Her jaw clenches, staring ahead at the first bend. The ground starts to thunder, each rumble, a vicious threat. The war zone is splayed out, ready to devour those brave enough to try. The courageous child in her pounds on the walls of her heart. The rumbling grows louder. 5 seconds to go. The gates open; a mother trembles with her nails between her teeth.
Let the games begin.
“Thank you all for being here. Let’s go out there and give it our all. One Zambia! One Nation!”
Smiles beam and hands clap as she looks around, memorising the crinkle of familiar eyes, hoping they’ll still be there when the weekend is over. It’s an honour to support, compete and represent their country together. Sharing the same goals, wearing the same colours, living the same dream. This year in Cape Town, for the Motocross of African Nations.
She races round each dreaded corner, braces against each jump in the sky and each hesitant turn of the throttle. But, still, they keep coming, one by one, blurred spots of colour flashing past until all she can see ahead of her is the shine of the motorbikes. The rush of the race begins to fade, and her erratic heart starts to slow. Yet, no… she was told: ‘go out there and give it your all’. Is this it? This couldn’t be how it ends… She did the early mornings, the ‘one more rep’s. It’s only her fault for aiming for the stars and falling before she could even leave the ground.
Overwhelmed, frustrated, and disappointed, she returns to her Zambian team where words of comfort and encouragement coax a wavering smile from her previously downturned lips. They all walk together and gather near the medic tent – a fellow junior rider had a bad crash. Although their spirits are fragile, they stand together and attempt to ignite one another’s hearts regardless. There, her previously extinguished fire starts to splutter, burning courage and hope where there wasn’t before.
“All right, boys and girls, this is the last round. Give it all you’ve got. You need to start taking the inside line in the corners and being more aggressive. Leah: really good start, keep it up. Watch the breaking bumps. As we’ve said, each of your names are on your bikes, that’s who you are racing. You are not riding somebody else’s race. Race the track. And, finally, do not leave here with regrets!”
For the last few races of the day, they gather by the side-lines, cheering for Zambia, proudly waving their flag, screaming ‘one Zambian. One Nation!’, propelling their team to produce the best results they can.
She hangs on, knees clenched to the bike. Her hand is stuck on the throttle. Faster. She’s the first around the corner. Holeshot! She switches to the inside line and tears down the first bend, letting the jump propel her through the air. She can do this. 15 laps. Let’s go.
Shift a gear down. Break. Breathe. Angle the bike through the uphill bend. Shift a gear higher. Stand up. Hold tight with your knees. She lets the bike flow over the bumps. She can hear the other riders’ provoked engines growling behind her, inching closer and closer. Nevertheless, still, she dances, up the hill and in the air. Pushing faster. Moving. On and on. She will not give up on herself. The chequered finish flag waves ahead of her as she rides over the last jump, pumping her fist in the air. Proud to be wearing these colours.
At the end of the day, there is only us and our relentless hope: reluctantly dancing, trying to avoid stepping on each other’s toes, and occasionally failing. And I know people quiet the song, pause the dance – but when you go home and fall asleep, hope will gently shake you awake and you’ll have no choice but to dance again, your footsteps echoing with the weight of it all.
From Unnamed Poem by Youadan Teddy