km/h, his head slightly behind mine and to the left. He’s from here. Where else would he be from?

At the gas station, he gives me one last shove so that the momentum will carry me to the pump and the accelerates away. Wait, I think. “Thanks,” I yell out into the night. He doesn’t hear me. He’s gone.

2. I’m at a stall. Or rather, it’s a collection of hawker stalls with a tin roof haphazardly thrown over top. The char kway teow is soupy, wet. Char kway teow should be dry. The thing about tin roofs is that you can hear the rain immediately. The first few drops.

There’s nothing to do about it. I walk to where I parked Maggie and bring my helmet back to the wobbly table. I make myself eat half of the plate and then I light a cig.

An older man walks by. He stops. He looks at my helmet and then over to where the motorbikes are parked, all of them wet by now. “You cannot go,” he tells me. “Yeah,” I say. “I’m stuck alright.” He jabs a finger into my shoulder. “You cannot go. When the rain stops, then can go. Until then, cannot.” I nod. That is indeed my plight.

I leave during a lull in the downpour, but it still manages to soak me before I get home.

3. My favorite image in Asia: a man, cig in lips, driving a motorbike casually down the street, puffing away out of the corner of his mouth. For some reason these guys always have their feet pointed outward on the rubber stumps that serve as footrests, making minimal contact on their heels. There’s no rush. They’ll get there when they get there. [Conatus.]

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