You are Six Years Old and She is Teaching You How to Ride a Bicycle
Don’t wonder why she is doing this, just know that the rice, three
tins of sardines a day and something your mummy calls a
salary are enough.
Focus on her hands keeping you upright, one on the handlebars,
one on the seat, keep moving your legs, one, two….
There are no hungry people in the world any more. You know this
because last Sunday you put three coins into that box
marked ‘rice for the poor’.
Focus on the driveway in front of you, look ahead, don’t look
She says ‘arai’ every time your pedal scrapes her calf, every time
she should be saying ‘ouch’. This is the only word you’ll
learn in her language.
If you remember anything else, remember this is not a machine,
but the closest you will come to levitation.
The way your arch your back, lower your head is not an
aerodynamic sitting position, but a prostration to freedom.
The way your heels lift off the ground, how you raise your right
knee and stretch out your left: nothing less than a
The way getting on your hands and knees to scrub someone else’s
floor for two tins of luncheon meat a day and the right kind
of currency is not an act of submission, but a form of
survival, of dignity.
One day you will read about workers’ rights, the global economy.
You will know all the right words but they won’t quite translate.
They tell you she’s got it relatively good here, that she can’t
Just focus on what you see in front of you.
How balance and muscle memory were moulded by a pair of
invisible hands so that you might someday fly through
cities built on tarmac laid by a thousand invisible hands,
past buildings put together by a thousand invisible men.
And suddenly, you are twenty-six years old and waiting in the
visitor’s room of the IMH with her passport and a one-way
ticket to Manila.
Your mother says she had it coming to her.
Your father says, remember that time she told us that she was
The doctors say psychotic episodes are often a one-off thing.
You pass her a shitty handmade card and a copy of a poem you
wrote about her teaching you how to ride a bicycle.
You are twenty-six still think that writing will absolve you, or at
least make you less complicit.
Remember the time she asked you ‘are you messaging your
girlfriend?’ and you smiled and shrugged.
The time you cut your hair short and she said ‘I wish I had that
hair style but your mum won’t let me’ and you said, ‘just do
it without telling her!’
The one time she said to you, ‘you and me are the the same kind
aren’t we?’ and you smiled and shook your head.
Or maybe, just remember this:
How women in your country never really left the kitchen, they
just changed names and nationality.
How every five minutes, somewhere in the world there is a young
girl from a small village teaching a small girl from a slightly
larger village how to defy gravity.
How none of us are truly free until every single one of us is.