Since starting my new job I've been cycling every day, and the number of near misses I've had on my bike have become alarming.
On Thursday for example, coming down the long sweep into Bloemfontein, a pair of buses had stopped at the traffic lights halfway down. I would have slipped by through the inside - as the light had just turned green - but a schoolkid hopped off the bus right then. Since my momentum was interrupted I only reached the back quarter of the bus. And then I saw and felt it moving towards me. I slowed down just in time and watched as the bus basically drove with the edge of its wheels along the concrete margin of the tar. It left absolutely no space for a bicycle with a human being on it (and this is on a two lane highway). If had been there I would have been bacon.
On the same road, earlier in the week, but a little further down, a maroon combi swept around me, on my left hand side (going into a right hand turn). As you can imagine, if I am going too fast, or she has to slow down at the last miute - bacon. She got caught up in a traffic jam outside the Varsity gate so I slammed my fist on the flanks of the car as I went by, and shook my finger at her.
There's more, but I think today's example is noteworthy. I was on my way here (to the computer lab at the Free State University), when I got held up at a traffic light. When it turned green I pulled off, aiming for a point on the opposite side of the highway, so I could turn into Klerck Avenue. Now remember, I was first in line at the intersection. A white BMW swept by me (appearing to think I was going to make a sharp left turn), and fortunately I saw the car (it was almost under my knee!) since I'd pulled away slowly didn't have to worry about momentum.
I then skipped up to the lady waiting at the turn (it always happens, they shoot past you and then wait for ages 5 metres ahead somewhere - what's the point?).
I rapped on her window and she just stared deadahead. Just ignored me.
She attempted an escape, but Klerck Avenue is filled with speed bumps, and the car ahead of her was enjoying this fact: Sunday in Bloemfontein. I found her car parked at 38 Melville Road, and recognised her daughter. An old man and some other people were in the front garden of a pretty derelict looking house, starting up a braai.
I pulled up and asked: "Who is the owner of this car?" The little girl stuttered, "My Mama."
The woman emerged a few seconds later, with a mask of nonchalance on her face. "How can you drive like that?" I asked her in Afrikaans.
"Well, I saw you, so I don't know what you're upset about." she responded.
"If I didn't see you, you would have knocked me over," I said.
At this point the old man said: "I think I need to hit his mouth with this stick."
"Well, are you going to apologise?" I said, notiving the old man was maoevering towards me with one of those umbrella-type canes with the rubber nipple.
"No. I didn't touch you. If I touched you I'd apologise."
"Lady, if you touched me I'd be dead," I said. "You know, every day, it's people like you who endanger cyclists. Every day there's someone like you we have to avoid. We're actually people in the streets, not objects to get around. So you're not going to apologise?"
"No." She turned her back and walked away.
"I see you live at 38 Melville Road," I said.
She immediately stopped, and a few cracks appeared in the mask. "Look, I'm sorry, okay." It was said with all the remorse of a serial killer on death row - okay, that's overdramatising a tad, but you get the point.
Another man offered to write the address down for me. "The problem is you don't have any respect for a human life," I said.
The same sarcastic man repeated what I'd just said, but in the voice of a crying child. I spewed some venom at him at which point the old man was at the gate and feigned a swing at my head. I didn't move - I somehow guessed he was all bark.
The rest of the family now joined in with their witticisms. I left, disgusted, taking a last look at the BMW. It didn't seem to belong in a street filled with such derelict houses, and decayed and prickly old people.
I would have preferred a result that ended something like this.
"I was in a hurry but actually I have no excuse, sorry."
"Okay. For the future please give us cyclists just a little more right of way. We deserve a bit more than we're getting. And another thing. Remember if you 'touch' us, that scratch on your car means almost certain death for us. And it's so easily avoided. Capiche?"
"Okay enjoy your braai now and have a nice day."