Masr Gedida, Egypt
Ring Road of Greater Cairo
Let me preface this by saying that “riding bitch” is not a phrase I make a habit of using, but nor is the act itself one I make a habit of partaking in. I’ve only ever done it with a handful of people, I swear. You could probably even count them all on a single hand; and most of those times, it’s been with one person.
He’s a big black guy (or Nigerian, if you want to be more germane).
We met at the American University in Cairo — round about four years ago — shortly after my stint as an incorrigible young freedom fighter with a newfound cause of political righteousness. Man, I thought I’d seen some shit in the 25th January Revolution, but nothing compares to the sort of genocidal atrocities that go down in West Africa, particularly those perpetrated by Boko Haram in Nigeria. The stories he’s told me involve a level of ruthlessness and inhumanity that make it very difficult for me to believe there is a God of any faith, color or gender.
As a result of that which he has seen and overcome, the man is, to all intents and purposes, pretty much fearless. This makes him an extraordinary human being in any guise, but for the purposes of this story, I’ll focus on his abilities as a rider. My heated and soon to be irretrievable love affair with motorcycles had begun just months before we became acquainted, so my skills and faculties were raw at best, being strictly limited to smaller capacity engines and middleweight off-roaders.
This was not so for my friend of many years experience and miles covered. You see, to ride a bike well is to do so confidently (please note that does not mean arrogantly). In order to achieve the kind of unbelievable feats of speed and handling that it’s possible to obtain from some of these machines, one must both possess and exercise the guts to push the bike and themselves far past the limits of what is generally thought to be physically possible.
As the saying goes, there are two kinds of riders: those who have crashed, and those who have yet to.
Guts is something I’ve never known my big black friend to be in any recognizable shortage of. The madman will exploit gaps on the open road or in heavy traffic that no sane person would ever even consider going for (myself included, back when sanity was still something I could claim ownership of). He’s a fucking fighter pilot on two wheels, breaking every conceivable speed law and — at some points — the sound barrier, I’m pretty damn certain.
Thus it was likely for both good and ill that he was my first time riding bitch. Good in that it boosted my immunity to fear when it comes to the pursuit of straight line speed, and ill because it imbued me with totally absurd, unrealistic expectations when it comes to the pursuit of an adrenaline rush. It was some kind of a laugh, that maiden voyage (as it is for most). I kept bumping into the back of his head with my helmet every time we slowed down, clinging to his waist with manic desperation as we decelerated abruptly from 120 to a dead halt, and then accelerated in a similarly dramatic fashion.
After quite a bit of practice, I learned more effectively to use my body as a counterweight, how to keep from fucking amateurishly with the balance, especially in the tighter bends. Believe you me, any big bore engine on a featherweight sport bike (also known as a crotch rocket) will take you from 0-60 in way less time than just about anything else road legal, the effect of which is that you get to wherever you’re going a hell of a lot faster than you otherwise would.
Journeys which take three hours in a car can be halved on the appropriate motorcycle.
So we’re rocketing down the infamous desert highway surrounding Cairo from the outskirts into the heart of the beast itself. This is not an especially safe thing to do in any form of vehicle, as the Ring Road is replete with unpaved bits of tarmac, patches of slippery sand, homicidal blind corners, endless potholes, looters, roaming packs of wild dogs, and so on. But it’s like I said, fear is not an emotion the rider in question seems susceptible to — or leastways, not visibly, that is.
Traveling at such unnaturally high speeds brings forth some removed sort of inner awareness. That sounds cheesy, I know, but you’ll have to take my word for it. Quite apart from the roar of the machine — which on a 929cc, 150hp, inline-four engine is quite a concerto of noise — there’s a certain quietness embraced in your subconscious. Somewhere around 95 or so miles an hour, the only thing you can really focus on or care about is the road stretching before you, and how quickly it’s possible to fully explore it.
And on the back of this bright red missile borne of Japanese metals and ungodly hellfire, that peace and serenity are within me, for the first time, fully realized. With every corner we slide through and straight we devour, I feel myself somehow closer to whatever nonexistent God is out there. It’s hard to explain, but has something to do with the reality of how perilous it is and how close you are to dying, I think. For whatever reason, the chaos and evil and atrocity of the world fade away at that point on the speedometer, in that moment, and you revel in the proximity to mortality which presents itself along every twist and turn of the road.
As we near the capital itself, the streets get more populated, the traffic abominably more dense (this is Cairo, after all). We start to attract the attention of fellow motorists, only it’s not what you’d call friendly. Maybe it’s the ostentatious aesthetic of the bike — or the fact that my hair looks especially fabulous and windswept after that latest blast through the desert — but either way, you get the sense that a majority of these road goers are formulating opinions of a distinctly hateful and homophobic nature in the direction of myself and my big black friend.
It’s not uncommon for openly gay men in Egypt to go mysteriously missing and turn up weeks later in a ditch.
Which, of course, he couldn’t give a fuck about. The man has spent way too much of his waking life being a consummate badass to harbor even the slightest of concerns with regard to the small minded judgments of a bunch of traditionalists he will never see or come across again. But I found myself very mindful, even self-conscious of the image I was conveying in a foreign land where sentiments towards homosexuals are less than tolerant, usually constituting measures of lifelong imprisonment and/or far worse.
Somewhere along the line, though, with Frank Ocean blaring in my headphones and the warm Saharan sun bathing this ancient, iconic city in its undying light, I cease to so much as remotely care. Times and experiences like these occur way too seldom in life to give mind the ignorance of those entrenched in mentalities of the anachronistic past. We’re weaving through traffic, stopping for nothing and no one (save, rather chivalrously, for an elderly woman crossing the street). The adrenaline becomes a rush coursing through my system the same way I’d imagine China White heroin would if mainlined directly.
And as we’re speeding along, darting through minuscule gaps or careening by every petty motherfucker shooting us a dirty look, I realize how much fun riding bitch can actually be. My prejudices and insecurities are carried away with the wind blowing forcefully overhead. The rev counter shoots up to twelve, sometimes fourteen thousand RPS, with the engine howling like a goddamned banshee all the while.
My big black friend commands complete and utter control of this machine and the road underneath it. Life doesn’t get much better, at least for demented folk like ourselves, it has to be said. And those immortal words of legendary punk rockers, The Misfits, echo through my mind, as we tear maniacally along through my adoptive nation’s capital:
Sweet, lovely death, I’m waiting for your breath. Come, sweet death…one last caress.