My confidence isn’t justified. Prior attempts to get to my yoga class have not ended well. But what I lack in experience I make up for in determination.
I strap the cheap helmet to my head, the one that was free with the scooter purchase. It is made of only plastic and I’m not at all assured that it would save my life but I also don’t really care. I’m feeling good. I put my airpods in and open my music app, tapping the playlist I made specifically with confidence in mind. I like to throw in a few songs with bad words because they make me feel like a badass, and feeling like a badass gives me the artificial self-confidence that insulates me from past embarrassing moments related to said yoga class.
I carefully back the scooter out of the garage and turn the key, while Hippo Campus sings upbeat tunes in my ears. I pull out of the driveway, and smirk about how cool I feel. Living in Shanghai. Riding my scooter to yoga class. No big deal. The heat outside is stifling, but the breeze on my face and bare arms is energizing. I sing along to the song, loudly, while strolling Chinese men with cigarettes on their bottom lip watch me as I pass. I smile at them.
I gave myself plenty of time so I don’t have to feel anxious or ride fast. I’m still getting used to the mechanics of the scooter, accelerate with a flick of the right wrist, brake with a squeeze of the left fingers. I ride along the river, and the sun shines on the water, it is murky and brown but I still think it’s beautiful.
I make my last turn onto the street of the gym, but when I pull up onto the sidewalk to park my scooter I’m driving in the wrong direction and a security guard shouts at me. He wears a black uniform with a matching black hat, and his thick eyebrows are in a deep furrow. Of course I have no idea what he’s saying, but I realize my mistake and turn around. As I unsnap my helmet and lock the scooter, I feel the disapproving gaze of the security guard, but I don’t make eye contact.
As I climb the four flights of stairs up to class I hear voices in the stairwell. We are all so early that our teacher hasn’t unlocked the door, and women are making small-talk as they sit on the steps or lean against the window sill. A woman with sleek black hair is talking about her daughter who had a class sleepover at the school over the weekend. She plays with a silver chain around her neck as she describes how her daughter was so tired she put herself to bed and woke up the next morning with a fever.
“I don’t know what they did to those girls at that sleepover but she was really sick!”
I recognize the woman who shares a back fence with me, she’s Italian and bombastic and her eyes shine. She teases the dark-haired woman,
“What are you suggesting? That the school is responsible for your daughter getting sick?”
She’s so direct but the dark-haired woman doesn’t seem offended. Everyone laughs. I laugh.
A woman with an Australian accent smooths things over by suggesting that maybe her daughter was already getting sick and the sleepover made her a little more vulnerable from being over tired.
I watch their banter, listen to their accents, bask in their feminine rapport. Even though no one has directly acknowledged me, I feel as though I’m part of the shared moment. One week ago an empty stairwell, with its echoing halls, felt like it could only be a place of loneliness and despair. And here I am, my feet planted on the very same steps where I’d sat before, feeling the hope of belonging. There are still no warm reassurances that friendship and familiarity provide. But this one success, this chance to glimpse into the shared affection of the women around me, gives me reason to believe I can have those things for myself too.