I was eight, I think. I was just learning how to ride a bike, and my papa was teaching me. He held onto the handles, put his hands over mine and helped me steer. After a little bit of going on like this, he let go on a count of three.
“Uno!” I tightened my sweaty grip on the bike handles.
“Dos!” I exhaled heavily, getting my little feet ready to peddle on their own.
“Tres!” With a final squeeze, Papa let go; he still walked beside me, though, ready to catch me if I fell. I wobbled precariously for a few feet more, then started to fall. I always caught myself before I fell; my feet touched the ground before anything could happen. Still, Papa ran towards me and double checked I wasn’t hurt. Once he was satisfied, we tried again. And again. Over and over again, I wobbled and hobbled on my little bike with him by my side. Each time he let go of the handlebars, I would ride by myself a bit farther than the last time. This is how my papa taught me.
One day, Papa wasn’t around to teach me like usual. He told me at breakfast he would be busy today.
I looked down at my plate of fruit and poked at a prune. “Who will teach me after school then?” I asked him. I could tell he knew I was disappointed. I had grown used to our little routine; I saw no reason for today to be different.
At that moment, Mama walked into the kitchen, sitting down next to me. She grabbed a banana and began to peel it without looking. She was peeling it upside down.
“De qué estamos hablando?” What are we talking about?
I stabbed at more fruit. “Papa can’t teach me bicicleta today. He’s busy,” I said. I put a prune in my mouth and chewed sullenly, scrunching my nose at the taste. Prunes were so gross.
Mama looked at Papa, who looked like he had swallowed a prune himself, then back at me. “Well,” she began. “Gabriela, I could teach you instead. Just for today, if you want.”
I looked at her for a bit then smiled. Sure, she wouldn’t be as good at teaching as Papa was, but Mama was way more fun. Plus, I bet she knew how to ride a bike better than I could.
“Okay.” I said. “Just make sure to do it like Papa does.” I finished my breakfast, put on my backpack for school, and that was that.
After school, I immediately rushed out from the car to grab my bike and helmet from the garage, knocking things over as I went. I shuffled through the mess in the garage, finally pulling my bike and helmet from under a table. I stomped my way out, significantly more rumpled then when I had gone in. My jumper was dirty with dust, but I didn’t care. I dragged my bike to the street with my helmet placed lopsidedly on my head and waited for Mama to come.
10 seconds passed. I shoved my hair behind my ears and picked at my nails.
15 seconds. I kicked at a pebble with my shoe, watching it skid across the pavement .
At 20 seconds, I tried a different tactic. “MAMA,” I yelled. “LISTA?” Ready?
I wait for a reply. After a bit, I heard a distant yell of affirmation. Content with the response, I nodded to myself, set my bike down beside me, and sat down on the curb to wait for her to walk out onto the street. Once she walked out, I jumped up and ran towards her.
“I already have my bike so we can go now,” I said as I dragged her to where I left my bike. “Dad usually holds on with me for a bit, then lets go,” I told her. “I won’t fall, though.”
Mama picked up the bike for me and held it steady as I clamored on. She straightened my helmet as she laughed. “ I bet you won’t, reina. But just in case, I’m gonna put your helmet on tight, okay?”
I hummed contently, enjoying the feeling of the sun on my skin. “Okay.”
Once my helmet was fastened to her liking, she put her hands over mine on the handlebars, just like Papa did. We rode out together, with my little feet pedaling along and her hands steady over mine. She had to hunch over to properly grip the handlebars, just like Papa did.
After a while of going on like this, I nodded my head determinedly and said to Mama, “ You can let go now, I’m okay.”
When Mama’s hands tightened instead of loosening, I spared a glance at her. Her lips were thinned to a line and her eyes were set straight ahead on the roads ahead of us.
“...Mama?” I prompted her.
“Hmm?” Her eyes still stared straight ahead.
“You can let go now.” I said for the second time. I began to pedal faster.
“Okay.” Her voice was shaking.
“Mama, you gotta let go.”
“Okay.” Her hands were holding on to mine so tightly it hurt a bit.
“Mama, you’re not letting go.”
“I will, I’m letting go.”
“Mama, let go!” Our bike had been steadily careening and was now heading straight for a tree.
“I’m letting go!” She was not letting go. I was going to crash for the first time.
“We’re gonna fall, Mama! Let me go.” The tree was getting closer and closer. We would crash in the next second.
Right before we crashed into the tree, I swerved to the right. We fell onto the grass in a jumble of limbs and bike. I heard a groan from under me and scrambled to get off Mama. As she oriented herself, I took inventory. My hands and knees were bleeding and my glasses were knocked off my face. I checked over Mama; her hands were scraped too. I huffed a breath, took off my helmet, and plopped down onto the grass.
“You didn’t let go,” I said with no heat behind my words.
Mama peered up at me from where she was lying on the grass. She laughed softly under her breath, “No I didn’t, huh.”
“You were supposed to let go,” I told her. I slapped at a mosquito on my leg; the scrapes had attracted the bugs.
“Lo siento.” Sorry.
We looked at each other for a second then burst out laughing. I fell next to Mama and laughed until I cried. We laughed and laughed and laughed until our sides hurt.
After a good 5 minutes of giggling hysterically, I turned to hug her tight. “Why didn’t you let go?” I asked.
She glanced at me, then at the sky. After frowning at the clouds for a while, she sighed. “I don’t know Gabriela,” she finally said. “I guess I was too scared.”
We laid out in the sun for a little while longer until the mosquitos became unbearable. Then, we hauled my bike back to the garage, kicking pebbles and swinging our arms as we walked. We were done with bicicletas for the day.