I still haven’t written about the lights I saw biking home with Liz and Rohan. It was long past sunrise and we were on the beltway, unilluminated by streetlight except near intersections. Only Rohan had a light bright enough to lead us, and so we biked in front of him. Or slightly behind, anxious about the gap between illumination and non-illumination on a trail that was covered with hazards (pot holes, branches, the occasional dog straying far from its owner).
We had gotten turned around—coming to pause underneath an overpass, lonely and imposing in the darkness. Rohan mapped out a new path on his phone while Liz and I went back the way we had come, realizing our mistake only when we found ourselves in perfect darkness. I was eager to get home—a ride that had only taken me thirty minutes on my way there was going to take well over an hour.
Ahead of us on the trail was a cluster of bright lights, tight and focussed and hovering into themselves. It looked like something from a movie about a close encounter with an alien race, the way the lights seemed to cohere into themselves, a coherence that suggested, to me, a kind of sentience or intelligence.
Whatever it was, it was on the trail, clearly moving but also seeming from my vantage rooted in place. As if it was just hovering, holding its position as it swayed back and forth in the wind, scanning the forest or scanning for us. If it had made a noise, or moved suddenly, I might have turned around or darted into the brush. Who knows what I would have done. As it was I was transfixed, waiting for it to arrive.
Only when it was almost upon us did its shape find emergence—a peloton, a group of spandexed men riding through the beltway at top speed, in tight formation, with the same bright white light affixed to each of the handlebars of their expensive bicycles. “Keep right,” they called back to each other, as their frames whirred quickly past us.
We’d stopped cycling, both to wait for Rohan and because we knew it would be dangerous to try and press forward through the crowd. I felt like a rat trapped between four wheels of a car, quivering close to the asphalt.
Like a speck on the horizon, as far from myself as the lights had been.
Two weeks later I was biking home following a late shift at the circulation desk of the Law Library, making a turn that I have made hundreds of times before. Except I was suddenly on a street that I didn’t recognize, a street shrouded in darkness that my bike lights barely pierced. I turned, trying to correct myself, and found myself in a long alley that ended at the major road I had wanted to avoid. I wasn’t quite lost, but it was disturbing how quickly I had lost my place. I was forced to double-back through a neighbourhood that I knew intimately, that I had lived in and adjacent to for years. Most of my adult life.
I couldn’t figure out what about it had changed—why I was suddenly so confused, or what part of myself was missing in the darkness.