Chapter 2 – Rocco’s Near-Miss
Rocco was seething. He felt like punching someone. Or something. Smash it to pieces, throw it away.
Instead he increased his speed, pedalling like a maniac, pinning down the fast lane of the covered bike path that interconnected Meanjin. Below him, self-driving autos were buzzing along. Trees and buildings whooshed past him. Luckily it was quiet. Rocco had no mind to slow down for anything or anyone right now.
He had been so irritable lately. The build up of aggression inside him was new and it scared him a little now that he explored it a bit closer. What had happened to him? His thoughts circled around the failed project. All that work for nothing. Months of research, trials and number crunching. For nothing. The frustration boiled like magma in Rocco’s belly, hot anger wanting to spew out like an erupting volcano.
The new battery design from a student project in a small town on the West African continent was simply amazing. It deserved closer observation but Rocco had snuck away after they had got the message, feeling unable to cope in a group situation. The rest of his team was happy to go for a beer and take the rest of the day off to ponder new horizons. Obviously it was not the first time that his team had missed out on a win. Rocco should be used to it, plus he usually loved innovation. He was an engineer after all; ‘Making better things to make things better’.
But today all Rocco had been able to do was grimace, eyes narrowed, mouth scrunched up, jaw clenched as if he was expecting a blow. He saw red just thinking about the positive pep talk given by the research faculty coordinators. Rocco put all his energy into pedalling harder, going a little faster again, there was a slow rise coming up, followed by a long down which he was looking forward to.
All of a sudden a currawong on the way to its next landing spot crossed his path. It noticed Rocco just in time to perform an acrobatic manoeuvre and avoid him, but Rocco swerved a tiny bit and for a split second his neck-braking speed propelled him straight for the railing which, at that point in time, seemed oddly low to protect someone from a ten-metre drop to the rail line below.
Rocco’s life played before his inner eye at immense speed. He saw Soleil (pronounced So-lay, French for ‘sun’), his beloved, dead over two years now, then his kids, Blu and Leyla, his parents, his best friend, his colleagues, his childhood self, his dreams, aspirations, scenes from long ago suddenly remembered clearly – then his reflexes kicked in. He reefed his bike around, performed a controlled brake, and stopped. Rocco’s heart raced. He looked back, at the tyre marks he had left on the light surface of the bike path. He could have broken his neck just now. Just like Soleil.
The relief of being unscathed washed over him like rain on a muggy day. It surprised him, that relief of being alive, of having survived, just like the anger had surprised him just a few moments earlier. He realised that he had been feeling closer to death than to life for the past few months, but confronted with the possibility of dying, something within him seemed to have decided that he wasn’t done just yet.
Rocco closed his eyes to draw a long breath in and send a prayer of thanks to somewhere. He gathered himself for another few moments, then began walking his bike. His knees were weak, the butterflies of the death fear still stirring in his gut, his breathing felt laboured, heavy. At the top of the rise he got back on his bike, his mind strangely blank, all petty work frustrations registering as insignificant, wiped away.
Then the shock set in, along with tears, long, drawn-in sobs, veiling Rocco’s vision, surprising him with their power. And then he noticed a pressure, or pain rather, deeply rooted in his heart, his gut, his very being, and his knees became so wobbly that he stopped and got off the path to sit down on a bench near Meanjin river.