The Only Helmet In Holland

Better safe than sorry”

I could hear my mother’s wiseacre words all the way from Sweden to the Netherlands.

“Better safe than sorry”

It had only been a week since I moved to Amsterdam for studies, but I had already come to the understanding that pedal beats rock in this country. Bicycling here was like cows in India or fast food in the States. So without any consideration for my student budget I had on day 4 bought a bike online, or as they call it in the Netherlands – a fiets.

This was the first interaction between me and the bike, except for the one that we had initially when the delivery guy forced me to cycle in a small square around the campus to prove my credibility before I could go through with the purchase. I think I will die with the question of what he would have done if I had fallen during this examination.

But, since I passed the exam, the bike and I were now getting acquainted all by ourselves. I figured we should start off slowly, and I had found a perfectly quiet road next to the campus that made an excellent place for practice.

The truth was it was neither really my fear of falling, nor the fact that I was exceptionally bad at bicycling that was the main reason behind my public hiding. It was actually what I was wearing. I had not, in any of my many visits to Amsterdam, seen anyone wear one. Not the eldest of elderly, not the youngest of young, not even the elderly and the young together, but here I was, a foreign pioneer or an absolute idiot? Well, I couldn’t say for sure but I assumed it to be the latter when I placed it on my head and clipped the straps into the double chin I denied having. I had now officially become The Only Helmet in Holland.

The roads were smooth like silk and the world around me seemed to silence, I suddenly understood what it was all about, the bicycle, the fiets, the freedom. I peddled faster, created swoosh-sounds behind me, my body interlaced with the fiets in the curves, we became one against gravity.

Suddenly I noticed movement in the distance. It seemed to be an intersection approaching, and before I had time to slow down, the quiet road emerged into a busy crossroad. Big city trucks, pedestrians and other fietsers all came from various directions. The silence had turned into hordes of honking vehicles in what must have been 5 imminent traffic lanes. It was like a terrifying urban savanna where I was the prey. 

“Better safe than sorry”

Wary eyes of strangers had started to notice my fearfully hunched figure clinging on to the cycle like a distorted “U.” Was I even moving or just balancing?

One girl my own age had stopped with her group of friends to study me as an endangered animal in need of rescue. They looked concerned with hands covering their restylanelips. Like an exotic creature mistakenly out of its natural habitat I searched desperately for an escape. There seemed to be only one.The only way was forward. By now I had awoken attention on the streets. A gallery worker had come out of his shop to see what was going on. Small streams of cold sweat started to itch under the plastic shell.

“Better safe than sorry”

Like human fuel filling my body, I started pedaling and I could feel the power regaining in my legs, a sensation of a light breeze made its way in under the helmet. I was going to make it.

Just as I was about to reach the safety of the sidewalk, a gray haired woman swooshed past me, the speed created a wind too forceful for the fragile first stages of myself as a fietser. The wheels started to lean under my body, my feet were stuck on the pedals, what did I do now? I could hear the horror in the restylane girls’ screams as they understood what was about to happen.

There was no chance they could save me now, no one could. In slow motion I fell, the fiets fell, my future as a rightful citizen of the Netherlands fell. The fiets ended up over me, my body ached as it was trapped under steel and wheel. But then, in the middle of all the chaos, something extraordinary happened. The locals gathered around me, but they did not seem interested in my wellbeing, no, it was the shiny shell around my head that they studied carefully. More and more people started to gather to examine it like a foreign item from a distant time.

The gallery owner loosened the helmet from my double chin and raised it into the air as in the scene from The Lion King. Maybe this was the beginning of a new era. Maybe this was a time of change, maybe it was a time to be rather safe than sorry.

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