I took the dogs for a long walk yesterday afternoon. It is around a 6km stroll but most of it is along pavement and road. They do not mind this, there are loads of exciting new smells and they recognise the houses that we have walked past before, some of which have dogs on the property. They start straining at their leads as we approach one, eager to see if they are going to get barked at from behind a fence.
Towards the end of the first road, which is just over a kilometre long before the first major intersection where we turn left, there are currently traffic management zones in place and detours from major roadworks that lead to a big highway. The road is reasonably busy, but is wide because there is a mix of residential and commercial properties along it. There is pavement all the way, though so it is nice and easy to walk.
I heard them before I saw them. The thunder and roar of large motorbikes which distinguish themselves by their fat tyres and their heavy engine noise. Two motorbikes were coming along the road at speed from behind me and their riders were dressed in thick dark winter clothing. As they passed by, Archie’s head tilted up and back in panic and I could see the whites of his eyes as he strained to assess the level of threat.
They were not after us, though, simply riding along and wanting to dominate the patch of road they were using. I watched as they rounded the corner, travelling abreast until the one on the right swung out deliberately into the oncoming lane to cut the corner. He had literally negotiated the bend by riding straight down the middle of the oncoming traffic’s lane and as far as I could see, it was just dumb luck that no car happened to be coming in the opposite direction.
This was no accident. The men on the bikes had a style of riding that was intended to communicate their ownership of the road. They were dressed in black and the one on the right, who had cut the corner so dangerously, had a scarf wrapped over his face up to the bridge of his nose and was wearing sunglasses and a helmet, which effectively masked his identity.
We all look the same dead, though don’t we?
They caught up to a car travelling in the same direction and in what I took to be a practised move, rode right up against the back of it. The bikes were spewing out the noise of their engines and the sound clattered off the walls of the industrial buildings on one side of the road, so it became deafening. Then they split, one rider overtaking on the right, the other on the left, on the inside of the driver. That, I thought was another dangerous move. The intimidated driver had responded by slowing down, but if it had have been me, I may have panicked and swerved closer to the curb to avoid them, which would have taken one of them out.
There is a biker group headquarters close to where I live. It is on a quiet street just down the road. People like to boast that they live on the same street as if this gives them some sort of social capital – like they have succeeded in living safely among a pride of lions because they are somehow special.
‘Oh yeah,’ they like to say, ‘I even went to the local police and asked them about whether they caused much trouble, but the police said as long as I didn’t mind the odd noise from the bikes, it was probably the safest street in the town to live on.’
I did not see safety. I saw two people using their bikes aggressively for no reason other than it was a way to play at being god. Big black hornets tormenting other people. I am sick of bullies and their easy targets. Perhaps as well, I have become slightly oversensitized to the idea of vehicles being used as weapons. As I had watched them, I looked around for something that I could get behind if I needed to, knowing even as I did so I was being ridiculous.
Around ten minutes later, when we were further down the road, they came back the other way. This time, one of them had a passenger riding pillion, sitting bolt upright behind the driver with a black and white shemagh scarf around his neck. Off they roared, filling the street with sounds of their engines as their bikes powered beneath them.
I have no doubt that they felt like kings as they tore up and down the road, dressed in black. But all I heard was the noise, and all I felt was darkness and menace and death.