She gives a little throttle and the engine begins to liven. Then, as she begins to release the clutch, she lets off the throttle. The motorcycle jerks forward and the engine cuts off. Jess looks at me, waiting for the rebuke.
‘Now do it your way again,’ I say.
It is a warm afternoon and the tarmac is dry after it rained heavily earlier in the morning. In the waning weeks of the wet season, the rains become more ferocious as they become less frequent. Now when they finish, the sky opens up and there are few or no clouds and the sunshine is strong as you would expect it to be always.
She frowns when I say it and she turns back to her controls. She is stopped on an incline and she knows that this is testing her command of the motorcycle’s controls – foot break, throttle and clutch lever. She does it the same way as before. She thinks she does not. She thinks she will make it work this time and, it working, she will show me that she does not need a crutch to make it work for her. So she does it again her way and, not controlling how her mind controls her hand at the throttle, she lets off as she disengages the clutch so that the motorcycle jerks forward and the engine shuts off. She looks at me again.
‘Now do it my way,’ I say. ‘That means you say – aloud – “gas, gas, gas” over and over and you believe the words and you use them as a command to your hand to continue to the accelerate as you disengage the clutch.’
‘OK,’ she says.
She returns to her controls and she begins to mumble the words under her breath.
‘Gas, gas, gas,’ she says.
She stops saying the words as she begins to disengage the clutch and, releasing the throttle, she jerks into a stall.
‘See, it doesn’t work,’ she says.
‘Two things,’ I say. ‘First, you stopped saying it before you actually started to disengage the clutch. Second, you can’t mumble the words. The words are not magic. You have to say them aloud and like you mean it. You have to focus on your throttle hand and use them to command your hand to obey you.’
‘It feels stupid,’ she says.
‘Maybe,’ I say. ‘But I imagine it’s no more stupid than stalling over and over because you refuse to try it.’
‘Fine,’ she says.
She turns back to the controls. She says the words with meaning this time, if not with conviction, but it is enough. She lets back slightly on the throttle as she disengages the clutch but she has enough control over her throttle hand not to let off completely and the motorcycle lurches slightly but survives the transition from the stop into the ride.
Once she realizes she is riding, she gains confidence and she accelerates up the incline. She changes into second gear at the leveling before the second rise. At the top of the second rise, she u-turns, descends, u-turns again, and returns to the starting position. Stopped now, she waits for me to approach and for the ‘I told you so’ that she knows she deserves.
‘Do it your way,’ I say.
She frowns and she turns her focus to the controls. She does it her way, thinking she does not because she feels the words come out of her mouth. But I can see that she does not believe them and so they do not command her throttle hand. She adds throttle, begins to disengage the clutch, releases the throttle, lurches forward, and stalls the engine. She looks at me again.
‘Good. Do it your way again,’ I say.
She frowns because she is too smart to not know when she is being played with but she is still much too stubborn to get it right. She does it her way again, saying the words, not the command, and she lurches and stalls again. She looks at me again and again I say, ‘Do it your way.’
She lurches and stalls again. Now she is tired of failing and I think it is getting the better of her stubbornness.
‘Now do it my way,’ I say.
She sighs and turns back to her controls. She says the words – as a command this time – and she continues to accelerate with her throttle hand as she disengages the clutch and she moves forward smoothly into the ride. When she comes back she is smiling sheepishly. I shrug as if to say, ‘It’s just that easy.’
‘Your afraid of the engine,’ I say. ‘You think the bike is going to buck you. That’s why you’re hesitant to accelerate. So you try to give just enough to get into a ride and then, when you’re comfortable that you’re riding, you start to accelerate again.’
‘Yeah,’ she says.
‘The starting needs to be part of the riding, not a separate activity. You need to want to fire the engine and accelerate.’
I think about this because I think that maybe I have hit on something for her and me both.
‘You have to do this wholeheartedly – that’s what I love so much about it. If you give it anything less she’ll buck you as sure as anything. And that’s when it isn’t safe to do it. Every time you ride it has to be with your whole heart and your whole head. You have to be there completely and there can be nothing else while you’re doing it.’
I say this and I know that she knows what it means because it is what she was taught when she was young and what she values now and what she looks for in everything she does; it is what scares her more than anything else and what makes her happier too.