AJ watched with wide eyes as his cousin Mark did a backflip. He held his breath as Mark descended, completing the flip just in time for his back tire to connect with the dirt ramp. He had stayed sitting throughout the flip, but as he landed he stood, and his knees bent as the momentum made him bounce a little. He braked and pulled around, pumping a fist in the air.
“There’s no way I’m doing that,” AJ said, smiling and giving the secret handshake to Mark as his cousin turned off the dirt bike and hopped off.
“Really? I thought you were tough enough.” Mark said with his signature grin as he took off his helmet. He removed the wrap holding his dreadlocks down and shook them a little, loosening them up.
“I’m as tough as they come, but I’m not that dumb. I’d land right on my head.”
“Well all that shine should save you, you’d probably just skid right on down the ramp and be fine.”
Mark pulled out a cigarette and lit up, somehow able to do so with his gloves still on. The joke he’d made was about the bald spot forming on the top of AJ’s head. He’d tried growing an afro for a few months to hide it, and it worked, but he got tired of having to pick it out and decided to live with the spot. He was only 30, and his wife hated the way the spot aged him, but he figured everyone would get used to it eventually.
“Hardy har,” AJ said, reaching out and tugging on his cousin’s locks. “Now everyone can have long, flowing hair like you.”
They both laughed, and Mark finished his cigarette. He flicked the butt on the ground and stamped on it a few times with his foot. He started to put his hair back in the wrap, and AJ put on his gloves. He checked his phone before slipping on his helmet and doing a couple of stretches.
“We aren’t about to run a marathon, AJ, why are you stretching?” Mark said, his voice muffled by his helmet.
AJ laughed. “I like to stay limber before doing something new.”
“Yeah, you’ve been living a lie. There’s not a tough bone in your body. I bet you stopped banging because you had to stretch before doing a drive-by and the fam laughed too hard.”
AJ laughed again and folded his arms as his cousin turned on the dirt bike. It sputtered like a cougar growling, and AJ smiled. His nickname was once the Cougar. He’d waited a long time to go for a ride with his cousin, and the last time they’d been together had been under less favorable conditions.
“I told you a million times I quit that life because I found God, man. He’s not down with all that stuff.”
“Yeah, whatever. You’re just lucky they let you leave. You can probably thank God for that.”
“I always do, cuz.”
“You are taking the lead or riding Bit—I mean, riding on the back?”
AJ chuckled. He might have given his life to Christ, but he never minded when others cursed. Still, he appreciated his cousin’s attempts to tone down his language. If for no other reason, he appreciated the respect.
“It’s your bike, so I’ll ride on the back. Wouldn’t want to crash it or anything.”
Mark shrugged and swung his leg over. AJ hopped on the back and grabbed his cousin around the waist. Mark turned the handlebars a few times while they were in neutral and the cougar roared. Mark threw it in gear, and they took off. They were in a field of patchy of grass and dirt up in Hagerstown, MD.
It had rained a couple of days before, and there were still a few puddles scattered around, but Mark avoided them for the most part. He popped a wheelie once, and AJ almost fell off, but upon staying on successfully, he wasn’t able to stop smiling for the rest of the ride. Mark zoomed as fast as he could toward a few ramps but always turned away at the last moment.
The two had discussed doing a few jumps individually before arriving in the field. AJ originally intended to ride, but after being faced with the opportunity, he thought of how long it had been since he’d been on a bike. Thoughts of crashing kept him out of the driver’s seat, and he knew that two people trying to do a ramp would be unneeded stress on the shocks, and that was why Mark stayed on the ground.
Mark popped a few more wheelies before turning back and pulling up alongside AJ’s Silverado. They both hopped off and were all smiles.
“I thought you were going to try one of those ramps,” AJ said as he unstrapped his helmet.
“I almost did,” Mark said, tucking his helmet under his arm but keeping his locks in the wrap. “Figured all that stretching you did should have been for something.”
AJ laughed, and they stowed their equipment in the truck bed. Mark helped AJ pull out the ramp before walking the bike up and into the back of the truck. They secured the cargo and locked up, hopping into the cab.
AJ keyed the car to life, and they sat in the truck for a few moments. Mark always wanted to smoke, and AJ insisted he does so with the whole door open instead of just the window, so they stayed in the idling truck. The sickly sweet smell of the tobacco mixed with car exhaust and drifted around in the car.
“When are you going to quit man?” AJ said as Mark took another and blew the smoke out into the open air.
He hocked up a loogie and spit in the dirt. He looked at the smoldering tip of the cigarette for a moment and shrugged before taking another puff. After exhaling the smoke through his nose, he plucked at the smoldering tip for a bit before flicking the cigarette into a nearby pool.
“I don’t know, man. Maybe when I find God.”
Mark shut the door, and AJ pulled out of the field and back onto the dirt road that led to the highway.
“Well, he ain’t’ hard to find, bro. Just got to look in the right places.”
Mark turned up the radio as the truck pulled onto the highway and they rode on in silence.