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‘Have you done this before?’
‘Right,’ he says. ‘The right pedal is to accelerate, left is brake.’
In front of me I see Onos settled in his go-kart, like he was born in one. I should never have agreed to this.
The attendant offers his hand, to help me into my kart. ‘Can you drive?’ he asks.
‘Em… not really.’
He nods like he’s heard this before, and I wonder if I should be reassured. I eye the kart with suspicion. It’s red. Should I ask for one with a different colour, a placid blue maybe? I sigh and, one foot first, get into the kart, stiff and awkward. The helmet sits heavy on my head, and in my neck I feel a vein start to throb. I smile, to convince my brain that I’ve got this. Onos glances back at me. I can’t see his face, but I know his eyes will be shiny, expectant. ‘Try something new, for once’ – those were the words he’d used to talk me into this ‘adventure’. I look away from him; I have to learn the ropes of this complex machine.
An Asian boy – he can’t be more than ten – appears brandishing a ticket, and another attendant helps him into the kart behind me. There are now three of us on the tracks. I am contemplating the meaning of life when I hear the boy’s kart rumble to life behind me. He speeds off, laughter trailing after him. I glare at his back.
‘Let’s do this,’ I say to the attendant through clenched teeth. He starts to bend over my kart and I quickly point at Onos. ‘Do him first.’
Onos starts off and the attendant comes back to turn mine on. The kart starts to vibrate beneath me, and I push down on the accelerator. Off I go. Fast. I make the first right turn. Piece of cake. Then on I go until I have to make a left turn. Easy peasy. As I head on, a genuine smile is starting to form on my face. The sun is beating down on my bare arms, the breeze blowing in my face. Today, I kick ass at go-karting; tomorrow, I walk on water! I take the next left and speed on ahead. I am coming up against red and white plastic barricades, but I’m still smiling. I have enough time to turn my wrist just so and avoid hitting them.
The smile is still there when I don’t make the turn. I crash into the barricades, the impact throwing up a couple of them, and they fall around me. The kart stops. I hurry to my feet, noticing that Onos has stopped and two of the attendants are rushing toward me. I struggle to take off my helmet, and as the first attendant reaches me he helps me pull it off. The smile is stuck on my face, for some odd reason; the attendants are looking at me funny. I hear the sound of an approaching kart and look toward it. It’s the boy, waving as he passes. When they are certain that I am fine, one of the attendants leads me away from the stalled kart while the other sets about putting the barricades back in place.
‘Maybe we’ll give you one of the slower karts,’ the attendant with me says.
They have slower karts? I want to grab the front of his shirt and shake him. ‘Why didn’t you just give me a slow one in the first place!’
‘We like to give those to children.’
We walk back to the start point in silence. As the attendant sets me up in a slower kart – blue this time, but this doesn’t make me feel better – the boy speeds past again.
The attendant starts me up, and off I go again. Slowly. I approach the first right turn and I slow to a crawl. In a fit of spurts and jerks, I make that turn. Then I speed up, but just a little, until I reach the next turn, which I take in similar fashion. I take yet another slow turn and approach the crash site, which now bears no trace of my assault. I go even slower, eyeing the spot as I navigate, snail like. I find that Onos is still waiting for me, and I like him a little less for this. He starts moving again as I reach him, and then he forges ahead. I approach a left turn, and I go so slowly that I stop. I tell myself that the accelerator is stiff; that this is why I keep stopping. The boy passes me again. I sigh.
After three painful laps – during which I stop at every single turn and drive into barricades countless times – with Onos hovering around me like an overly anxious but good intentioned parent, the Asian boy whooping with every pass, attendants and waiting customers watching me with a mixture of awe, pity, and annoyance, the attendant blocks my path at the start point with a barricade. I raise the visor off my helmet and glare at him.
‘What? I haven’t done up to ten laps now!’
‘Maximum time is ten minutes per round.’
‘We’ve allowed you more than ten, and that boy has done like twenty laps because of you!’
I smile stiffly, avoiding the attendant’s eyes as I get out of the kart and hand over the helmet. I walk with Onos to the locker room, to get our stuff. He says nothing; just puts an arm around my shoulder and gives a comforting squeeze, and I think maybe I will forgive him after all, for putting me through this.
In the locker room we see the boy. He is bright eyed and exhilarated, talking to his parents with words we can’t understand. His gestures are clear though: he is clenching the steering wheel, swerving here, swerving there, pressing down on the accelerator, whizzing past the world. He is Speed Racer!
‘Look on the bright side,’ Onos says, ‘the kid’s happy.’
I pick his hand off my shoulder and let it fall to his side.