‘You’re stressed,’ my GP told me following a check-up. ‘Is there anything bothering you?’
Bothering me? Hmmm. Let me see. Relationship in the shitter, no social life, and work … ah, the inanity of work. People dropping in on me. Constantly. ‘Can you take a look at this?’ Courteous. Exquisitely. ‘Write this up for me. Cheers.’ Behind their fake smiles. Their plastic expressions. ‘How’s that report going?’ Their ongoing demands, always their demands, never-ending, never-stopping, never—
‘No,’ I said.
‘You need a way to unwind. A hobby! Everybody needs a hobby! Find something you enjoy doing, something that’ll help you relax. Preferably something physical. Get rid of that nervous energy. Spend it. Leave it all out there. It’ll do you a world of good.’
I tried the gym, but company annoyed me – people offering to spot me, asking me how much I could bench, wanting to talk. I exercised in my garage, but found it claustrophobic. I tried jogging, but my feet were pounded into surrender. On and on my search went, through a variety of endeavours, until I discovered cycling. It was just me and road before me. That’s when I believed I’d found the one, and I even bought all the gear – bike, helmet, reflective kit, pump, chain-lock, water bottle, and even a pedometer. The whole lot set me back almost a thousand bucks, but it was worth it.
The first week my muscles burned with every metre pedalled, protested at every hill, and screamed for relief the further I pushed myself. Conditions that seemed mild – like a cool breeze – were exacerbated at high speeds on my bike. But I was invigorated – reinvigorated. I controlled the pace, cruising when possible, and speeding whenever the urge took me. Most of all, I revelled in being uncaged, open and free. By the second week, I couldn’t wait to finish the daily tedium of work to get on my bike.
Then I learned the most disturbing thing. Or maybe I just started noticing it – noticing it in a way that it becomes impossible to un-notice it, and which makes every subsequent incident cumulatively aggravating.
Cyclists have their own little sub-societal etiquette.
Whenever I passed somebody on a bike, they’d nod their head in acknowledgement – acknowledgement that, hey, they were a cyclist just like me (in case I hadn’t noticed). If we were going leisurely enough, it wasn’t just a nod, but an entire ‘Hey’; or even a, ‘Hey, how’re you doing?’
And on and on it went.
I tried to ignore it initially, tried to conveniently look the other way whenever these exchanges loomed. But they became inescapable, gnawing at me, overwhelming me through their sheer weight of repetition – pressing, demanding, smothering.
Nod. Nod back.
‘Hey, how’re you doing?’ Good.
Somebody even had the audacity to stop to talk to me one evening when I’d paused at a park for a breather. He pulled up right alongside me, hopping off his bike even before it had come to a halt, and rested it against the bench by which I stood.
Hey. I checked my pedometer. Three Ks so far.
Thanks. I took a drink from my water bottle.
‘Looks pretty new.’
Yup. I took my chain-lock from my bike.
‘Haven’t been riding long, have you?’
Uh uh. Surreptitiously wrapped my chain-lock around my right hand.
‘You’re probably only just starting to feel the benefits – the muscle tone in your legs, the increased fitness, the mental well-being.’
Hmmm. Closed my right hand into a fist.
‘But what is it they say?’
What? Cocked my right hand back.
‘Healthy body, healthy—’
And punched his fucking head in.
The first blow hit him – literally hit him – right between the eyes. The flesh popped, like a burst water balloon, with a splatter of blood; there was an almighty crack, which must’ve been the bridge of his nose shattering; and yet what registered first on his face was surprise.
That would teach him.
Something must’ve clicked in his head then, some survival instinct, because he tried pulling away. He wasn’t quick enough. My next punch caught him exactly in the same spot as the first, and he stumbled back, hitting the bench, and falling onto his butt.
I kept punching him and punching him; punching him until he was lying back on the bench, and I had a knee planted into his chest; punching him until his face was pulped, the way an orange gets when you grind it; punching him until his skull seemed to shimmer within the flesh of his head, as if it had shattered and lost cohesiveness; punching him until I had nothing left to give, and no rage left to spend.
I got up from the body, and took a moment to compose myself.
Then I took him and ditched his body in some thickets, covering him with branches until he was hidden. I had no illusions: he’d be found, and much sooner than later. But I didn’t want him lying out in the open like that. What if kids stumbled upon him in the morning, when they were crossing the park to get to school?
His bike I set against a pole on the far side of the park, by the road. Unchained, it was sure to be stolen. It was just a matter of time. Damn neighbourhood. You really can’t feel safe anywhere nowadays.
I was about to get on my bike when I realised that I felt different. Something had changed. I stopped, gave myself a moment for reflection, and found that my mind was remarkably clear. I was filled with a peculiar but intoxicating euphoria.
For the first time in many, many months, I felt awesome.
Getting on my bike, I rode from the park.
My GP was right.
Everybody needs a hobby.