We were able to ride bikes together only once.
They weren't even ours. They belonged to Kevin, one of the founders of the hostel we were staying at. When we told him that we arrived without any kind of real plan, he was kind enough to show us a map of things to see and places to eat. I was jealous of his knowledge because I was useless. “You can just take the bikes outside. Everything is quite close and there's no real need to take the cab around. The shoreline is only about 15 minutes away actually,” he said while pointing it out to us on the fold out map. He was very nice. Later that night, the three of us would have together. What was it that he said? “You guys are my friends, so all my friends are also your friends.”
We never made it to the ocean. We went to the Black Forest the next day instead. After leaving Hualien, the only other time I saw the ocean was from the plane.
The Black Forest was supposed to be one of the largest forests in all of Taiwan. I had imaginations of huge dark trees with very little sunlight coming through the canopy. After hearing and watching the jet fighter planes roar over the fields for a few rounds, we decided it was time we go.
The street wasn't so busy heading out from the park but as we got closer to the city main, cars and trucks began to intrude on our lanes. We had rode fast on the way back. Overtaking each other playfully with the wind blowing up against our faces. We swept by the red lights without bothering to stop. Do you remember this? When we finally stopped at light, you looked away. As if you had never met me before. Suddenly, we pretended to be strangers; it just so happened that we had stopped next to each other at this intersection.
“Are you from around here?” I said.
“I don't know. What do you think?”
“I don't think so. From the way that you're dressed and from your English, I don't think you are.”
“But there are lots of people with good English there.”
“In that case, you're the first one I know of.”
“What about you?” she said.
“I'm just travelling through. I'm going along the Eastern Coast and hopefully around the island,” I said.
“That's very nice.”
The light turned green and the cars started to move again. She pushed off and set her feet back onto the pedals. She swerved the bike a bit as it picked up needed momentum. I watched her back. “Do you mind if I ride with you a bit. It looks like we're going in the same direction.”
“Sure. Feel free to.”
“I'm John by the way.”
She turned around and smiled. She didn't tell me her name.
“Where are you going now?” I said.
“Nowhere in particular. I'm just riding around. Actually, I'm not from around here either.”
We coasted through another block. Another block and we would be at the intersection before the main street of the city. Where our street would end. I wondered if she would turn left or if she would turn right. And if I would continue following her. I was a bike length behind. Sometimes half. I had no didn't know where I wanted to go either. We still had an entire late afternoon.
“This street is going to end soon, do you mind if we get coffee together?”
“You're very forward,” she said.
“I'm sorry. I guess I'm simple. Maybe it's my American-ness,” I said.
“I don't mind it.”
“There's a cafe around the corner from here, if we make a left. I was on my way there anyway. How about we go together? If not, you can keep riding. It's nice a ride in that area.”
The light was already green when we got to the main intersection. We coasted through it without stopping. Later on, you would tell me you were nervous playing this game. Which is why you seemed so aloof and nonchalant. I never told you, but I was too. But I didn't care.
We took a left and after a few meters, a right. This led us down a small side street, behind some restaurants and houses. It rained the night earlier and there were a few muddy potholes filled with murky water. I was riding around randomly again.
“Let me go first, there's some potholes around here. Just follow me,” I said.
“Are you sure you know where you're going?”
“Trust me, it's a shortcut.” We were still in role.
The cafe was a few more meters away. We navigated the terrain and finally stopped at the bike rack. I got off and locked her bike for her. Then I locked mine. “This is it,” I said.
I don't remember the rest of this part. The interval where we stopped being strangers. What did I say? How did we transition out of it? I guess it could have gone something like this.
“Do you know how stupid you are,” you said.