Lesser Acts of Daring

My stunt fall could use more work. Though in my defense, I hadn’t exactly planned for it.

The objective: jump out of a moving bus on the way to work. This bus won’t be going to Silver Springs, the conductor said, of the route I had been commuting on for close to a week with no such discrepancy. You’ll have to get off here. “Here,” as it happened, was less a definable location than it was any number of points along a dusty city road. Despite it being morning, the bus was careening down at a pace I thought only reserved for the midday traffic lull in Nairobi. It slowed as we approached a roundabout, but we were still going about 25 MPH when the conductor opened the front door and beckoned me onto the steps. Now.

Two years ago, I learned the best way to jump out of a moving vehicle. A retired stuntman was being interviewed on a radio show, and when asked about such a situation, he replied that the best thing to do is to jump at an angle away from the vehicle, to try and land in a soft spot away from the pavement, to avoid obstructions if at all possible, to tuck your body into a ball, hit the ground with your shoulder, and roll.

It’s hard to say whether I was pushed or if I jumped out willingly, like there was some deviant inner force spurring me on. It reminded me of when I went gorge jumping in Ithaca, how my body felt when it touched off the ground, the seconds of free-fall where time stood still, the almost-relief of finally plunging into the water 70 feet below. There was that initial terror of running to the cliff edge, of defying my mind’s desperate, incessant pleas to stop, and of feeling the earth leave my bare feet.

I saw a gruesome accident on my last day in New York. It was midday, sweltering, and at the intersection of Houston and Broadway a cab clipped the side of a motorcycle. The motorcyclist lost control and fell, his bike skidding on hot asphalt across the median. A group of stunned onlookers—myself included—stood paralyzed until one man came forward and helped the driver to his feet. The man had a long scrape down his right arm, red and ashen like volcanic ash, but did not look terribly shaken. The two of them guided the bike back to the stoplight, and the driver, with beleaguered breath, pushed the helmet back over his head, revved up the engine, and sped off.

By the time I got to my feet, I actually felt a little relieved that the bus I was riding on had not stopped, but rather, had continued circling the roundabout and disappeared out of sight. At a bar last night, two Kenyan MCs were hosting a talent night, a raucous and wildly entertaining affair that saw scores of young East African men and women singing, dancing, and performing stand-up comedy. At one point, the MCs started giving away free tickets to an event to be held the following week, but only to foreigners, seemingly only on account of their whiteness. This treatment was nothing startling. In China, you could get away with almost anything as a foreigner. Evidently perhaps, that preferential treatment was true here as well.

At the side of the road, there were only a handful of stares from passengers in approaching buses, and no pedestrians on the street stopped to confront me. I dusted myself off and set off in the direction of a nearby gas station. There was a gash in my sweatshirt where my elbow had made contact with the ground and a long scrape down my right arm. I thought about the motorcyclist on Houston Street. I was just another person in a traffic accident. I could have been anyone.