An Ode To My Scooter
Lingering incense from daily offerings wafted over the villa; the smell of Balinese air and fresh street food filled my nostrils. A breath felt how I would imagine dirt-flavoured candy floss to taste – instantly melting, topped with a spritz of motor oil and a dash of bug spray.
A muffled chorus of squealing pigs came within earshot. Around me, the zipping, zooming, and hooning of bodies. Pool splashes, rustling trees. The whooshing of the wind.
I already felt at home.
Patiently waiting with legs dangling in the pool, I was eagerly listening for the grunt and hum of motors pottering down the driveway. Despite the Balinese sun teasing my eyelids and the foggy cloud of jetlag that had settled over me, I was giddy with anticipation.
“Your bikes are here!”
Legs dripping, I hopped, skipped and jumped out of the pool and up the uneven steps of the front entrance. There she was. Battered, bruised, and full of character, my noble steed awaited me. ‘Carissa’ would be my companion, servicewoman and life coach for the next four weeks.
Keys slapped in hand by her trusty owner, I swallowed my pride.
My helmet of choice was full of old sticker stains and sported a visor as clear as an Irishman’s eyesight on St Patrick’s Day. Either way, I thought it would do the trick. The driveway was a haggard concrete slope flanked by a precarious ditch on one side, and the villa wall on the other. Down the centre was a sad, trampled strip of grass to catch those who didn’t make it.
It was the run up to the starting line.
Full of fear and enthusiasm, I jumped on. Shoving the key in, I revved her to life.
And on my inaugural ascension, let’s just say, things went south.
Screech. Skid. Thud.
I came within inches of jumping the ditch and becoming an installation on the concrete wall. My frustration was audible. Clearly, my firm hand on the throttle was no way to greet a stranger. Despite the fact that I had no previous experience, the idea that I couldn’t conquer something on the first try really bugged me. However, I was not giving up that easily. I decided, a touch more fervor and a touch less wrist action would do the trick. After a 20-minute break, two ciggies and a deep breath, I reluctantly went back for round two.
It was a success.
I steadily made my way up the driveway and came back down with the posture of a winner. I repeated this process until I was ready to hit the road.
Over the course of the month, I revelled in the thrill of driving through the streets of Canggu. I was getting comfortable, and I could feel her getting comfortable with me. The more time I spent with her, the more I recognized all her quirks, lumps and bumps. While whizzing along, I started to think about how, in many ways, Carissa and I were not so different.
It was only through the intimate moments I spent with her that I learned to hold her button down for exactly three seconds before giving her a good rev up and out of bed. To know she’ll punish you for staying in the sun too long otherwise her upholstered seat will burn your thighs. To know you need to give her plenty of warning when you’re slowing down, otherwise her front brake may or may not work in time.
In the same way, I’m not a morning person, so you should wake me gently. That I have a ravenous appetite at all hours of the day, so I’m always down for a feed, and that a cuddle will always make me feel better, no matter what the circumstances.
Of all the things I found here in Bali, flying through the streets at midnight became one of my favourite pastimes. Speeding to my heart’s content. Swerving and swooping around street dogs and snack vendors. The thick night air slicing through my curls like a sharp knife through butter. It was freedom like nothing else; these were the moments I would get lost in thought. Thinking about being in a foreign country, exploring new things, places, beings. Wondering what my friends were up to back home, and, of course, my daily dose of pondering my existence.
Every time, without fail, whether it was going over a speed bump or avoiding a stray dog, I was thrust back to reality in a moment.
The same way I thought I was invincible through my youth. Partying all night, seeing the world as my oyster – until, once again, I ended up in a hospital bed on New Year’s Eve with a dislocated knee and a whole lot of explaining to do to my mother.
After a blissful two weeks of more or less easy riding around the streets of Canggu, the inevitable happened: my bike broke down.
Wandering up and down the street, I hoped a miraculous idea would pop into my head about how to diagnose Carissa. I have zero automotive knowledge. Was it a fuse? Was it an empty tank? Was it something more sinister? If only I knew. I was at the end of my tether. I walked to the nearest service shop, kindly asked a mechanic to wander down the road to check out my bike, and, sure enough, he kick-started it in seconds. I pulled away, relieved and beaming. My bike never died again.
I felt pretty silly about it all, but it moved me to ponder the ways in which we ask for help in life.
A recent run in with my mental health was something I was still working through. The catalyst for my spiral was living in denial of my problems – shit from the past that I never dealt with. I refused for anyone else to touch the engine of my mind that so desperately needed re-tuning. It left me scuffling along dark streets searching for an answer that didn’t require any human interaction. When my stubborn self finally gave in to the help I needed, I was able give in to the mechanics in my life and kick-started my engine back to full speed.
Trust me, it wasn’t easy. At least not for me. Especially when I was always the one towing people to petrol stations or changing other people’s tyres. For some reason, it was never justifiable when it came to doing my own.
The only way this was able to change was through an entire year of topping up my oil before checking anyone else’s. It was one hell of a ride, but a journey that has shaped the person I am today.
I think that’s a driving lesson we could all take.
When my mother called from home to check in with how I was going, and wanted to hear all the wonderful crazy things I had done and learned during my stay in Bali, I chose to tell her about Carissa. My noble steed.
I told her that upon my arrival back to Aotearoa, I would love to get a scooter of my very own.
Cover by Gemma Clarke