“Was that you calling?” my husband asked.
“Yes,” I answered into my mobile, as the bus proceeded along Al. Jerozolimskie.
“Where are you?” he wanted to know.
“Sto piecdziesiat jeden.”
In an effort to go through the motions of speaking the language, I always say the bus number in Polish.
He laughed, picturing me and my bicycle wedged into the city bus on the cold December Friday night.
“How was it?” he asked.
“It” was Critical Mass, a Warsaw bike ride that I had joined about an hour earlier. Critical Mass is a worldwide urban cycling event that takes place as frequently as once or twice a month. Depending on the city and the cyclist, it can represent everything from a traffic slowdown in protest of cyclists’ rights, to just a fun, healthy, environmentally friendly way to explore the cityscape. For me, it was the latter.
“They,” I sputtered and was suddenly choked with laughter. “Had to …” I was nearly crying with hilarity.
“Push me,” I finally managed to gasp out. “They had to push me.” People sitting on the Friday evening bus looked over, clearly wondering what sort of attack had overcome me.
“Who had to push you?”
“These big Polish guys on bicycles would come along every once in awhile and push the slowest riders at the back of the pack.”
Earlier in the day, my husband had mentioned something about a group bike ride happening in our neighborhood. He immediately regretted doing so, as he is not currently able to ride a bike and even if he were, would never do so in December in Poland. ”Do you mind if I go?” I asked him.
“Do I really have a choice?” he answered. He knows how much I love to be outdoors exercising and how a lack of such has left me with a considerable spare tire in my midsection, major discontent, and a back so tied up in spasms that when I rise out of bed I move as if I were 92, not 52.
If he didn’t know it, I was going to make a strong case for needing a full-moon urban bike ride. I had my fingers crossed that he knew enough not to protest too much.
By 6 p.m. in December in Warsaw, it’s been dark for a couple of hours and feels much later. I stuffed a couple of mandarin oranges into my jacket, made sure I had Kleenex, my point-and- shoot camera, my husband’s phone (because mine is inclined to stop working exactly when I need it) and my wallet. I had no money but figured if I dropped dead from a heart attack, they’d at least be able to i.d. me.
I pulled my garage-sale-purchase, 15-speed-bike up the three stairs in the ground floor hallway where I store it and pushed it out the front door. The front gate clanged behind me. I’m so out of shape right now that the mere act of swinging my right leg over the bike seat sends a shiver of angst through me: Will my leg sail over the saddle or will I fall over before I even mount the bike?
Above me, the kitchen light was on in our apartment. My husband was at the window watching. I pulled on my wool gloves, waved and pedaled off in search of the group. I met up with them near the National Stadium.
Saska Kępa, our neighborhood, is blissfully flat, and I managed to keep up with the middle of the pack. Heading over the bridge towards Centrum, I passed a woman cyclist who looked even older than I. About two minutes later, however, I saw her being swept ahead of me by a yellow-vested organizer cycling with his hand firmly planted on the middle of her back. “Oh, does he know her, I wonder?”
I had barely finished my thought when I felt a similar hand accost me, propelling me up the incline of the bridge. “Dzięki, dzięki” I kept saying, wishing he’d stop, as my feet resolved to stay attached to the pedals which circled quickly with the force of my gigantic bicycle angel.
That angel or another, I never saw their faces, propelled me along several sections of the ride, truly driving home how out of shape I’ve become. As I dripped sweat and sucked air trying to gain ground up one extended climb, I knew the angels were hovering but could not commit themselves until close to the top. They pushed me along Marszalkowska, pre-War Warsawa’s main thoroughfare, a flat stretch where my bicycle chose to get stuck in first gear, leaving me essentially motionless despite rapid pedaling.
At the intersection of Jerozolimskie, I knew I’d make my move to a bus stop with service back to our house.
The next ride, nocna masa krytyczna, commences in a week, at midnight.
Have you had similar angels (wanted or not) come to your aid?