There was undisguised envy in my eyes as I watched the group of marketers weave in between the stationary cars, neatly cruising past the Uhuru Highway-Kenyatta Avenue roundabout and onto the next stretch of road. And it had nothing to do with the large multi-coloured Afro wigs that bounced in time to their movements.
The fluid way in which they shifted their weight from their right foot to their left – their hips jutting out in the opposite direction to the movement of their legs – looked utterly effortless and it was hypnotic. In that moment – trapped in Nairobi traffic for 90 minutes on a 5km stretch – I added rollerblading to my bucket list.
And so yesterday, I decided to borrow my sister’s pair of rollerblades and fulfill this one item on the list.
I am a size 4 or 5 (UK standard), and as I looked down at my sister’s size 9 blades, I realised why she had insisted I wear a double pair of thick woollen socks. I pulled them on, and left an ample part of the sock dangling near my toes to roll up and stuff down the front of the shoe.
And then she and I pushed and pulled my feet into the blades, clicking and closing the multitude of straps along the way. Finally my ankle turned the bend and settled into the corner.
That’s when the weight of the blades hit me. I could barely lift a foot with them on. How on earth was I going to stand on them, let alone roll along the stretch of parking lot! And then the crawling sensation in my stomach began – akin to that of a bunch of plump caterpillars about to metamorphose.
With rounded eyes, I watched as she strapped me into the knee, elbow and wrist guards – and tried to listen as she explained how the most common injury in rollerblading was a broken wrist since rollerbladers would put their hands out to brace a fall, and if it was at an awkward they angle could easily snap a wrist.
The tidbit of information didn’t help, and the caterpillars in my tummy promptly transformed into little butterflies.
She helped me to stand on my roly poly feet, and slowly turned around all the while saying, “Put your arms on my shoulders and use me to balance yourself.”
I stood, and for a moment it felt great. I was on rollerblades! And then she began to walk forward – towing me like a breakdown truck would a dinged car – and it wasn’t so great anymore.
From her shoulders, I slowly worked my way up to her neck until I was clinging to her like a limpet or a koala in an embrace that passers by could have easily mistaken for a choke hold. And all the while, I was laughing hysterically at the sensation of total instability with the floor moving under me in a way that I had absolutely no control over.
She kept taking small steps forward and gradually my feet which started carefully positioned and pointing straight ahead began to spread further and further apart until I was splayed like a spatchcock chicken.
I could hear the uncontrollable giggles bubbling from my mouth, interspersed with breathless laughter from my sister as she tried to gasp in enough air to breathe while laughing at the way my legs were behaving.
We moved two yards across the parking lot paved with cement blocks, but it felt like forever. I desperately tried to reign in my miscreant legs – the horrendous weight of the blades coming back to haunt me – and finally managed to bring them parallel to each other in a pose that was similar to third position in ballet.
Thankfully it was the right position to stand still in, and relieved at my first stroke of luck, I admitted defeat – still furiously giggling at the sensation of the ground moving, legs like jelly and what were now mature butterflies beating their wings to an African rhythm in my stomach.
I insisted – no begged – for release, even after she explained that 10 minutes in rollerblades was hardly enough to fulfill a bucket list wish. I was more than happy to cross the item off my list even though we were stuck in the middle of the parking lot – exactly half way between two stretches of lawn. But to take them off, I would have to cross another two yards, she explained, unless I wanted the wrist protectors to earn their keep.
I have no memory of that last stretch but we finally reached the patch of grass on the other end of the lot, which is when she told me I would have to fall backwards into her arms in order to return to ground level.
I have never been good at that particular team building exercise – relying on a partner so much that you trust that they will catch you if you fall backwards into their arms – and nothing my sister could say would convince me otherwise.
So instead, looking anywhere but at the orange plastic encased rollerblades which had got me into this mess, I threw myself face first into the lawn and landed in an extremely un-lady like position with my face in the grass and my rump in the air.
Elegance aside, I was on stable ground again and my legs were neatly parallel to each other. The incessant bubbles of giggles that had erupted from my mouth finally stopped, and the desperate flutter of butterfly wings stilled.
I unstrapped myself from the death traps on wheels, and walked back to the house, happily crossing rollerblades off my list.
My inner child was smiling. I had been brave enough to try it – if only for fifteen minutes! There was something to be said about the thrill of unknown experiences.