A Ride on Baridelo’s Bicycle
“It was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life.”Ayomide Ruth Oluwagbenga
I often saw them. With their intense focus, hips gyrating along with the even strides of their bicycles across the smooth planes, the natural sway of their hands with the wind as they whooshed past pedestrians, and the unbridled freedom as they stood and sat while pedaling along: women, men, young adults, and even children, all riding bicycles as they pleased.
It amazed me because this is not a common sight where I come from. There, life is always about shuffling about and hurrying amongst the city to catch moving busses, standing for minutes waiting to flag down taxis, or haggling with the Okada men (motorcyclists) before hopping on and slowly wading through dense traffic.
There, it was easy to wish for posh cars like the ones owned by influential people, or even a secondhand automobile, like those owned by the middle class. But to own and ride a bicycle? “Nah, that’s for the villagers,” I thought.
So, I never rode a bicycle growing up. I didn’t know what it felt like. Even a baby walker or a children’s bike wasn’t a luxury I enjoyed. I had a longing, though.
Ever since I arrived in this village, located in the Tai Local Government Area of Rivers State, Nigeria, where I’ve been posted for a year as a teacher at one of the Junior Secondary Schools, I’ve noticed that many of the residents—including my students—happily enjoy riding their bicycles. I was tempted to ask one of them for a lift as they rode home from school, but I was afraid that I’d fall off if I ever tried to hop on.
Then, it happened.
On a sunny afternoon, I was returning home from the market in the Ogoni community where I lived, expecting to make dinner for myself and a few visitors.
The market was a 20-minute walk from my lodge, but I didn’t mind. There were no other basic means of transportation in the village, anyway, except for individually-owned bicycles, as well as a few motorcycles that took people from one community to another, which were sometimes miles apart.
As I trekked along, I felt fatigued, but I shifted my heavy bag of goods from one hand to another and endured. Soon, one of my students, a teenage girl name Baridelo, rode by and stopped upon recognizing me. I was delighted to see her, and we exchanged pleasantries. Then, she insisted on helping me with my journey.
I felt fear again. This time, though, I decided to try and ride the bicycle as a passenger; my strained arms had gotten the better of me.
It was a beautiful ride. I saw my surroundings in a lovely slideshow of flowering trees and shrubs, earthy grounds, and muddy houses, some with faded paint on their concrete walls.
I saw children playing in groups, with the aged sitting at the boundaries, reminiscing, watching. The world didn’t fly past; the entire beauty of each little ‘slide’ was revealed to me as we rode along in the cool breeze.
I sat with my legs across as Baridelo expertly navigated her bicycle, who had a smile on her face and an elegant gait to her feet. She made me feel comfortable, so I was able to sit back and enjoy the emotions that only a pleasant ride in the wind can deliver. It was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life.
I arrived at my house feeling refreshed and immediately pleaded with my dear helper to teach me how to ride a bicycle. She promised she would instruct me every day after school until I became an expert, and even helped me get a good bike.
Meanwhile, I relived the memory of my ride on Baridelo’s bicycle a thousand times.